Azerbaijan is now primed and ready to host events of global significance, and to pilot the course towards greater understanding between religions, youth and the leaders of the world.
Azerbaijan, one of the pre-eminent countries from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), has achieved a great deal in its 20 years of independence. From what was once simply an oil producing region of the former Soviet Union, the country is now facing the 21st century as a regional powerhouse that is increasingly flexing its muscles on the international stage, and competing to host events of global significance. The hospitable Caucasian nation has embarked upon a massive programme of building modern infrastructure, allowing it to be capable of holding world class events, to draw attention to its diversification of the economy away from the oil and gas industry, and towards a more service orientated focus, trading on its human and geographical capital. The Government is trying to highlight the fact that the country is a multicultural melting pot, with a mostly Muslim population but fully integrated Jewish, Christian and other religious minority element.
The country preaches religious tolerance and is rightly considered one of the most tolerant countries in the world. Azerbaijan is the land where Jews, Muslims and Christians have lived hand in hand for centuries, and where the country’s various ethnic minorities have never been suppressed by the state or society. With such a diverse population, Azerbaijan is strenuously promoting the ideals of tolerance around the world that it practices at home.
To further boost the country’s international image, the Aliyev Government, in collaboration with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and other national bodies, has been trying to attract global scale events to the country. Rufat Guliyev, Member of Parliament believes that, “Firstly, our reputation is the most important thing. The perception of Azerbaijan is increasing worldwide, and naturally besides political development, besides the rapid economic development, besides the strengthening of the international influence of Azerbaijan, all the activities that have taken place, those that will be held, and those that were conducted over the past few years, are helping to contribute to improving the reputation of Azerbaijan.”
Guliyev adds that today it is possible to see that these activities already serve to make people from throughout the world to better recognise Azerbaijan, and for them to “acquaint themselves with our economy, our political reforms, our achievements, and with our culture, science, music, sport, religion, and religious tolerance.” Guliyev says some 15-20 years ago many countries did not know about Azerbaijan at all, apart from the obvious connec- tion with the oil and gas industry. However, he sees a shift in the perception of the country thanks to the efforts of the Government. “Today, there is a very pleasant and positive opinion about Azerbaijan, its success, growth of welfare of Azerbaijani people. The high ratings are given to the country by the international organisations.”
A recently global event held in Baku was the International Humanitarian Forum, which has the aim of being an annual event that brings together representatives of the political, scientific and cultural elite of the world community including famous statespeople, Nobel Prize winners in the various fields of science, and leaders of influential international organisations whose aim is creating dialogue, discussions and the exchange of ideas on a wide range of global issues, all in the interest of humanity. The fourth edition of the Forum attracted 500 guests from 60 countries in October 2014, highlighting the ever-increasing global significance of both the event, and of Azerbaijan’s pull for the rest of the world.
The first Global Forum on Youth Policies, which aims at building a common understanding of the needs for, and rationales of, systemic and cross-sectoral approaches to youth policy, and develop guiding principles for integrated youth policy development, was held in late October. The Forum brought together 700 representatives from 160 countries, in the Heydar Aliyev Centre. Sevil Aliyeva, Azerbaijani partici- pant of the forum says, “We are all proud of our country, we heard only cheers and compliments about the friendliness of our people and the beauty of our city. We managed to establish professional and friendly relationships with participants from around the world, which is not only important for our develop- ment and the development of our country, but for cooperation of youth overall. Today’s youth are the future leaders of the world, who are fighting for the good of the world community. And this forum encouraged and inspired that the future of our country is in our hands, and we must work in full force.”
Arzu Mammadova, one of the organisers at the forum, says that they have created the right conditions for dialogue between all nations, and that she believes that “everyone was able to speak, to offer, to support, in general, to do everything that every single representative from every corner of the earth planned to do before arriving in Baku.”
Azerbaijan has also invested great sums in the sporting arena, and to this end has bid for and successfully won the right to hold the inaugural European Games in 2015, and also the 30th European Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships, which was held in the new National Gymnastics Arena in Baku in June 2014. The European Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships spokesperson, Nazrin Gadimova, stressed that it was vitally important for the country to meet the highest possible inter- national standards, to allow for the further expansion of the global events the country wants to hold in the future.
“After the completion of the championship,” Gadimova says, “many countries expressed a desire to come to us for training camps, and to this day, and with the consent of the federation athletes and their coaches come to us, not only from Europe but also from the countries of the New World. They all are in admiration of the National Gymnastics Arena, saying that no one has such conditions. In addition, all the gymnasts and their mentors as one note the rich flavour of our city, and a good combination of old and modern.” Alongside developing the market for international sporting and cooperative events and forums market, the Caspian Sea nation is busy attracting MICE tourism, a profitable sector of the global travel economy. For example, the BakuBuild exhi- bition, held in October 2014, attracted visitors from 50 countries, and BakuTel, an annual event that takes place in Decem- ber, presents innovations in communication and information technologies to a global audience.
Many of these events are organised by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, an organisation which operates at an international level and has offices in the US, Romania, Russia, and Turkey. The foundation carries out charity campaigns for children and presents Azerbaijan through cultural events and pays tribute to prominent Azerbaijanis. Couple all this with the rising number of tourists visiting Azerbaijan, and a picture of a country on the move appears. Striding into the new century a powerful player, Azerbaijan is developing its own way towards success.