The political aftermath of the refugee crisis in Europe, and the rise of far-right populism, is cause for growing concern in Azerbaijan, a country that sees itself as a bridge between the West and the Islamic world.
Baku is currently playing host to the “International Humanitarian Forum”, a high-profile gathering attended by over 400 delegates from 71 countries, several international organisations such as UNESCO, and a dozen Nobel Prize winners.
The largest delegation was Russia’s, led by a deputy prime minister and consisting, according to the official list of guests, of over 70 personalities, many of them on key positions.
In contrast, the delegations of Germany or France numbered less than 10 members. Not all delegations represented governments, some of them being comprised of leaders of religious groups or intellectuals. The largest delegation from an EU country was Italy’s with 44 people listed.
Armenia, a neighbouring country with which Azerbaijan is technically at war over the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, was not represented at the conference. Nagorno-Karabakh is a territory of Azerbaijan which fell under the control of Armenia in the process of the unravelling of the Soviet Union.
Message to the world
In a glamorous setting – the ‘snail’ building designed by the late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, the conference issued messages to the world, which seem to have been well prepared in advance.
The concern over the rise of Islamophobia in Europe was firstly expressed by the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, who opened the meeting with a 27-minute speech. The same concern was further expressed by several other speakers representing the Islamic world.
Aliyev said that Azerbaijan was probably unique as a country of predominant Islamic religion where tolerance to other religions is an established fact and has been for several years spearheading multiculturalism as its message to the world.
Without mentioning Slovakia, Aliyev deplored statements from European politicians who said their country was ready to receive migrants only if there are Christian. Slovakia’s PM Robert Fico had come under fire in the EU precisely for such statements.
“This raises the souvenir of fascism in Europe raising its head”, Alyiev said, according to the translation.
Alyiev also used the word ‘fascism’ twice, also referring to Nagorno-Karabakh.“Armenian fascism has create a very big tragedy”, he said, according to translation.
Many speakers praised Azerbaijan for its leadership in promoting a better understanding between Christianity and Islam.