Through Sports and Culture Azerbaijan Promotes Understanding - OPINION
NOTE: Elin Suleymanov is Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to the United States of America.
While the world’s attention was absorbed by President Trump’s address to Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia offering America’s partnership to its allies and calling for rejection of radical ideologies, another major international event was concluding in a different predominantly Muslim nation. To be more specific, the Republic of Azerbaijan just hosted the Fourth Islamic Solidarity Games in the capital city of Baku this month. Following the newly established pattern, the opening and closing ceremonies in Baku, an increasingly frequent destination for significant sport and cultural events, offered a colorful, spectacular and, more importantly, a meaningful, show. In addition to the stunning visuals, the ceremonies focused on Islamic traditions of learning, science and inclusiveness, a welcome message in the world full of divisions. Emblematically, central to the opening ceremony was the journey of a young Azerbaijani girl, Mina, who traveled the world in search of knowledge and inspiration.
In the course of the Games, thousands of athletes from some 54 Muslim nations, both male and female, competed in 24 disciplines. Azerbaijan won 162 medals in total with the top number gold medals at 75. Many of these medals were won by Azerbaijan’s female athletes, a result regularly demonstrated by the national Olympic team. In fact, Azerbaijan brought home more medals from the Rio Olympics than any other predominantly Muslim nation. The Islamic Solidarity Games also included several para-athletic competitions.
The 2017 Solidarity Games follow the inaugural European Games held in Azerbaijan in 2015 and, along with the annual Formula One Azerbaijan Gran Prix, indicate Baku’s emergence as a regional convening center. This should not be surprising. Standing right at the heart of the historic Silk Road and the cross-roads of civilizations, Azerbaijan established the first ever republic in the Muslim world in 1918 and granted equal voting rights to all its citizens, including women and minorities, ahead of many Western democracies. With its heritage of tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness, Azerbaijan is home to centuries-old Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian communities and temples. Today, Azerbaijan’s emphasis on promoting inter-cultural dialogue and bringing different cultures together, among other things, by sharing its own experience and hosting the Baku Forum of the world’s religious and cultural leaders.
As the sadness envelopes the globe following the treacherous attack in Manchester, a necessary and a timely response would be to empower young women internationally and to provide equality in education and employment. Perhaps, in a symbolic manner, the Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku attempted to do just that by providing the visuals and opportunities to compete. Even more symbolic is that the organizing committees for both the European and the Islamic Solidarity Games were led by Azerbaijan’s First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva. Through her leadership, Mrs. Aliyeva secured the success of these major events in Azerbaijan and inspired young women to pursue greater opportunities in their lives.
Therefore, long before the United States reiterated its call to Muslim friends to take concrete steps in order to curtail the spread of intolerance, Azerbaijan has been working diligently to bridge divides and to promote equality. In partnership with the United States, Europe, Israel and other Muslim nations, Azerbaijan’s initiatives provide exactly the example of capitalizing on a strategic location and celebrating diversity that is so eagerly sought globally.