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Message from Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of the Conference “PEACE AND TOLERANCE II: Dialogue and Understanding in South East Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia’ Istanbul, Turkey, 7-9 November 2005


It gives me great pleasure to send my warm greetings to all those participating in this Conference which is in full harmony with UNESCO’s goals in its promotion of peace and tolerance. Although I am unable to be with you in person during your meeting, please be assured of my strong support for your efforts in the field of interreligious dialogue.

In this regard, I highly commend this and other initiatives undertaken by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, in the perspective of encouraging reflection and action on how to foster better understanding and mutual respect among civilizations, cultures and religions, worldwide but in particular in the regions given particular emphasis by His Holiness.

I am very pleased to inform you that interreligious dialogue will be a flagship project of UNESCO in coming years. I sincerely hope that our work and your activities will be mutually supportive. In such regions as South East Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, UNESCO is striving to implement specific activities in the framework of interreligious dialogue, for we understand that these areas need special attention given their fragile situation and local tensions. The tolerance, acceptance and appreciation of cultural and spiritual diversity is a value to cherish, one that can heal the divisions between peoples and communities. By organizing major conferences in the regions – in Tirana, Tahskent, Bishkek and Issy-Kul, for example – UNESCO has sought to encourage dialogue and understanding not only among religious and proposals arising from these conferences articulate a common and heartfelt aspiration for peace and justice.

Religious leaders and beliefs play a very important role as a factor of peace and stability, as does education, especially by enabling young people in particular to understand the richness represented by different religions and cultures. This understanding is the soil in which mutual respect can grow. Without it, misconceptions, fears and distrust proliferate, leading to violence and exclusion.

This is why, on 30 November at UNESCO Headquarters, a seminar will take place on the topic of “A culture of dialogue in France and Turkey: which projects for today?” Furthermore, in the years ahead we plan to produce educational materials on intercultural and interreligious dialogue, mainly for the Caucasus region and Central Asia.

What we really need at this crucial moment in history is to learn the practical skills and competencies of dialogue as well as to encourage a genuine culture of dialogue, especially among young people. Without communication as a tool of mutual understanding, violence and extremism of all kinds will flourish.

I therefore wish you every success in your discussions and deliberations.

Koïchiro Matsuura