First Vice-President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva has terminated her activity as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and addressed a letter in this regard to UNESCO Director General, Former Culture Minister of France Audrey Azoulay.
The First Vice-President has justified her refusal from this position by the fact that she is closely involved in large-scale restoration and construction works after the liberation of the territories of Azerbaijan from the occupation of Armenia as a result of the Patriotic War, and thus it is impossible to pay attention to the position of goodwill ambassador within the framework of UNESCO.
However, as is seen in the processes regarding UNESCO over the recent years, the decision of Mehriban Aliyeva is a diplomatic protest against the dual approach of UNESCO in attitude to Azerbaijan, especially during recent years.
The state of Azerbaijan has always tried to keep cooperation with UNESCO at a high level for many years, closely participating in international events, as well as projects within the framework of the organization. Certainly, Mehriban Aliyeva has exceptional merits in further deepening relations between the organization and Azerbaijan. Mehriban Aliyeva personally, as well as the Heydar Aliyev Foundation led by her, have greatly contributed to the protection and restoration of world cultural heritage. An important point is that Christian monuments dominate among the projects, implemented by the Foundation. It is an indicator that the state of Azerbaijan, as well as its President and First Vice-President, have discriminated against cultural examples, and cultural and religious heritage, and do not. It can be seen clearly while looking at the list of cultural heritage examples, renovated-restored by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.
Within the framework of the “Bilateral agreement on restoration of Rome Catacombs” between the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Vatican signed on June 22, 2012, in Rome, the catacombs of Saint Marcellino and Pietro were restored. President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mehriban Aliyeva viewed the restored Rome catacombs on June 2, 2014. Among the 60 catacombs located around the city of Rome, these catacombs are considered to be the most important monuments for the Christian world. The implementation of this project is considered a contribution of the Muslim world to the holy monuments of the Christian world. Thus, this contribution of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, which operates in a Muslim country, to the art and spiritual values of the Christian world is the first event in the history of Rome, which stems from the historical role played by our country between religions and cultures.
Bas-relief “Meeting of Pope Leo I with Hun Emperor Attila” in the Saint Peter Church in the Vatican was restored by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. The project was implemented in 2019 in accordance with the agreement signed between the Foundation and the Saint Peter Church. On the initiative of Mehriban Aliyeva, with the financial support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the five-window network of the Strasbourg cathedral church dating back to the XIV century was restored. The lives of Saint Mary and Prophet Jesus are reflected on these glasses, made in 1320-1340.
The Heydar Aliyev Foundation provided financial support to the restoration works carried out in the Louvre Museum. In addition, it allocated a financial amount for the repair and restoration of the Strasbourg "Notre Dame" church. The Heydar Aliyev Foundation carried out the restoration of two monuments in the palace and park of Versailles in France. The Foundation provided financial assistance to the donation campaign for the restoration of the Berlin Castle, which was destroyed and burned during the Second World War. Of course, this is not a complete list of projects implemented by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in foreign countries.
Alongside foreign countries, the first vice-president takes similar initiatives in Azerbaijan as well. Monuments belonging to different religions and cultures in our country are always the focus of Mehriban Aliyeva's attention. Apart from Islam, religious temples belonging to other religions are being repaired and restored by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in Azerbaijan. Restoration works were carried out by the Foundation in Saint Mary and the Orthodox churches in Baku within the framework of the "Address of Religious Tolerance: Azerbaijan" project.
Alongside this, other churches, mosques, and sanctuaries are restored in our country, every condition was created for religious people to worship and visit comfortably. Mehriban Aliyeva and the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, headed by her, have a special role in the recognition of Azerbaijan as a tolerant, multicultural country all over the world.
After the liberation of Azerbaijani lands from occupation by the Victorious Azerbaijani Army under the leadership of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, a new page was opened in the activity director of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Heydar Aliyev Foundation implemented projects regarding the restoration of historical and religious monuments in the liberated territories from the occupation. Aghdam Juma Mosque, Yukari Govhar Agha and Ashagi Govhar Agha, and Saatli mosques in Shusha are repaired and restored by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, and construction of Zangilan mosque was started. Restoration works of the Mehmandarovs' historical mansion complex in Shusha, which was one of the prominent generations of Azerbaijan, have already been completed. In addition, Repair and restoration works are carried out by the Azerbaijani state in the Gazanci church in Shusha.
However, it should be noted with regret that, despite the development of Azerbaijan-UNESCO relations on ascending line, efforts to promote the values of UNESCO, and support for the protection of cultural heritage in a number of countries, during the 18-year activity of the First Vice-President of Azerbaijan as a goodwill ambassador, UNESCO did not respond to Azerbaijan's calls.
The aggressive policy pursued by Armenia, which occupied the territories of Azerbaijan for 30 years, against our cultural heritage, has never been condemned by UNESCO, like other international organizations. During these years, there was no response to the calls made by the state of Azerbaijan. Despite the fact that UNESCO was regularly informed about the crimes of Armenia during the occupation, such as the destruction and appropriation of our cultural resources, unfortunately, UNESCO did not send a mission to the territories to assess the damage to the cultural heritage of Azerbaijan in the last 30 years.
Although Azerbaijan repeatedly raised the issue of destruction and humiliation of its historical and cultural heritage as a result of Armenia's aggression before UNESCO, it has seen only an indifferent attitude. It is enough to emphasize only one fact to have a clear idea of the extent to which Armenia committed vandalism and atrocities against Azerbaijan's religious, historical, and cultural heritage in the occupied territories. Armenia destroyed 65 out of 67 mosques, while the remaining two mosques were seriously damaged and used to keep pigs and cows, During these years, UNESCO turned a blind eye to such facts and did not even raise its voice against the erasure of Islamic heritage and Azerbaijani culture.
As soon as Azerbaijan won the Patriotic War, on the contrary, Armenia's claims about allegedly destroying some monuments of Azerbaijan were taken as a basis, and UNESCO was zealous in sending a mission. Despite the fact that Azerbaijan once again showed goodwill and agreed to the mission, UNESCO pretended differences with Armenia over the ownership of the territories where the visit will be organized, and the mission has not been realized again.
It is worth noting that as early as 2005, during the time of Director General Kōichirō Matsuura, UNESCO at least responded to Azerbaijan's calls, and the organization's report stated the reason for preventing the sending of the mission was the impossibility of access to the territory due to the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by the Armenian armed forces.
The latest events give reason to think that the presence of the general director of French origin should not be overlooked among the reasons UNESCO demonstrated a biased position against Azerbaijan.
Despite this and another partially fair position demonstrated by former general directors, the respect to UNESCO’s principles, it is believed that the smear campaign carried out by France against our country and its contradictory position towards Azerbaijan is the basis of the approaches of the current director general Audrey Azoulay.
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly expressed his objection to the biased attitude of UNESCO towards our country.
“Let them go and look, at what Armenians did with Muslim monuments?! Why has not UNESCO raised an issue regarding this issue for 30 years? We have repeatedly addressed, repeatedly. These appeals are documented in the form of letters. Two years ago, the new leadership of UNESCO was also suggested to send a mission. Let, the mission come to the occupied lands, look what they did to our historical monuments. What was UNESCO’s response? It was said they did not politicize the issue. Ok, if you did not politicize the issue two years ago, then who do you want now? Let them answer, a very simple response, a logical answer. There is no answer. I appealed to them in Zangilan. I said, open your eyes, to what Armenians did with our mosque. Did any reaction come from there? No! It is what Armenians destroyed. Ok, what did we destroy? What did we do? We made repairs only, protected. So, you know, we can't just ignore such an unreasonable approach. We are ready to continue cooperation with UNESCO. But only with one condition, UNESCO keeps its international status. UNESCO is not a branch of any country. If this approach prevails in our relationship, there will be cooperation. If not, then this cooperation may be reconsidered. Anyway, our intention is pure. The relations should be free from double standards, Islamaphobia, and discrimination,” stated Azerbaijani President on January 5, 2021.
Taking into account the fact that Azerbaijan's contribution to the work of UNESCO for many years is based on raising the image of the organization, and taking into account the active role of our country in the work of the organization, after the resignation of the First Vice-President of Azerbaijan from the position of goodwill ambassador, UNESCO will undoubtedly be the losing party in relations with Azerbaijan.