September 2019

By Jeremiah J. Baronberg

This September, leaders from 193 member countries will convene at the United Nations in New York to attend the 74th annual session of the UN General Assembly. This year’s gathering comes at a time of deep fissures and mistrust between peoples and countries around the world. Will the lofty speeches delivered by global leaders promote greater understanding? Is it possible to overcome such divides?

On the sidelines of the UN, one organization—Azerbaijan’s Nizami Ganjavi International Center—will convene a high-level gathering attended by dozens of former presidents, prime ministers, and global leaders for two days of intensive discussions to try to bridge these divides.

Perhaps most importantly, the Nizami Center aims to do so in a spirit and atmosphere of civil dialogue and mutual respect.

That bears repeating. A spirit and atmosphere of civil dialogue and mutual respect.

In today’s public discourse—often characterized by hyperbolic, extremist rhetoric—such terms seem all too often to have been relegated to the dustbin of history.

Yet the Nizami Center seems undeterred in its mission, inspired by the principles of tolerance, multiculturalism, and bridge-building expressed by today's Azerbaijan and its multi-ethnic population.

Though far from perfect and by no means a Jeffersonian democracy, these values seem rooted in Azerbaijan's geography, situated as it is at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and along the Caspian Sea and Silk Road, meeting points of diverse ethnic groups over centuries of trade and travel.

In a world of seemingly deepening divisiveness and unending conflict between cultures and peoples, Azerbaijan may have something very important to teach the world.

Today’s adversarial discourse contains the building blocks for social alienation, ever-deepening political divides, and unending conflict.

The Nizami Center and Azerbaijan provide a compelling, hopeful counterweight in their vision of bridge building and understanding through open-minded and respectful dialogue.

Let’s hope the world will listen to their message.