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The Feminine Embrace
 International Forum 2008 in Baku, Azerbaijan
First Lady of Azerbaijan Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva opening the Int. Forum
Courtesy of Bloomberg Publications
The Int. Forum 2008, “Expanding the Role of Women in Cross Cultural Dialogue" has been held in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Published: October 2008

For more information please visit Baku Forum 2008 »
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  2. Women and UK perspectives
  3. An Embarrasment of Riches to Share
  4. How Media Images of American Women Foster Cross-Cultural Misunderstanding
  5. Changing Discourse About Women
  6. Ideology, Religion and Women’s Contribution
  7. National Consciousness as a Shield against Turning People into “Particles of Globalization”
  8. The Expanded Role of Korean Women
  Go to complete list »

The Heydar Aliyev Foundation, in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) recently hosted the first International Forum, “Expanding the Role of Women in Cross Cultural Dialogue” in Baku. Azerbaijan’s gracious and eloquent First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva who serves as the President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, as well as Goodwill Ambassador for both UNESCO and ISESCO, lead this effort.

From the moment the invitation of the Ministry of Azerbaijan arrived, it was apparent that this would be a significant conference. As Forum participants we would be afforded the opportunity to exchange ideas and build bridges of goodwill between East and West.

Baku at NightThe organizations deserve much praise for bringing together close to 400 distinguished and dynamic individuals from across the globe. Azerbaijan while observing and holding dear its many sacred customs is showing itself as a leader by embracing East and West equally.

It was already dark when our Lufthansa flight approached our final destination, the capitol of Azerbaijan -the intriguing and beautiful city of Baku on the banks of the Caspian Sea. The lights of the city glimmered below and the scenery was reminiscent of our Santa Monica coastline in California. Stepping off the plane, the sky was clear and the air brisk. Many participants had journey far to contribute to the International Forum as the combined efforts of this event would unquestionably assist in transforming many women’s lives.

Arriving at the airport we were exuberantly greeted by the Organizing Committee, who very efficiently took care of all custom and luggage details -and before we knew it we where whisked away in private cars headed by a cadre of escort vehicles, their sirens clearing the way for us at every intersection. It was to be one of the many luxuries we were to enjoy throughout the entire stay of our visit. With such royal treatment, we arrived at the Park Hyatt Hotel within the hour and could prepare for the opening day of the Forum by still taking pleasure in a few prized hours of sleep.

Forum ParticipantsThe following day all dignitaries arrived at the Gulustan Palace for our first day of talks. Luminaries included the First Ladies of Angola, Latvia, Poland, South Africa and the State of Texas, the wives of Argentina’s Vice- President and Turkey’s Prime Minister and other prominent guests of these countries, along with a delegation from the U.S. which included representatives from California, Hawaii, Illinois, the State of Washington and Texas.

The U.S. Western delegation had been invited to participate under the auspices of the Consulate General of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles which is under the directive of the Honorable Consul General Elin Suleymanov. It is through his many efforts and gifted leadership, along with the efforts of his very capable team that we first grew to love and admire their innovative homeland.

Additional delegations from around the globe included representatives from Germany, France, Italy, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen, Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Netherlands, Belgium, Brazil, Mexico, Ireland, Romania, India, Greece, Russia, Malta, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritania, the Ukraine, Georgia, Gambia, Moldova, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, the Congo, Slovenia, Iraq, Canada, Tajikistan, Algeria, Nigeria, Lithuania, Senegal, Hungary, Jordan, Belarus, Mali, Spain, Uzbekistan, Japan and Austria ….. to mention only a few.

Shirvanshah PalaceAt the commanding Gulustan Palace, which is used for formal affairs and major conferences, we were escorted to one of the grand conference rooms upstairs. Close to 400 seats had been arranged in a square, each seat containing its own translation device. The working languages of the Forum were Arabic, Azerbaijani, English, French and Russian. All rooms of the palace were tastefully and richly adorned with white roses and an assortment of striking flowers. Hundreds of lights, television cameras, photographers and big screen TV’s underscored the importance of the event.

The International Forum Opening Session commenced with a warm and most gracious welcome by the First Lady of Azerbaijan, Dr. Mehriban Aliyeva who said that greater participation of women in political life will help to bridge cultural, economic and social divides. Madame Aliyeva, who chaired the event, was beautifully coiffed and elegantly dressed in western attire. Her husband, H.E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan sent a message of salutation to all participants and extended his best wishes for a successful conference. Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO,) sent his greetings and stated that UNESCO is very pleased to support the initiatives of the forum. The Youth Forum was opened by Moderator Mr. Elshad Iskandarov, Secretary General, Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation, who stated that the objective of the Youth Forum was to lift the role of young women and to attract attention of the world community to these issues. Ms. Leyla Aliyeva, Alliance of Civilizations coordinator of the Youth Forum, added glamour and substance by discussing the role of young women in the dialogue of cultures in our modern and ever changing world.

As Keynote Speaker I had selected Conflict or Unity of Human Civilization “A New Global Consciousness” to be my primary topic of presentation. The presentation illustrated that we recognize an altogether different perspective of humanity’s future when we read New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman describe a Flat world that is increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent. In addition to the first subject matter I had also prepared remarks for the Youth Forum. In honor of Azerbaijan I named these remarks “The Feminine Embrace,” as it was fitting that this meeting was held in Baku. Azerbaijan was the first nation of the East and among the first world-wide, to give voting rights to women. As a matter of fact, it enabled political participation of women two years before the United States. Azerbaijan’s significant step opened avenues for women in many countries to take their rightful place in public, social, political, and international life.

Helma Bloomberg speaking at the Int. ForumKeynote Speakers expressed their views, choosing from several topics of the conference. Sessions one through four offered discussions on: I: “Conflict or Unity of Human Civilization,” II: “Awe towards Women, Awe towards Life,” III: “National Consciousness as a Shield against turning People into “Particles of Globalization“ and session IV: “East and West: “How Do We View Each Other” was addressed by Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General (Organization of the Islamic Conference.) He pointed out the necessity that we have to learn even more about each other then before because of globalization. The Secretary General also expressed confidence that this meeting will set forth a momentum which will only gain in strength. Closing statements were given by Madame Meriban Aliyeva and Dr. Abdulaziz Othman Alwauri, Director General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) who stated: “Let us work together with an open-mind and a tolerant civilizational vision towards promoting dialogue of cultures and understanding between peoples to fend off the calls for hatred as well as religious and cultural discrimination.” Ms. Katerina Stenou, Director, Division of Cultural Policies and Intercultural Dialogue, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO,) concluded the session by also calling for unity and progress. All presentations were followed by passionate question and answer sessions.

The Forum powerfully examined how women can assume a greater role in breaking down stereotypes that exist among various cultures and participants were again called upon to help foster tolerance within individual ethnicities and civilizations around the globe. Underscored in particular was the important role education, the media and the internet will play in facilitating the membership of women in all spheres of the decision-making, as well as in the peace building processes.

Forum working sessions lasted from early morning until late afternoon. Stimulated by fresh information and new friendships to be explored -time simply flew by. During and after conference session’s all guests were invited to delectable luncheon buffets and lavish dinners showcasing Azeri cuisine which displayed an intriguing blend of influences from Turkey, the Middle East, Central Asia and even India. Jimmy Delshad and Helma Bloomberg Especially favored was one of the delicacies of the Caspian Sea –Caviar. The reception at the gorgeously decorated Baku Entertainment Center was hosted by Dr. Elmar Mammadyarov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Jimmy Delshad, former Mayor of Beverly Hills addressed the audiences at the Yacht Club ceremonial dinner which was hosted by Dr. Hijran Huseynova, Chairperson of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Before departing, and on the last day of our stay, tours had been arranged to view the Carpet Museum, as well as the historic sites of Mardakan and Qabala, a city which was created in the late 4th, early 3rd century B.C. Another evening found all participants at the outdoor Baku Green Theater where the organizations had arranged for a soiree of music presentations. Mug Ham Musicians The concert brilliantly embraced prominent compositions of Eastern and Western artists. Azerbaijan’s own Mugham music with its exotic appeal was much treasured by the audience. It could well be because Mugham has its roots in the spiritual which transcends all geographical and religious boundaries. According to what is believed, Mugham comes from the Muslim call for prayer. This heavenly music along with the passion of the musicians and the fiery dancers in their colorful costumes reached deep into our hearts, as did the generosity of our hosts.

The “Baku Declaration 2008” underlined the importance of all participants to spare no effort to actively promote the implementation of provisions of the Declaration at national, regional and international levels.

Once again, I express my most genuine appreciation to the HEYDAR ALIYEV FOUNDATION, the First Lady of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva, UNESCO and ISESCO for their most gracious hospitality, for making this Forum possible and for welcoming us into their communities.

The outcome of the Baku Forum, as President Ilham Aliyev in his opening message had hoped for, has now become reality. The Forum has already stimulated many activities and has turned into an unforgettable experience for all of us. Because of my affiliation with the Forum, I too will reach out into several exiting new directions and am looking forward to working with the organizations in the future. Thank you Azerbaijan, you proved yourself once again to be an innovative, democratic, worldly and hospitable friend to all cultures.

Baku Declaration
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