The speech of the President of the Azerbaijan Republic Heydar Aliyev at the international symposium on the topic "Islamic civilization in the Caucasus" - December 9, 1998

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Dear ladies and gentlemen!

Dear guests, participants of symposium!

I am heartily greeting all of you, the participants of the international symposium that is being held in Azerbaijan, Baku, dedicated to the subject "Islamic civilization in the Caucasus" and wishing you success in your noble activity.

The first international symposium is being held in Azerbaijan dedicated to islamic civilization, the role and importance of islamic culture in the Caucasus. This is a significant event, which has historical importance both for Azerbaijan and for the whole Caucasus.

The Centre of Islamic Study and Research functioning in Istanbul under the OIC and the scientific centers conducting researches in this field in other countries of the world have done useful work on history of Islam, its contribution in universal civilization, about role of Islam in the history of mankind. When last year I was in Istanbul, I fortunately visited the Centre of Islamic Study and Research functioning under the OIC and became acquainted with its activity. Together with esteemed Mr. Ekmaladdin Ihsanoglu, who takes part in our symposium, I could see and learn a lot of there even within a shorter time. We had exchanged of views on conducting of scientific symposium in Azerbaijan too. I note with pleasure that my decision on conducting of such a symposium has been already realized, and today the international symposium started its work. I hope that the symposium will be doing very useful work and can define the role of islamic civilization in the Caucasus and the program of future scientific-research work in this field.

It is very important matter not just for Azerbaijan, but for all the nations of the Caucasus and for whole Islamic world. Azerbaijan state and me, the President of Azerbaijan, consider this work as very valuable and I undertake the sponsorship on this work furthermore.

The Caucasus is a unique region of the world. It is rather unique, because of its nature, geographical location and specifications, nature of the peoples who inhabited in the Caucasus since the old times, during millenniums. At the same time, I think that the Caucasus is a very interesting area for the world nations.

We, the Caucasians are proud to be the Caucasians. Well, what does it mean? It does not mean to be proud of only with majestic mountains, stormy rivers, beautiful springs, forests, and flowers. To be proud as the Caucasian is related to historical roots of the Caucasian nations, contribution of the Caucasian nations made to the culture of mankind.

From this point of view, the spreading and development of Islam in the Caucasus comprises major part in the history of the Caucasian nations and at the same time it reflects valuable contribution, presented to the Caucasian nations by Islamic civilization. Almost the majority of the Caucasian nations profess Islam. You, the scholars know well the history of spreading of the Islam in the Caucasus. I just want to underline that Azerbaijan occupies a significant place in this field.

It is known that spread and development of Islam in the Caucasus begins from Azerbaijan. Islam brought happiness, development, human values, and Islamic values to the Caucasian nations. These values which proceed from our sacred book, the Koran, made the basis of national cultural values of the Caucasian nations. It is known that peoples living in the Caucasus had their own high level of culture, history and customs and traditions inherent to them even before adopting the Islam. The religious and moral values of the islam comprised high level of national and cultural values of peoples together with cultural wealth of the Caucasian nations created and developed by them since the old days.

I am telling about it basing on history of the Azerbaijan people. I think these thoughts concern to other nations living in the Caucasus and professing islam as well. Therefore, I state it is true that Azerbaijan played a significant role in the expansion and development of islamic values, islamic religion, and islamic civilization in the Caucasus. If other Caucasian nations, and particularly peoples of the Northern Caucasus and further to North, who profess Islam, joined the islamic civilization and adopted this religion, their way to Islam did pass through Azerbaijan.

As you know, from the geographical point of view the Caucasus is a small path between the Caspian and Black seas, if to imagine in global scale. Islamic religion, islamic culture, which spread out from the center of Islam, the Koran - from Arabia, had covered territories by various means which now belong to Islam. If to take into account the adherence to islamic religion, culture of nations inhabiting in the north of the Caucasus and further to the North since those days, undoubtedly Azerbaijan, which is located in the far south of the Caucasus, has a specific role in it.

Islamic religion started to spread in Azerbaijan since VII century and it made a basis for national and cultural values of Azerbaijani nation. Our history of Islamic period is rich for ages. Today with sense of proud we say that the genius people of Azerbaijan as Nizami, Fuzuli, Nasimi, Tusi, Gatran Tabrizi and other outstanding personalities, who related to Islamic religion and culture, had made their great contributions to universal civilization and enriched the Islamic culture. We are proud of them.

We, Azerbaijanis, are proud of our history, national and cultural values, and our mother tongue. All these are our national morality, our national-cultural values. Therefore, we are also proud of our adherence to islamic religion and Islamic culture.

There are so many religions in the world. Each religion occupies its own place. We, Azerbaijanis, being proud of Islamic religion, never treated negatively other religions, had no enmities with them, never intrigued and obliged other people to profess forcibly our religion. Generally, tolerance to other religions, living side by side with other religions under conditions of mutual understanding are peculiarities of Islamic values. During stretch of the history it reflected itself in Azerbaijan and in the Caucasus as well. The christianity, the judaism had existed and existing now in Azerbaijan along with Islamic religion since the oldest times. We think that people, irrespective of their adherence to any religion and culture, should respect other cultures, religions, moral values, should be tolerant to other customs and traditions, even to those which they do not like. The intrigues, conflicts and wars are inadmissible from the point of view of religion. In any case, there should be put an end to these cases at the end of 20th century and in the forthcoming 21st century.

From this point of view, we say with heart pain that the military aggression that begun ten years ago by Armenia with its claims on Azerbaijani lands, turned to be a big war, big conflict. At a result of this, Azerbaijanis professing of Islamic religion were forcibly driven out from the territory called now Armenia, were deprived of their own native lands, homes of their father and grandfathers, their national religions, sacred places, mosques, graveyards, historical monuments. It`s a historical crime and historical injustice! The world community should not be indifferent to it and I hope it will not.

Islamic religion had covered almost a big part of the Caucasus, and it covers today as well and Islamic culture left traces everywhere. If somebody tries to destroy and eliminate it, the mankind should not allow it and would not allow. I think these issues will be reflected in international symposium which is held in Baku and has started its work now.

A great interest is given to the Islamic civilization in the world, particularly in the Europe and in the USA. There were research centers engaged in these problems in the past and they exist now too. Obviously, historical roots of Islam, contribution of Islamic culture to the history of civilization were studied and researched; huge scientific works had been created. Such centers are found in Islamic countries.

But taking the chance today, I want to share my thoughts with the scholars. I think the work done until now is insufficient. For instance if we look to back, and examine the studies, which had been conducted in the territory of former czarist Russian empire, and later in the territory of the former Soviet Union, we would observe that along with valuable works, subjective opinions also prevailed there. I have had a kind of impression that in the European countries, as well as in Russia, in the past and nowadays some researchers study the Islamic culture and religion from the subjective point of view.

During the 70 years of existence of the Soviet Union the religion was banned in its territory, the atheistic propaganda had been carried out there. Very acute struggle had been carried out against religion; the basis of communist ideology was made of atheism, the ignorance of religion. We have lived this period and now after restoring the independence of Azerbaijan, we could more profoundly realize and understand within the shortest period from historical point of view that so deepest are roots of the religion, including Islamic religion. Generations grown during the Soviet rule, probably as a result of strong propaganda, could not understand and fully realize how rich were the cultural values, particularly of Islamic religion, how deep were its roots. We ourselves also could not understand it. I confess it.

But it became known during a short period that if the communist ideology prevailed in Azerbaijan not for 70 years but for 170 years more, anyway the people would not have been isolated from Islamic religion. This is a fact already. However it testifies that how great power has the Islamic religion. But during those days, in communist ideology, generally when propaganda was conducted against religion, a special propaganda was conducted against the Islamic religion.

You know that I was a person dealing with state affairs then. Sometimes I thought over this, the religion was a religion and why one religion was treated to certain degree loyally and another one with extreme hostility? It is a truth.

The propaganda aimed against Islamic religion comprised the main direction in atheistic propaganda of the Central Committee of the CPSU and was under a special control. Such an impression was formed during the Soviet power, that only Islamic religion made a threat for Soviet system. Christianity or other religions existed in the Soviet country did not create such a threat to that system. This is the truth, which I witnessed and read about it in some ideological documents at that time, and I am informing you. Such discrimination in relation to religions in communist ideology, the policy line separating one religion from another, indicated as if religions were good and bad, and the bad one was Islamic religion. Such attitude intensified subjective trends by the researchers in the Soviet Union at that time.

Irrespective of his adherence to any religion, a researcher should be objective himself. It is necessary that researcher adherent to Islamic religion should conduct objective research on Islamic religion, and sustain from subjectivity. The other researchers adherent to other religions are to be necessarily objective, should not incline to any side, while researching his religion and Islam as well.

I have got every ground to say these words here, as a man who observed, experienced and knew

it. I think nowadays not only Azerbaijan, but also other countries of former Soviet Union, practiced Islamic religion, including republic of the Northern Caucasus of the Russian Federation or countries of the Central Asia, independent states or biggest republics of the Russian Federation, located in the basin of Volga river and around it, adherent to Islamic religion, now can create more precise, exact and scientifically grounded works about their historical past, including Islamic religion, Islamic civilization, and the history of Islam.

From this point of view, the research centers located in Russian capital, scientific centers conducting joint researches on Islamic civilization, scientific research institutes of Europe, the USA alongside with cooperation with ever independent states, for example with Arab countries, with other Islamic countries, have to establish close cooperation with scholars of countries, which were once part of the Soviet Union and newly gained independence now and with their scientific centers.

Everybody heartily welcomed today`s speech of representative of Moscow Islamic Studies center Mr Medvedko. He made a very sincere speech and it was felt that as a scholar studying Islam, he is a man deeply respecting Islamic culture. Cooperation with such scholars may be always useful and successful both for them and for scholars of Islamic countries.

When the representative of France began his speech, I thought he was speaking Turkish, i.e. in Anadolu Turkish language. But later I understood from his speech that he was talking in Azerbaijani. So it means, besides he is a specialist in Islamic studies, specialist in Turkish studies, he has displayed himself as specialist on Azerbaijani today.

It is a pleasant fact. I think such cooperation on Islamic civilization will be prevailing in future scientific-research works. So, as a whole, the role of Islamic culture in the world, including the role of Islamic civilization in the Caucasus in particular, will be theoretically well-grounded and find its exact and correct reflection in research works and books.

Replying on our national and moral values in Azerbaijan, we at the same time attach a great importance to the development of science, culture of our people, enrichment and uniting of national-cultural values with universal values.

It is not a new phenomenon for Azerbaijan. It may be said with a sense of pleasure that Azerbaijan had been developed just in this direction even in 18-19th and early 20th centuries. From this point of view Azerbaijan, which enriched its culture with universal values, European moral values and European culture, is the most advanced country among nations of the Caucasus and around it, in the Central Asia, adherent to Islamic religion.

Creation of civil, secular theatre in Azerbaijan still in 19th century or creation of literary works, art under influence of the European culture, its cultural values which binds national values of Azerbaijan with cultural wealth of Europe, testifies to a big history of this trend in Azerbaijan. We consider that this our country`s, our nation`s advantage. We have always highly assessed the scientific, literary and art works, which enriched national-cultural values of Azerbaijan with universal values. Such persons occupy foreground in history of science and culture of Azerbaijan. We are proud of our outstanding persons, like Nizami, Fuzuli, Nasimi but we are proud of such an outstanding person like Mirza Fatali Akhundov. Mirza Fatali Akhundov was one of those figures, who knew perfectly the Islamic values. He was a man adherent to Islamic values. But at the same time, he created brilliant works, which had a great impact on the development of our nation, having enriched national-cultural values of Azerbaijan, Islamic values with universal values and European values.

Our great composer Uzeir Hajibayov was so far as national as universal too. We appreciate it. We do not consider the people and scientists, who are only limited with national, religious values, who do not exceed the bounds and do not see anything behind it, to be of any use in the development of nation. And persons who protected and preserved national peculiarities, being loyal to national cultural values, highly appreciating it, being proud of it, but applying all useful universal values to our nation, developing Azerbaijani public, scientific and cultural thought, all they are people who have given rise to culture, science of Azerbaijan up to this level. From this point of view works created by outstanding personalities of Azerbaijan in 19-20th centuries, all made by them at one time endowed in development of Islamic civilization in accordance with modern requirements of not just in Azerbaijan but in all Caucasia and the Central Asia.

I am quite satisfied that the representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran mentioned very important thoughts about the significance of universal values besides of Islamic and national values in his speech. It all proves that this progressive process is a leading factor in all the countries now. Azerbaijan used to follow this progressive path in the past too, and he is following this path today and will follow in future as well. Noting the invaluable role of Islamic culture for Azerbaijani nation, however, we do not accept thoughts, trends or proposals, which create religious or national restrictions.

People can be developed with synthesis of universal values, nationhood, and Islamic values. Nowadays certain opinions are also advanced on "Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic extremism, fanaticism" in some world centers.

I think our sacred book, the Koran never laid foundations of fundamentalism. If somebody creates this fundamentalism and extremist trends making use of Islamic religion and develops it, I think they alienate themselves from basic principles of Islam. We accept islamic culture, islamic cultural wealth as they were given in our sacred book, the Koran. To distort it, if said in language of religion, is a sin. We do not want somebody become sinful.

Profiting by the occasion, I was able to bring to your notice some of my own thoughts. May be you scholars and specialists will express more valuable ideas in this connection during the symposium. However, if my opinion in this regard has some importance for you, I would be pleased with it.

Having observed the process of today`s symposium I came to a conclusion that Azerbaijan may become a Research Center of Islamic civilization in the Caucasus. Azerbaijan has a right for it. I have told in the beginning of my speech about the role of Azerbaijan in spread of Islam in the Caucasus. Historical facts testify that peoples, who live to north of Azerbaijan, adopted Islam only in 16th century. But Azerbaijani people, i.e. Azerbaijan wherein we all live now, adopted Islam in 7th century. As you see, that so much time required for spread of Islam for a short distance in northern direction. The researches may indicate it more exactly. But undoubtedly this way was passed through Azerbaijan. If borders of Islam were limited up to Derbent in the Caucasus and Islam just spread out from Derbent further to the North later, i.e. in 15-16th centuries, it proves how Islamic religion was stronger in Azerbaijan. However the spread of Islam to the North was not an easy matter. It took some time.

Therefore I think that Azerbaijan may be a research center in the Caucasus in this field. If you all come to such a conclusion, this center may be established in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan state may patronize and assist it. In any case, I want to say it in example on the part of Azerbaijan that a great work is to be done in this field. There are huge opportunities for scientific research works.

I want to note one more peculiarity. During the Soviet rule in Azerbaijan self, it could be said that there were few specialists in Islamic studies, and probably there was no one at all. I would tell you the reason of that. For instance, specialists in Islamic studies in the Soviet Union were mainly in Moscow .The communist ideology about which I have told, had so negative attitude to Islam that scholars practicing Islam engaged in Islamic studies, were afraid of doing researches in Islam, avoided it. On the other hand, they considered that it was not so important field for the world science and it was better to make researches in other field.

For instance, translation of the Koran into Azerbaijani language became possible after gaining of independence by our republic or shortly before it.

Speaking frankly, if the Koran were translated into Azerbaijani language during the Soviet rule, obviously there might be not only reprimands, but possibly somebody would have been punished for it. But despite it, the Koran was translated into Russian language. Many Azerbaijanis, who did not know Arabic, had to read the Koran in Russian translation, and in Russian edition.

How it happened that the Koran was translated into Russian but not into Azerbaijani? The matter was the Azerbaijanis were forbidden to make use of the Koran. It was believed that the Koran was translated into Russian, because Christians were as though in need of studying the Islamic religion. But if the Koran were translated into Azerbaijani, then Azerbaijanis would have striven after the Islamic religion. That was a matter.

Besides it, the edition of books related to Christianity in Russian was not forbidden. This fact itself testified about different attitude to various nations in the former Soviet Union. Therefore, Azerbaijani scholars very rarely, in exceptional cases involved in Islamic studies, studying of Islamic religion and wrote books about it. Because they thought that those books, researches had no values for them. I am repeating again that some of them were afraid of it; avoided to get involved in it.

Ekmaladdin Ihsanoglu told me that late Ziya Bunyadov and Jahangir Gahramanov had been collaborating with this center for a long period. It is true. I know that they both, being outstanding scholars, were engaged in Islamic studies. But there was very little number of such people in Azerbaijan. Because they were great scholars, they were doing other researches too and they did not obstain and they were not afraid of making these researches. Therefore I think that there were almost no researches, studies in Islam during 20th century in Azerbaijan.

In order to carry out this work, it is necessary to develop the science on Islamic studies. The academy of Science of Azerbaijan, Baku State University and scientific research institutes should create special organs, organizations and scientific centers in this field. In any case, I can`t say anything exactly now. If there are such initiatives, I would support them, will arrange conditions for them. You may be sure in it.

I repeat it again, the science of Azerbaijan was not engaged seriously in study of these problems during the long period. But this is not just duty of Azerbaijani scholars; it is a hard work. Now it is necessary to establish ties and cooperation with scientific research center of OIC located in Istanbul, very worthy center for us, or scientific research organizations in Moscow or in Europe.

Taking the chance of the presence of Mr Medvedko here, I want to say that Russia has to pay attention on these affairs itself, as there are about 30 million moslems living in Russia. They comprise very a big part of 150 millions` Russian population. It means this part of population is also to be considered.

In the past, during the Soviet times when religion was forbidden, all were equal, both Christians and Moslems, as all was considered as Soviet people. Even there was a trend to liquidate slowly the names of nations. There were terms like "single Soviet nation", or "new historical community of nations", but today RF should think that there are 30 million Moslems living in Russia and majority of them live densely in their own territories like Northern Caucasus, Tatarstan, Bashkortstan and in other places.

It means that similar scientific-research work should be intensified in this direction in Russia too. As we had close relations with Russia during the last two centuries, joint works may be carried out in this field, and think it will be useful too. Particularly because, as I have already noted here, if we take up a research work on the problems of islamic civilization in the Caucasus, and we arrange the center for that, then we have to cooperate closely with scientific research institutions of Russia.

Dear scholars and friends!

I attach a great importance to the work of this conference. I would like to express my hope that you will be doing effective and fruitful work in the forthcoming days. I have no doubt that you will be given a high hospitality in Azerbaijan. I hope that you will be acquainted with present realities of Azerbaijan. Along with our difficult and hard problems, we have got success in our state independence has successes as well. We are proud that despite all complications, social and economical difficulties, the occupation of 20% of our territory, forcible drive of more than one million Azerbaijanis from the occupied territories, the majority of whom live in tents now, we live in beautiful stage of our history. It is because, we are about to celebrate the 7th anniversary of our independence. The past 7 years were not so easy, and smooth period for Azerbaijan either. We experienced with big difficulties, and disasters. But the main result is that the state independence of Azerbaijan was ensured and preserved and it exists as an independent state and will be existing like that further.

Here you have pointed out that Azerbaijan was a bridge between Europe and Asia, between West and East. It is really true. It has not only geographical, but also social economical and political importance.

You know that for the first time, the international conference on restoration of an ancient historic Silk Route was held in Azerbaijan on 7-8th November of this year. 32 high level delegations including heads of states, governments of some counties took part in this conference. Delegations of 13 international organizations also took part in it. First time, we have signed international documents, declarations in connection with restoration of great historical Silk Route, once disappeared in middle ages. This program is already being implemented and we see its results.

Therefore, by its geographical location Azerbaijan is a country, which unites western and eastern civilizations, both from the geographical and cultural point of view. We also highly appreciate this historical mission. Azerbaijan is an independent state, which unites the East and the West, Europe and Asia, Christian world with Islamic, he will live as independent state in future too.

I wish all of you health and happiness. I wish every success in the work of the symposium.