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In an interview with Azerbaijan State News Agency (AZERTAC), Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen has shared his impressions of the Opening Ceremony of the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games that took place in Baku and highlighted the importance of Azerbaijan`s declaring 2017 as the Year of Islamic Solidarity.
1. Mr. Secretary General, you attended the Opening Ceremony of the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games. Please share with us your impression of the ceremony. What can you say about the importance of the Islamic Solidarity Games?
I would like to thank first of all His Excellency President Ilham Aliyev for inviting me to this wonderful event. I congratulate Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva, Vice President and First Lady of Azerbaijan as well as the chair of the organizing committee of the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games, on the success of the Opening Ceremony and the whole event.
The Opening Ceremony was spectacular. I was very impressed by it – the music, the dancing, the creativity, the precision, the production – it was fabulous and amazing. I liked the mixing of history and modernity and the theme of togetherness, which is a very strong message for the Muslim world today.
The Islamic Solidarity Games are very important in bringing together not only athletes from all over the Muslim world to compete but also spectators and media, which is important to show solidarity and support and a different perception of the Muslim world with its rich culture and diversity. It is also very important for our youth, to give them inspiration and encouragement. I think we need to have more such events, whether sports or arts or culture that showcase the Muslim world as full of energy, talent and tolerance.
2. 2017 was declared as the “The Year of Islamic Solidarity” in Azerbaijan. What positive results for the Muslim world will Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyevs’s initiative bring about against the background of problems and challenges faced by the Islamic world?
Today the Islamic world needs solidarity like never before as a result of the challenges and ongoing conflicts. Therefore, we consider the wise decision of HE President Aliyev to declare 2017 as “The Year of Islamic Solidarity” in Azerbaijan as an important message both to the Islamic world community and to the international community as well, a testimony of Azerbaijan’s keenness to enhance solidarity and cooperation among the OIC Member States. Therefore, the declaration of “The Year of Islamic Solidarity” will contribute to all those ideals that are based on the principles and traditions of our religion and sends an important message to the rest of the world on how the Ummah can and should be driven by the path of peace and solidarity.
The recently held 4th Islamic Solidarity Games - an exciting multi-sport event uniting the Islamic world, hosting more than 3,000 athletes from 57 countries to compete in Baku, is a concrete example of this approach. The Games are not only a sporting event, but, of course, a platform to materialize the ideals behind the “The Year of Islamic Solidarity”. It is an event, which unites people in a positive and constructive manner. We need this unity in the Islamic World. Athletes from OIC Member States and their representatives will establish close ties with each other in Baku and will demonstrate to the whole world the importance of our solidarity. It is worth mentioning that the motto of the Games was also “Solidarity is our strength!”
3. In your speech at the opening of the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue in Baku, you emphasized the significant role of cultural diversity in strengthening unity among nations. Having built its own model of multiculturalism, Azerbaijan is recognized as an example to the rest of the world in this regard. What do you think of this? How would you rate Azerbaijan’s role in the development of dialogue among civilizations?
As mentioned in your question, indeed the role of cultural diversity in strengthening unity among nations is very significant. We think that it is of crucial importance to create space where different nations and generations are able to gather in a platform for dialogue with the aim of knowing one another and to improve their relationship. Within this context, the World Forums on Intercultural Dialogue is a global platform addressing one of the most important issues on the world agenda which is – intercultural dialogue.
The OIC also highly appreciates Azerbaijan’s role in the enhancement and development of dialogue among civilizations and as a manifestation of its support to this initiative, the General Secretariat attended all four Forums since it was launched in 2011. Furthermore, last year Azerbaijan successfully hosted the 7th Global Forum of Alliance of Civilizations where all the concerned partners for the fourth time gathered to address issues of intercultural dialogue. That event, which embraced the whole world, was another activity clearly demonstrating Azerbaijan’s role towards advancing dialogue among civilizations.
We are well aware that Azerbaijan has been a place where civilizations and cultures met. Azerbaijan is a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional country, where representatives of all the ethnic groups and religions have lived in peace and harmony for centuries. Its geography, history and recent development demonstrate that intercultural dialogue is one of the most important aspects of the history of the country.
Therefore, these continuous efforts by Azerbaijan positively contribute to the intercultural and inter-civilizational dialogue as well as peaceful coexistence.
4. Azerbaijan now enjoys the growing flow of tourists from Arab countries. Are there any plans to draw up a strategy or a global project in order to develop relations among OIC member countries in the field of tourism?
The development of the tourism sector in the OIC Member States is firmly bound on a direct course towards achieving the objectives of the OIC various Programmes. Subsequently, tourism cooperation activities have recently assumed greater importance on the agenda of the OIC, where nine conferences of tourism ministers, a number of expert group meetings and seminars on tourism development were held since the 1st Islamic Conference of Tourism Ministers (ICTM) held in 2000. Azerbaijan is also playing a great role in promoting tourism sector among the Member States. The Republic of Azerbaijan organized the 5th Islamic Conference of Tourism Ministers in September 2005, which has been presented its tourism potential to all Member States of the OIC.
Moreover, adoption of the Framework for Development and Cooperation in the Domain of Tourism among OIC Member States was an important blueprint for the development of tourism sector in OIC Member States. The said Framework aims at encouraging the development of intra-OIC tourism and giving priority to joint regional tourism projects.
In addition, the introduction of the OIC City of Tourism Award, which began in 2015 with Al-Quds Sharif, is aimed at galvanizing intra-OIC activities in an identified city, thereby developing the socio-economic potentials of the city in question, while scaling up intra-OIC trade in goods and services. This mechanism is also aimed at enhancing intra-OIC solidarity through rendering considerable assistance to OIC Member States in the crucial areas of tourism infrastructure development, human capital development and harmonization of standards. It is gratifying to note that the annual celebration of the OIC City of Tourism Award is gradually becoming popular within the tourism sector of OIC member states. Consequently, I am inviting the relevant authorities of Azerbaijan to submit their respective nominee cities for the OIC City of Tourism Award for 2019 and 2020, for further creation of new tourism destinations as well as attract investments to those particular cities.
5. You have been twice in Azerbaijan in May. What are your impressions of Azerbaijan and its people?
Azerbaijan is a key member state of the OIC and it is a very beautiful country with its green landscapes, lakes and mountains. It is rich in history and culture and its people are very warm, friendly and nurturing. It is also very modern with top-notch hotels and restaurants and services, which shows the country’s traditions and Islamic heritage with the potential as a leading tourism destination.