The Heydar Aliyev Foundation is the most important cultural institution in Azerbaijan, and through its investments and funding helps to keep alive the spirit of the great man. What does the foundation do to show the Azerbaijani spirit at home and abroad, and how does Mehriban Aliyeva, President of the Foundation, UNESCO and ISESCO Goodwill Ambassador, MP, and First Lady of the Republic of Azerbaijan, drive the foundation forward?
Year 2014 marked the 10th anniversary of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, and in such a short space of time it has done a great deal to forward the ideas of the man himself, and of Azerbaijan across the world, whilst also supporting through various means the development of the country he left behind when he died in 2003.
The Foundation is one of the biggest investors in education in the region, and in even outstrips Azerbaijani government spending at home. Through projects such as the ‘Develop- ment of Orphanages and Boarding Schools’, ‘New Schools for a New Azerbaijan’ and ‘Support for Education’, the Foundation, alongside private investors, has built or refurbished 400 schools across the country and wider region. In total, 2,700 schools have been improved with the help and support of the Foundation and the Government, a huge effort to increase not only the access to education for local children and adults, but also as regards the quality of the education they will receive.
The Foundation does not rest within Azerbaijani borders however, and actively looks to engage with other countries, such as Pakistan, to expand their young population’s access to education. For example, in Rara, Muzaffarabad, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation rebuilt a girls school to replace the one destroyed by an earthquake in October 2005. The school was built for US $750,000 and has 10 special classrooms, alongside laboratories, a library, a computer room and a sports ground that meets the highest modern standards. Mehriban Aliyeva, President of Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO and ISESCO, MP, opened the school, highlight- ing a commitment to the Foundations ideals of open and in- clusive education for all.
“As in Azerbaijan,” Mehriban Aliyeva explains, “the Heydar Aliyev Foundation’s projects in education, healthcare, culture, and other fields are a success abroad too. For example, several schools were remodelled and completely repaired in Georgia, Egypt, Romania, Russia, Pakistan, and the Netherlands under the ‘Support to Education’ project. The construction of a school for girls in Pakistan is one of the major success stories. A devastating earthquake completely destroyed a girls’ school in Rara, in the Pakistani city of Muzaffarabad, in 2005. In response, within a short period of time, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation had built a new 650-seat school there. Projects implemented by the Foundation in the sphere of public health include the vaccination of tens of thousands of people from low-income families against the Hepatitis B virus in Pakistan, the provision of ambulances and blood banks for people suffering from thalassemia, hemophilia, and other blood diseases, and carrying out eye surgeries,” The Foundation recently expanded its charitable activities to include restoration projects at France’s Versailles Palace and the Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Strasbourg, one of Europe’s best known examples of late Gothic architecture.
To date, most public attention within Azerbaijan has focused on the project in Strasbourg. Located in north-eastern France at the border with Germany, the city is home to three key European institutions that feature frequently in Azerbaijani foreign policy: the Council of Europe, the European Court for Human Rights and the European Parliament.
As Mehriban Aliyeva explains, the Foundation looks to promote all countries cultural highlights, and aims to provide funding wherever possible, “The Foundation’s cultural projects in foreign countries demonstrate its respect for cultural diversity and universal values, contributing to a strengthen- ing of dialogue between cultures and civilizations. This is evi- denced in the restoration of monuments in the park of the Pal- ace of Versailles, the Louvre, and the Berlin City Palace, which was destroyed in WWII, as well as medieval manuscripts in the Vatican Archives and the Roman Catacombs in the Vat- ican, and the repair of the Philosophers’ Room in the Rome Capitoline Museum.”
A US $57,200 (about €40,000) donation from the Foundation was provided for the restoration of the two 14th century stained-glass windows that portray the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ in Strasbourg’s 13th-14th century cathedral, which at one point ranked as the world’s tallest building. “The Heydar Aliyev Foundation’s support for the Cathedral is Azerbaijan’s endowment to the European cultural heritage,” declared Strasbourg Mayor Roland Ries at a cathedral ceremony, attended by local and national government officials, as well as the city’s Archbishop, to mark the donation. “It is a gen- erous gesture,” he adds.