As one of the most important centers of Islamic civilization, Azerbaijan has played an important role in spreading the Islamic religion and forming the Islamic Renaissance. All of these created the conditions for the establishment of material and an intangible cultural heritage of the Islamic religion in Azerbaijan. The Shamaha Juma Mosque, built in 743 A.D., and old manuscripts preserved at the museums of Azerbaijan are obvious examples of this.
Even in the Soviet period, when harsh banishments were imposed, the people of Azerbaijan managed to preserve their language, religion, culture and other values. Although there had been 17 mosques in our country during the Soviet Union, in over 25 years after regaining independence the number of the mosques has exceeded 2,000, more than 300 of which are preserved as historical-cultural monuments. Thanks to the special care and support of the Azerbaijani state for the Islamic values, in recent years the precious buildings of Islamic culture, like Bibiheybet, Tezepir, Ejderbey, Şamahi Juma mosque and the "Imamzade" complex in Ganja city, have been rebuilt and reconstructed, and the Haydar Mosque, the greatest religious building in the South Caucasus, has been built in the capital city Baku.
By being elected as the member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), as well as other prestigious organizations that bring Muslim countries together, the Republic of Azerbaijan has established mutually beneficial relations with the Islamic world and acted as the organizer of some important global cultural forums.
For the continuation of these activities and as the host country of the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev signed a declaration to make 2017 the Year of Islamic Solidarity.
In 20 sport branches, more than 3,000 athletes representing 57 countries are expected to take part in the Games to be held on May 12-22 in Baku, which is a new record as so many countries have never participated in any previous Islamic Solidarity Games. Mehriban Aliyeva, the first vice president of Azerbaijan and chairman of the Organization Committee of the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games, said the integration of the entire Islamic world in Baku for the sake of friendship, brotherhood, peace and cooperation will set the scene for a great sports festival and at the same time will contribute to cooperation among Muslim countries.
It should be noted that the government of Azerbaijan maintains and promotes Islamic values and culture as well as formulates principles for peaceful coexistence and multicultural ideals at a time when the countries and societies of the world are experiencing serious human tragedies caused by religious intolerance, racial discrimination and an increase in Islamophobic tendencies. Under the initiative of President Ilham Aliyev, the continuity of the multicultural environment that has historically shaped our country is being fortified and important steps are being taken to present this valuable contribution to world politics. The establishment of the Baku International Multicultural Center and organization of the Intercultural Dialogue and other humanitarian forums in Baku every two years, with the participation of high level politicians from many countries of the world, are obvious examples of the contribution Azerbaijan is making to the development of multicultural programs.
Unfortunately, while Azerbaijan encourages different religions and nations to live in peace, 20 percent of its internationally recognized territory has been occupied by Armenia and more than 1 million people who have been forced to leave their historical lands still cannot return to their homes. More than 900 religious cultural monuments have been completely destroyed in the occupied Azerbaijani territories as a result of Armenian occupation politics and vandalism. Cemeteries, tombs, temples, monuments of the Caucasus, Albanian and other religious, cultural and historical monuments in the occupied historical lands (Hocalı, Shusha, Lacin, Kelbecer, Gubadli, Zengilan, Agdam, Agdere, Fuzuli and Cebrayıl) of Azerbaijani Turks are being destroyed.
We believe that this gigantic event, organized every four years with the participation of 57 countries, will succeed this year in Baku. It is also worth mentioning that the 5th Islamic Solidarity Games will be hosted by our brother country Turkey in 2021.
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