OĞUZ, Azerbaijan — The first national conference on fostering coexistence in Azerbaijan was held by the government’s State Committee on Religious Associations on Saturday, bringing together officials, representatives of diverse faith communities, civil society leaders, academics, and journalists.
The conference was organized by the state committee just six days after discussions took place among diverse social actors about the Bahá’í principle of unity in diversity. The gathering was also a response to the growing interest in Azerbaijani society to explore questions concerning an inclusive national identity.
Eyvaz Gurbanov, head of the Oğuz District Executive Authority, gave the opening remarks, stating that Azerbaijan has a long tradition of multiculturalism and that there is a great interest in the country to strengthen a culture of coexistence and tolerance.
Ramazan Asgarli, of Azerbaijan’s Bahá’í Office of External Affairs, elaborated on this idea during a plenary session, stating: “Multiculturalism does not represent a static reality. It implies something that is dynamic, inclusive, and set against the backdrop of a changing world.”
Mr. Asgarli explained that the root cause of the struggles among peoples and nations of the world is a crisis of identity. “Different nations and groups are striving to find their place in the world, and in the absence of a common identity, their relations become strained.”
His comments highlighted the need for notions of identity that at once foster unity and contain the essential concept of diversity.
“We are all like the flowers of one garden,” he said. “If all the flowers were the same color and shape, that garden would be monotonous. Its beauty is enriched because of the differences in color, shape, and aroma.
“If we all see ourselves in this light, our relationships will transform. Why should the flowers of a garden be in conflict with each other?”
As part of the conference, attendees collectively visited the different places of worship associated with each faith to continue their discussions and to pray together for the future of their society.
In her reflections at the conclusion of the conference, Almaz Abdurahmanova, another attendee and representative of the Bahá’ís of Oğuz, stated: “Although coexistence is valued in Azerbaijan, the group visits to different religious places broke down many barriers and significantly contributed to building trust.”
The conference, which received wide national coverage, has stimulated great interest among the attendees for future forums to explore issues related to fostering an inclusive identity.