BAKU, Azerbaijan — Is the journey to enduring peace bound to wander through periods of profound suffering, born from humanity’s persistent grip on old patterns of behavior? Or might it be illuminated by fostering a vision of a shared identity and common purpose?
This was the question raised by Ramazan Asgarli, a member of Azerbaijan’s Bahá’í Office of External Affairs, at a national conference titled “Challenges and Perspectives on Achieving Coexistence.”
The conference was held by the State Committee on Religious Associations and the Bahá’í community of Azerbaijan, with the participation of members of parliament and other government officials, academics, representatives of faith communities, civil society leaders, and journalists. This conference followed from an earlier national gathering exploring the theme of coexistence.
The Chairperson of the State Committee, Mubariz Qurbanli, spoke about the present struggles toward peace, stating that they are a sign of “humanity’s need for finding new ways of life and developing new kinds of relationships.”
Mr. Asgarli added that achieving tolerance, while a lofty goal, can be seen as a signpost on the path to higher degrees of societal unity, as humanity recognizes its essential oneness.
Mr. Qurbanli highlighted other Bahá’í principles that are essential for humanity’s movement toward peace, including the equality of women and men, the harmony between religion and science, and the integration of worship and service.
Recognizing a shared identity
The theme of identity featured prominently in discussions at the gathering.
“There is a difference between being accepted and being valued in society,” said Mr. Asgarli. “Being accepted means ‘you can live in this society, we tolerate you,’ but being valued is a higher ideal.”
He further noted that the distinction between acceptance and value is a key issue to address when grappling with societal divisions. At the heart of these divisions, he emphasized, is a crisis of identity, as peoples and groups struggle to define themselves and their place in the world. Despite this, he noted, there is growing recognition of the need to foster a sense of shared identity based on oneness.
Building on this idea, Mr. Asgarli emphasized that differences among people, particularly their different faiths, should not be a cause for conflict. Instead, they should be seen as enriching facets of a shared identity.
Fazail Ibrahimli, vice-speaker of Parliament, stated that the “followers of all religions should work hand in hand for the strength of our country.”
Mr. Asgarli added: “A sign of a healthy, cohesive society is the realization that we are all one people, sharing one homeland—the planet itself.
“It is in this context,” he continued, “that we can begin the project of writing the next chapter in the story of inclusivity and coexistence in Azerbaijan.”
Transcending differences through consultation
Participants noted that a constructive element of the conference was genuine consultation among people open to exploring the future of their country.
“We wish to have a society increasingly characterized by cooperation,” said Mr. Asgarli, adding that consultation is an essential instrument in translating this ideal into reality.
“Consultation characterized by justice will enable discussions that are open and sincere, inspiring people with diverse views to set aside their prejudices and avoid any sense of superiority,” he said.
The president of the cultural association Simurgh, Fuad Mammadov, elaborated on this idea saying that consultation can harmonize diverse perspectives and “contribute to the betterment of society.”
Building bonds of friendship in neighborhoods
Discussions at the conference highlighted the important role of neighborhoods in strengthening social harmony. It is in neighborhoods that spiritual bonds formed among people can help them to resist harmful social forces and where people can serve the needs of their fellow citizens.
“Peaceful coexistence starts from the heart of the individual; from inside his or her home; from his or her neighborhood,” said Mr. Asgarli.
A proposal emerging from the gathering was to promote regular discussion forums at all levels of Azerbaijani society to explore themes such as service to one’s fellow citizens.