Mehriban Aliyeva: “Hospitability and the unique atmosphere of Baku will be a trademark of the First European Games”

Mehriban Aliyeva: “Hospitability and the unique atmosphere of Baku will be a trademark of the First European Games”

The first lady of Azerbaijan, the president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, a goodwill ambassador of UNESCO and ISESCO, the chairlady of the organizational committee of the First European Games, a member of the Executive Committee of the National Olympic Committee of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva, told the ‘Russia-24’ TV-Channel about the First European Games which will take place in Baku in June and about cooperation between Azerbaijan and Russia in the humanitarian sphere.


-          Recently a presentation of the First European Games took place in Moscow. Russians and others are intrigued; everybody expects a big sporting festival. Tell us about the last preparations for the European Games. How are Baku residents preparing to welcome guests?


-          First of all I would like to say that I am so glad to be in Moscow where I studied, where I spent my university years. I love the city, as I have very good memories about it. Yesterday we presented the First European Games in Moscow. The Organizational Committee has held such presentations in major European cities, such capitals as Rome, Paris, London, Berlin and others. Finally, we have reached Moscow. I am happy about this, as Moscow is a capital of a friendly country; we have very firm and good neighborly relations. Relations between Russia and Azerbaijan are based on our rigid historical foundation. Our peoples have been connected with each other by cultural and human ties for decades. Of course it has turned into bilateral political and economic cooperation.

The First European Games will open a new page in the history of European sports. It is a big honor and responsibility for Azerbaijan to organize, hold, and host such Games. At the same time, it is a sign of trust in our country by the European sporting community.

We didn’t have much time for preparations – only two and a half years. One needs much more time to prepare a sporting event of such a scale and a high level. However, we managed to meet the deadline. All the tasks which we were facing were fulfilled. Two months are left till the beginning of the Games. The last preparations are going on. The whole team is focused on details. However, even today I can say that Baku is ready to welcome Europe, and I hope the First European Games will be held in an atmosphere of friendship, solidarity, unity, and sound competition. It will be a festival for everybody.

-          Preparations for the Sochi Olympics were finished on the opening day. So, if you say that everything is ready in Baku a few months before the event, it reflects credit on your good organization and discipline…

-          I think such major events demand attention and checks of every detail till the last minute. We will face this too.

-          More than a million spectators will visit Azerbaijan. I was raised in Baku. I think there will be barely room to move. Will it look like Eurovision? Will you use the experience of holding the musical festival?

-          Of course, the experience of preparing and holding Eurovision in 2012 was very useful for us. It was a big festival as well, a musical festival. Many state and public structures were involved in it. I think we succeeded. The contest was held at a high level in Azerbaijan; and all the guests of the capital noted that the atmosphere of the city and the festival spirit were fascinating.

The European Games are a more large-scale and diversified event, but the experience which we have gained due to Eurovision is useful. We formed a very skilful organizational committee. We cooperate with international sporting organization, including the European Olympic Committee, international federations; the support of our volunteers is huge. Our team is successful. And we can say that we are fulfilling the set tasks at the moment. Such large-scale events are always unpredictable to some extent; and we should be ready for everything. So, we are trying to think over all the details.

I think the Games should be a festival for athletes first of all.  To provide the most comfortable level for participants of the Games, we have constructed a village for athletes, which meets the highest international standards. I hope Russian athletes and athletes from other European countries will feel this. We have created conditions for training, for preparation and for relaxation there.

We expect a big number of guests. And we are preparing a big cultural program. As the country which hosts the Games, we want to show Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is a country with rich history and culture, an ancient country, even though it is young in its independence. However, we have heritage, traditions which we would like to show our guests. Moreover, the Games will be broadcast in more than 100 countries of the world. We are developing a big, diversified cultural program. And I hope our guests will be pleased.

- Azerbaijan is certainly able to receive visitors, I cannot argue with that.- Thank you. I am very pleased.- The idea of sporting events should unite people of different political views and different nationalities and religions. Is the idea of tolerance incorporated into the concept of the First European Games? You have to implement it, and set the bar for some of those who will conduct European Games in the future...- The idea of the Olympic Movement as a whole is unity, equality and justice. Unfortunately, the lack of these concepts in the modern world is at the heart of many conflicts and sources of tension. Therefore, such activities, sporting or cultural, always carry great importance from the point of view of bringing together people and nations of different countries, different faiths. In this regard, it is no coincidence that Baku will be the home of the first European Games, because geopolitically Azerbaijan is located at the junction of East and West, the Great Silk Road. For thousands of years, cultures and civilizations, representatives of various religions were mixed in our country. You can see the influences of different cultures even in the architecture of our cities. But the most important thing is that the Azerbaijani people for centuries have formed a true spirit of tolerance, friendliness, the perception of another culture. We anxiously, with respect, care for their roots, their cultures, their traditions, and in just this way we perceive the cultural diversity of the world. To appreciate and love yours, you have to perceive someone else's.In this case, it is no coincidence that Baku is a peculiar center of multiculturalism. Last year, by presidential decree, the Center for Multiculturalism was established in our capital. The annual international forums, meetings on intercultural and interfaith dialogues are also proving this. For example, this year Azerbaijan is conducting the first European Games, and in 2017 we will conduct the Islamic Games.- Baku will remain the most international city of the Soviet space in the memories of all Soviet people. It seems to me that the basis of tolerance, openness to other cultures and susceptibility to other cultures lies in education, and considerable attention has been paid to this issue. And it continues to be paid. The higher the educational level, the higher the cultural level of a person, the more open and tolerant he is. What can you tell us about this side of Russian-Azerbaijani cooperation, which is under your close attention?- I absolutely agree with you. Countries where there is a strong educational base, where there is scientific and technical progress, ensure their own future. That is, investments in education are the most long-term and most loyal. If we talk about Azerbaijan, over the years of independence many reforms in education were carried out. In particular, I want to give you an example, that there are about 5000 schools in our country, 3500 of which were reconstructed or practically re-built. Naturally, big reforms in terms of the quality of education are being conducted. There are special government programs, in which our young people have the opportunity to study at the most prominent universities in Europe, Russia, Asia - it also provides great opportunities for young people.Humanitarian ties between Russia and Azerbaijan are a special area, it is very successful. During the years after the restoration of independence in Azerbaijan, Russian-language education was fully preserved. Today our country has more than 300 schools where education is conducted in Russian, the Slavic State University is functioning, a Branch of Moscow State University, and the number of departments in this university is growing, and it is very positive; the Russian Drama Theatre, the Russian Cultural Centre. All these factors are very important to the cultural heritage of Azerbaijan, because the Russian language is very respected, highly esteemed in our country, and we read great Russian literature in the original language. It is important for future generations to retain all of these features.In terms of joint humanitarian projects, many things are done in Russia under the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Our Foundation was established in 2004, and the first office abroad was opened in 2007 in Russia. Social, cultural projects, charity events are implemented, a lot of schools are being restored.Our cooperation is not limited to the capital of the Russian Federation, we are working in regions, in other cities - in Astrakhan, Volgograd, Yekaterinburg, Ulyanovsk. These contacts are growing into strong ties of friendship. At the heart of any achievements or shared goals are ordinary human friendly relations. In this regard, I believe that relations between our countries today can serve as a good example of friendly brotherly neighborly relations based on mutual respect and mutual interest.

- Azerbaijan is certainly able to receive visitors, I cannot argue with that.

- Thank you. I am very pleased.

- The idea of sporting events should unite people of different political views and different nationalities and religions. Is the idea of tolerance incorporated into the concept of the First European Games? You have to implement it, and set the bar for some of those who will conduct European Games in the future...

- The idea of the Olympic Movement as a whole is unity, equality and justice. Unfortunately, the lack of these concepts in the modern world is at the heart of many conflicts and sources of tension. Therefore, such activities, sporting or cultural, always carry great importance from the point of view of bringing together people and nations of different countries, different faiths. In this regard, it is no coincidence that Baku will be the home of the first European Games, because geopolitically Azerbaijan is located at the junction of East and West, the Great Silk Road. For thousands of years, cultures and civilizations, representatives of various religions were mixed in our country. You can see the influences of different cultures even in the architecture of our cities. But the most important thing is that the Azerbaijani people for centuries have formed a true spirit of tolerance, friendliness, the perception of another culture. We anxiously, with respect, care for their roots, their cultures, their traditions, and in just this way we perceive the cultural diversity of the world. To appreciate and love yours, you have to perceive someone else's.In this case, it is no coincidence that Baku is a peculiar center of multiculturalism. Last year, by presidential decree, the Center for Multiculturalism was established in our capital. The annual international forums, meetings on intercultural and interfaith dialogues are also proving this. For example, this year Azerbaijan is conducting the first European Games, and in 2017 we will conduct the Islamic Games.

- Baku will remain the most international city of the Soviet space in the memories of all Soviet people. It seems to me that the basis of tolerance, openness to other cultures and susceptibility to other cultures lies in education, and considerable attention has been paid to this issue. And it continues to be paid. The higher the educational level, the higher the cultural level of a person, the more open and tolerant he is. What can you tell us about this side of Russian-Azerbaijani cooperation, which is under your close attention?

- I absolutely agree with you. Countries where there is a strong educational base, where there is scientific and technical progress, ensure their own future. That is, investments in education are the most long-term and most loyal. If we talk about Azerbaijan, over the years of independence many reforms in education were carried out. In particular, I want to give you an example, that there are about 5000 schools in our country, 3500 of which were reconstructed or practically re-built. Naturally, big reforms in terms of the quality of education are being conducted. There are special government programs, in which our young people have the opportunity to study at the most prominent universities in Europe, Russia, Asia - it also provides great opportunities for young people.Humanitarian ties between Russia and Azerbaijan are a special area, it is very successful. During the years after the restoration of independence in Azerbaijan, Russian-language education was fully preserved. Today our country has more than 300 schools where education is conducted in Russian, the Slavic State University is functioning, a Branch of Moscow State University, and the number of departments in this university is growing, and it is very positive; the Russian Drama Theatre, the Russian Cultural Centre. All these factors are very important to the cultural heritage of Azerbaijan, because the Russian language is very respected, highly esteemed in our country, and we read great Russian literature in the original language. It is important for future generations to retain all of these features.In terms of joint humanitarian projects, many things are done in Russia under the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Our Foundation was established in 2004, and the first office abroad was opened in 2007 in Russia. Social, cultural projects, charity events are implemented, a lot of schools are being restored.Our cooperation is not limited to the capital of the Russian Federation, we are working in regions, in other cities - in Astrakhan, Volgograd, Yekaterinburg, Ulyanovsk. These contacts are growing into strong ties of friendship. At the heart of any achievements or shared goals are ordinary human friendly relations. In this regard, I believe that relations between our countries today can serve as a good example of friendly brotherly neighborly relations based on mutual respect and mutual interest.

 

- Another objective of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation is the popularization of Azerbaijani culture and Azerbaijani values in Russia, is it because Russia, being also one of the most tolerant countries of the world, is ready and interested in learning as much as possible about your neighbors?

 

- Of course, we realize a lot of cultural projects: concerts, exhibitions, forums, seminars, we also have a cooperation agreement with Russian libraries, that is, the exchange of experiences. Our spectrum of activities is very broad. Most importantly, you were absolutely right when you said that we are interested. We always feel this respect, the interest in Azerbaijani culture. Returning to the common historical past, we feel this respectful, caring attitude.

 

- Then we have a common historical future!

 

- I'm sure we will.

- Let's get back to the 2015 European Games. This is a part of our future already. Can you reveal some secret, some spice, some point which might be not known to the general public. How will you surprise us? Will it be the opening ceremony?

 

- Only two months are left before the opening ceremony. And this time will be rich with rehearsals, the preparatory process. Of course, we are preparing surprises, we want to surprise you, especially with the opening ceremony. This is also a chance to show our traditions, history, culture. I don't want to reveal our secrets, because the opening ceremony is usually awaited by everyone. I hope that the program, which we are preparing, will also be quite interesting, amazing and calling good emotions.

 

As for any features, there will probably be some surprises, some interesting moments during the Games. This always happens during such events. I would like the feeling of the atmosphere of the city for all of our guests, athletes, members of official delegations and tourists to be a feature of these games, which will be held in Azerbaijan.

 

I want every guest to feel the hospitality of the Azerbaijani people, because it's one of the nice features of the Azerbaijani people. For us, one guest or a thousand guests are very important. The people of Azerbaijan are waiting for guests, athletes and this holiday. I would like everyone coming to our capital to feel it, and remember the special spirit of Baku. I am very pleased when they visit Baku for the first time and then want to come back and talk about the hospitality that they have never encountered before and the special atmosphere. I'll be glad if it will be a feature of the European Games.

 

- I wish all your hopes come true, I wish you sporting victories, because, as you know, everything is easier at home, and we already know this from our own experience, the experience of the Olympic Games in Sochi. We were helped, now it's your turn.

 

- Thank you. I take this opportunity to congratulate you once again on the brilliantly organized 2014 Winter Olympics Games in Sochi, and the undoubtedly outstanding achievements of the Russian athletes. You managed to take first place in the team competition. It was a lovely feast. We have been there, we have seen it. Once again, congratulations.

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