On 28 March 2017 conference on Multiculturalism and intercultural dialogue: Azerbaijani and Swiss models was co-organized in Bern by the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan to Switzerland and the Association “House of Religions – Dialogue of Cultures”. The delegation from Azerbaijan was led by the First Vice-Chairman of the Committee on the Work with Religious Organizations of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mr. Sayyad Salahli.
In his welcoming speech, Ambassador Akram Zeynalli stated that Azerbaijan has been recognized for centuries as a crossing point of different religions and cultures and as a country where peoples with different ethnic and confessional backgrounds co-existed in peace, harmony and mutual understanding. Underlining multiculturalism as an inalienable lifestyle of the people of Azerbaijan, the Ambassador drew attention to the fact that 2016 was declared as a Year of Multiculturalism and 2017 as a Year of Islamic Solidarity by respective decrees of the President of Azerbaijan. Further talking about multicultural environment and interreligious dialogue prevailing in Azerbaijan, the Ambassador expressed his gratitude to the Association “House of Religions – Dialogue of Cultures” and the Azerbaijani delegation for the organization of the conference.
Sayyad Salahli provided an extensive information to the participants on the state policy towards various religious communities, rich ethno-cultural values, which formed historically in Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani model of peaceful co-existence of different religious communities.
The President of the Association “House of Religions – Dialogue of Cultures” Gerda Hauck provided insights on multiculturalism and interreligious affairs in Switzerland, and its legal framework, which is not always perfect. She told that the administration of relations between the state and religions are conferred on cantons and there are differences between cantons in this area.
The Chief of Analytical Department of the Baku International Multiculturalism Centre Rashad Ilyasov spoke about the work done by the Centre and its positive activities since its inception. He further told that lectures on the Azerbaijani model of multiculturalism had been included in the curricula in 15 foreign universities, the Fribourg University being among them.
The Chairman of the Community of Mountainous Jews of Azerbaijan Milikh Yevdayev spoke about the history of Jews in Azerbaijan, how the Jewish communities first settled and developed there as well as the support by the State to the Jewish communities.
Head of the Staff of the Caucasus Muslims Board Simran Hasanov told that although 95 percent of pious people in Azerbaijan are Muslim, representatives of all confessions and denominations had lived there together for centuries in peace and mutual respect. He further talked about the role of the Muslim community in preserving this model of multiculturalism.
Finally, Ambassador of Bulgaria Meglena Plugtschieva-Alexandrova asked the floor to express her deepest gratitude to the First Lady of Azerbaijan Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva who as the President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation supported the restoration of the Trapezitsa Architectural Museum Reserve in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. She told that the Bulgarian people highly appreciated this noble act.
“Azerbaijan – Land of Tolerance” documentary was projected at the conference and praised by the audience.
Following the interventions, the participants comprising various religious communities, diplomatic corps, journalists and academic researchers joined the discussions at the questions and answers session.
At the end of the conference, an exhibition on specifics of relations between the state and religion in Azerbaijan was staged for the participants, who were also invited to taste Azerbaijani culinary specialities.