Government and Religion – The essence of multiculturalism

Multiculturalism can be defined as different cultures being united, not in a single or superior way, but in conjunction with equal rights. In this regard, the legal regulation of the rights and freedoms of different religions, ethnic groups, and cultures is significant. These rights are superior in Azerbaijan and guaranteed by Constitution. If we check our Constitution’s relevant provisions, we can clearly see the government’s policy towards ‘the protection of the differences’ in Azerbaijan.

Article 18. Religion and the state

I. Religion in the Republic of Azerbaijan is separate from the state. All religions are equal before the law.

II. The spread and propaganda of religions (religious movements) that humiliate human dignity and contradict the principles of humanism shall be prohibited.

In the country, a strong legal base was created for further development of tolerance, which is characteristic of our people. Our citizens’ right to freedom of conscience is directly fixed in the Constitution and has found broader reflection in the Law “On religious freedom.” According to Article 48 of the Constitution, each citizen has freedom of conscience, the right to freely formulate his attitude towards religion, express and extend the views connected with any religion and carry out religious rites. Besides, for strengthening religious tolerance in the country, the legislation connected with the rights and freedoms of the person, including freedom of conscience and religion was brought in compliance with the international law.

For regulation of the relations between the state and religion and control of observance of the legal acts connected with religious freedom, in 2001, the Decree was signed on the creation of the State Committee on Religious Associations.

November 16 in Azerbaijan and the whole region is marked as the International Day of Tolerance.

According to the statistics, about 96 percent of the population of Azerbaijan are Muslims, and 4% – are Christians, Jews, Bahaists, Krishnaites, and representatives of other religions. About 60-65 percent of Muslims in the country are Shias, while 35-40 percent are Sunnis. In the country, practically, there are all currents of Christianity. In Azerbaijan, there live the Christian parishioners of Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, and Protestant churches and the historical Albanian church parishioners.

Currently, 941 religious communities are registered with the State Committee on Religious Associations. 906 of them are Islamic, 24 of them Christian, 8 of them Jewish, 2 of them Baha’i, and 1 is a religious community of Krishna consciousness (2020).

The policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan pursued in the sphere of religion is constructed on the principles of freedom of thought, speech, and conscience, taking into account various forms of existence of religion in society. At the same time, the policy of the Azerbaijani state in the field of religion is based on the principles and rules of international law, international treaties that the Republic of Azerbaijan joined, the Constitution of the country, and other normative-legal acts.

The Azerbaijani government holds a set of events to develop tolerance, multiculturalism, and inter-confessional and inter-cultural dialogue with the participation of the different parties. Over the last ten years, Azerbaijan became the host country of tens of international and regional conferences, forums, and symposiums devoted to these questions. Today, we can proudly state that two expressions connected with Baku city are very often used in the international arena: The Baku process on intercultural dialogue and the Baku process for the promotion of intercultural dialogue and tolerance.

Besides, to disseminate and promote its experience in the sphere of tolerance and multiculturalism, and to the promotion of these values in the international arena, Azerbaijan closely cooperates with the authoritative organizations, including the UN, OSCE, UNESCO, ICESKO, and other structures.

One of the important actions for promoting the state policy of Azerbaijan in the field of religion and its support to the interreligious and intercultural dialogue, as well as dissemination of its experience in the sphere of tolerance in the international arena, was the Baku Summit of the world religious leaders taken place on April 26-27, 2010. The Government of Azerbaijan has undertaken to finance this Summit organized on the initiative of the Caucasus Muslims’ Board and the Russian Orthodox Church. Representatives of the influential religious centers of the world, including heads of the Russian Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, and Armenian Gregorian churches, influential religious figures of the Vatican, the Constantinople Patriarchy, and the Islamic world, attended the Summit.

The World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, organized and hosted by Azerbaijan, was, undoubtedly, one of the most prestigious actions in this sphere. So far, Baku has hosted five World Forums on Intercultural Dialogue, and every time it was successful, with worthy achievements. This forum, known in the international arena as “The Baku Process,” is considered one of the authoritative world actions regularly carried out.

One of the international events held in Azerbaijan was the I Baku International Forum: “State and Religion: Strengthening Tolerance in a Changing World.” The event participants adopted the Baku Platform document containing common principles in the mentioned sphere. During the Forum with the participation of the representatives of more than 30 world countries, it was decided to hold this Forum regularly.

On December 1, 2016, a conference titled “Traditions of religious tolerance in the Caucasus and Azerbaijan’s model of multiculturalism” was held in Baku. Members of the Supreme religious council, state and religious figures, representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Georgian Orthodox Church, and ambassadors of different countries have attended the conference with the chairmanship of Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, who is the chairman of the Caucasus Muslims’ Board. It became clear from the goals and objectives of the conference that Azerbaijan’s tolerance model is now being studied at 28 universities around the world. The value, which unites the people of the Caucasus, is a value derived from tolerance.  There is also a tolerance in the tradition of the Azerbaijani people. Today, tolerance in Azerbaijan has been raised to the government policy level.

On October 2, 2016, Pope Francis visited the Republic of Azerbaijan. During a meeting with Pope Francis, President Ilham Aliyev announced this year as the “Year of Multiculturalism” in Azerbaijan. “Multiculturalism is both a way of lifestyle and a policy of our government for us. Azerbaijan plays a crucial role in terms of the promotion of the ideas of multiculturalism in the world. Unfortunately, some figures, politicians, and leaders share pessimistic thoughts towards multiculturalism and claim that multiculturalism has failed and has no future. These thoughts are wrong and very dangerous. However, we proved that multiculturalism lives and develops in Azerbaijan and takes our country forward. Azerbaijan is one of the addresses of multiculturalism. We are proud of being a multicultural, multi-confessional country, and representatives of all religions in Azerbaijan live with dignity.”

On December 21-22, 2017, an international conference was held in Baku on “Year of Islamic Solidarity: Interfaith and intercultural dialogue.”

Co-organized by the Caucasus Muslims’ Board and the State Committee on Religious Associations, the conference marked the completion of the “Year of Islamic Solidarity.” State, religious figures, and scientists from nearly 40 countries with almost 150 representatives, heads and representatives of eight international organizations, special envoys of heads of states of several countries, heads of religious communities, members of government and parliament, and representatives of the diplomatic corps participated to the conference.

Heydar Aliyev Foundation is actively involved in protecting natural and spiritual values and restoring historical and religious monuments. Over the “Address of Tolerance Azerbaijan” project, Heydar Aliyev Foundation implements numerous projects in our country.

Today, Heydar Aliyev Foundation does not only contribute to the preservation of the cultural heritage of Azerbaijan but also of the world’s cultural heritage, intercultural and civilizational dialogue. Over the “Azerbaijan – the address of tolerance” project, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation restored the architectural monuments of the Palace of Versailles and stained glass windows of the cathedral in Europe. It shows Azerbaijan’s contribution to tolerance and respect for the diversity of world cultures and shows that Azerbaijan has strong, ancient roots in tolerance. Mehriban Aliyeva, Azerbaijan’s first lady, has signed important work on the restoration of 60 catacombs around Rome city. Holy Marchellino and Pietro catacombs are important and fascinating monuments to the Christian world, and the restoration of these monuments was written in history as another brilliant example of interfaith and cultural dialogue. Heydar Aliyev Foundation carried out a historical mission with its contribution to the restoration of such prestigious archaeological monuments. In France, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation’s assistance in the restoration of 7 churches of the 10th and 12th centuries in the settlement of Santia, Fresnay o Sovaj, San Iler la Gerard, Tanville, Courjust, Revoyne, and Mal of the French Orne Department has also become real within the “Azerbaijan – Address of Tolerance” project.

Currently, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation has begun to work on a project to restore religious monuments and mosques in the liberated territories. With the participation of local and foreign experts, restoration, conservation, and reconstruction of our shrines are carried out in the Karabakh region. These religious monuments and mosques are the national wealth of the population of Azerbaijan.

During the whole time, people who speak different languages and represent different religions lived as a family in peace, tranquility, and mutual respect regardless of their socio-political structure in Azerbaijan, just like today. In our modern world, one of the great wealth of Azerbaijan is about adhering to multi-religious and multi-ethnic traditions.