Baku, Azerbaijan, 31 May 2013
Your Excellency Mr. Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan,
Your Excellency, Mr. Abulfas Garayev, Minister of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan,
Your Excellency, Mrs. Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO,
Your Excellency Dr. Abdulaziz Otthman Altwajiri, Director General of ISESCO,
Your Excellencies Heads of Delegations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me first express my gratitude to the Government of Azerbaijan for inviting me to address the opening session of this important World Forum 1st Ministerial Meeting focusing through 2 sessions on two different aspect of culture: “How can culture and creativity build intercultural confidence? And “common ground for intercultural dialogue: heritage and cultural tourism”.
I am very impressed by the perfect organization and the high level participation in this second edition of the Baku Global Forum and its multiple side events. Azerbaijan has truly become an important center of attraction where leaders from Governments, civil society, corporate sector, academics, youth… converge from all around the world to address the growing challenge of dialogue and understanding among people and cultures, to exchange experiences and best practices and to develop collaboration for action.
To day, it is reassuring for me to know that I can count on Azerbaijan’s support as a country at the forefront of Intercultural Dialogue.
I commend the leadership of our host , Minister Abulfas Garayev, for his vision and his commitment to enhance dialogue and understanding among cultures and to promote cultural diversity and inclusion.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am so pleased to attend and to address this important gathering focusing on the importance of culture, tourism and heritage on building intercultural trust and confidence. This is indeed a crucial issue that needs to be explored further and requires the mobilization of all.
And, believe me, these are not just words in my mouth. I said yesterday morning in my remarks at the opening ceremony of the Baku Forum that one of my new priority, as UN Alliance of Civilizations High Representative is to introduce culture, arts, entertainment, music and sport as additional tools for preventive diplomacy in the agenda of the Alliance. I have stressed in Vienna last February at the occasion of the Global Forum of the Alliance in presence of UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki moon and Heads of State, that from now on the Alliance will use arts, music and sports to foster the culture of peace. They can, and should be even more, catalysts to bring people together, regardless their religion, their identity, and the color of their skin.
When I visited last year the Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi at the occasion of an official visit as President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, I was told that the architect who built the lower church at the 13th century, had asked to be assisted and advised but two other architects, one Jewish, the other Muslim. I find this story very telling about the open mind view of people at that time, and the capacity for different cultures to live in peace, harmony and respect. This spirit can, and this must prevail again. In my own country, the recently built Museum of Islamic Arts has been built by the world known Chinese architect I.M Pei , an example of diversity of cultures and harmony.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I speak with lots of humility in front of such an audience of highly knowledgeable personalities as you are, about the virtues of culture and tourism to promote dialogue and understanding among people and cultures. I was told that every year more than one billion people annually are crossing national borders, 25 % who are under 25 years old. As they are based on human interaction, cultural exchange and dialogue, they are one of the most effective ways of breaking stereotypes.
In that respect I am very proud that the first winner of the Intercultural Innovation Award, a joint project of the Alliance and the BMW Group, the first winner was a project in the field of tourism to promote peace and mutual understanding. As UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki moon stressed in his speech in Vienna last February, Aziz Abu Sarah, a Palestinian raised in Jerusalem, was 12 years old when his brother was killed. His first response was anger and frustration and radicalization. As a teenager, he wanted to get revenge, but as he matured, he realized he had a choice. He chose not to hate. As Aziz says, and I quote:
‘’Walls that separate people are often built on ignorance, hatred, and fear. I try to put cracks in those walls. When people realize that they feel the same pain, they begin to see how much we all have in common”.
Aziz now works to advance mutual understanding, creating tours of the Holy Land that show both sides of view. The Alliance is helping the project by providing the means to expand it to other countries such as Egypt and Jordan. We must support more of this kind of work, especially among the youth who can lead our world from conflict to harmony. And I am very glad that the UN World Tourism Organization has immediately decided to support this project.
Culture, arts and Tourism have a unique power to enlighten people, broaden their horizons, enrich their lives and contribute to a climate of tolerance, respect and mutual understanding. Please allow me to quote the famous cellist and humanitarian activist Yo-Yo Ma to illustrate this:
“ When you learn something from people, or from a culture, you accept it as a gift, and it is your lifelong commitment to preserve it and build on it.” Yes indeed, learning from an other culture is a gift.
As a stellar example of the role of arts and culture in promoting dialogue, we all think about Daniel Barenboim who founded in 1999 together with the Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which brings together young musicians from Israel and the Arab countries every summer to play music together.
The aim of the orchestra is to enable dialogue between the various cultures of the Middle East and to promote the experience of playing music together. In summer 2005, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra presented a concert of historical significance in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, which was broadcast on television.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is our role, our responsibility to encourage artists and leaders in the field of culture to play an active role in promoting dialogue and understanding among people and cultures. Altogether, we can succeed and create a world movement for peace through culture. That is why I intent to enlist “ Voices for Dialogue”, as supporters of UNAOC projects and activities.
Today, with the tremendous reach of social media, new cultural phenomenons are emerging and bring people together. Look at the enthusiasm all around the world for the TED talks, one other major cultural phenomenon made possible by the Internet. It is a striking illustration of the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives, and ultimately the world, as mentioned in its mission statement.
Do I need to mention Facebook, the other extraordinary Internet phenomenon, with more that one billion people connected? Its mission
“ to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” is inevitably forging a new way of thinking and impacting our cultures.
We are indeed entering a world where ideas, identity, values, and belief.
In conclusion, I invite all of you to mindfully believe in the soft power our different cultures can provide us to enhance our collective peace and stability for our global development.
I want to thank you for your attention and I wish you productive deliberations. Be assured that I will follow with great interest your exchanges and that I sincerely hope that we will pursue the conversation soon, and contribute together to our common goal of building an Alliance of Civilizations for peace and prosperity.