United Nations Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations
PERMANENT MISSION OF THE REPUBLIC OF ARMENIA TO THE UNITED NATIONS
UNGA56/AGENDA ITEM 25: “UNITED NATIONS YEAR OF DIALOGUE AMONG CIVILIZATIONS”
Statement by H.E. Mr. Movses Abelian, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Armenia to the United Nations
I would like to begin by expressing my country’s respect to H.E.Mr. Seyed Mohammad Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, for the devotion with which he pursues the vision of a dialogue among civilizations. Our appreciation and respect also go to the Secretary General Kofi Annan for supporting this initiative, and promoting it within the United Nations system.
The initiatives, like the one we are addressing today, appear on the international agenda at very specific times of human history. On the threshold of the new millennium, which undoubtedly will be the millennium of human expansion into the universe, there is a growing understanding of the fact that the human race can no longer be weakened by cultural, religious and ideological differences. These differences should be turned instead into inexhaustible source of strength, inspiration and new ideas. A dialogue among civilizations is both a sign of mankind’s maturity, and an instrument of its progress.
In fact the entire concept of a dialogue among civilizations leads us to the realization that there exists only one human civilization, incredibly rich and diverse, as incredibly diverse and manifold is the human species itself. Therefore, a dialogue among civilizations will eventually evolve into self-knowledge of humanity, without which the human quest for perfection will never be accomplished.
In today’s world more and more people begin to realize that they belong to more than one civilization. Multiculturalism has become a reality, and it can grow to become a universal standard for cultural self-identification in the XXI century. Of course, this process should not be artificially accelerated or enforced. The unfortunate reality that each decade several mini-cultures and micro-civilizations vanish from the face of our planet, even in the remote and hardly accessible regions, cannot be perceived as a necessary and unavoidable sacrifice on the altar of globalization. The world should not shrink at such a high cost. There are and there will be societies and groups of people, for whom cultural globalization can be or already has been painful. The international community must respect the right to cultural self-determination in the same manner as the right to political self-determination. There are small ethnic groups in today’s world, which despite their modest demographics are the living heirs of great past civilizations. Many of them are forgotten and neglected, some are endangered in their own homelands, such as, for example, the Assyrians, who keep alive the Aramaic tongue of Jesus Christ. Such ethnic and religious groups should be regarded as the cultural heritage of all mankind with special approach to their needs and aspirations.
But there is opposition to the dialogue of completely different kind, which grows on the notion of cultural superiority. Calling others “inferiors”, “barbarians” or “infidels” is a sign of cultural insularity, which provides fertile soil for ethnic and religious intolerance, and far too often manifests itself in acts of violence and terrorism. It is regretful that during the International Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations we have suffered the unspeakable horror of September 11. This tragedy has revived the ill-fated theory about a clash among civilizations, which seems to have acquired many new adherents. The seriousness of this theory should not be underestimated. We should be honest to ourselves, and we have to admit that the clash is no less real and likely, than the dialogue. It is a serious threat, and it is a bold challenge for the adherents of dialogue, for the United Nations itself, and it is up to all of us to determine the possible course of human history. In this regard we would like to mention the valuable contribution to the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations made by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance, held earlier this year in Durban, South Africa.
The lesson that we must learn today is simple: political actions and military operations can destroy training camps and terrorist infrastructures, they can bring to justice the persons responsible for crimes against humanity, but they cannot destroy completely the ideology motivating them and poisoning their minds with hatred. This is where initiatives like the Dialogue among Civilizations, can prove to be effective. But the Dialogue should not limit itself to high podiums and scientific conferences, it should find immediate and effective ways to reach out to the ordinary people in the streets, who are dangerously often influenced by extreme nationalists and religious fanatics.
The concept of a dialogue among civilizations is new and still very fragile. Secretary-General Kofi Annan rightly noted in one of his statements, that even the discussion of dialogue among civilizations can be conducted in such a way that it actually reinforces barriers to dialogue, instead of bringing them down. During last General Assembly we have already witnessed some attempts to use this agenda item for negative propagandistic purposes. We strongly reject such moves, and urge all member-states to spare no efforts in preserving the original hate-free nature of this initiative.
I represent a country, which may be considered a success story of interaction of cultures and civilizations. Being the heir of the great ancient civilizations of Eastern Anatolia, Armenia later developed a culture, which bore remarkable similarities to neighbouring Zoroastrian and Greco-Roman civilizations. A Christian nation since 301 AD speaking an Indo-European language, Armenians are naturally attached to Europe culturally, spiritually and linguistically. At the same time we have a deep knowledge and understanding of the neighbouring Islamic civilization, which we have learnt to respect during centuries of co-existence and active interaction. We want to confirm once again from this high podium our strong commitment to the idea of a dialogue among civilizations, which promises a much better future for the humans on this small planet.
Thank you, Mr. President.