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Kyrgyzstan: International Forum On Dialogue Of Cultures In Eurasia Ends

A two-day high-level international conference to promote dialogue in Eurasia ended on 11 June in Kyrgyzstan with the adoption of a draft document on future European-Asian cultural relations. Participants underscored the need to accept the diverse cultural values of the region's various populations -- and to work together to resolve any security issues that might arise from future culture clashes.

Prague 11 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A two-day forum on enhancing international stability and intercultural dialogue concluded today in the Kyrgyz resort town of Cholpon-Ata.

The forum -- titled Eurasia in the 21st Century: Dialogue of Cultures or Conflict of Civilizations? -- was held under the aegis of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The international gathering ended with the adoption of a draft document stating that Central Asia has the prerequisites needed to become a model for the development of dialogue on European and Asian cultures and civilizations.

The document says that the region is suited to such a role because it is situated in the heart of Eurasia, has many languages, and is multiethnic and multireligious.

Participants included the Kyrgyz and Tajik presidents as well as high-ranking officials and scholars from around Eurasia, including Russia, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and Pakistan.

At the opening ceremony, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura noted that globalization -- and the sometimes aggressive reaction to it -- is the reality of the world today. But Matsuura said he remains optimistic.
"My conclusion from the lessons of history is that people learn little from it." -- Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov

"Conflict between civilizations is not our collective destiny," Matsuura said. "After all, we live in an era of globalization, integration and mutual exchange. Also, there is new ignorance being generated by increased globalization. [But] we are capable of addressing that."

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, who initiated the gathering, also denied the threat of a "clash of civilizations," and expressed hope the forum would pave the way for improved dialogue and practical action.

"It is very important under present conditions to preserve the diversity of cultures and encourage the harmonious multi-civilizationism [coexistence of civilizations] as an essential condition for stability in the world," Akaev said.

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov noted that globalization may be having a negative effect on Eurasia's national cultures. He warned that only dialogue based on the principle of equality between European and Asian countries can prevent this.

At the same time, Rakhmonov urged the countries of Central Asia to pursue greater ties between themselves in order to prevent conflicts.

"My conclusion from the lessons of history is that people learn little from [it]," Rakhmonov said. "This is one of the reasons why sad events sometimes repeat."

Azerbaijan's Deputy Prime Minister Elchin Efendiev, referring to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which has led to the occupation of Azeri territory by Armenian troops, described what he called the "tragic" consequences of military occupation on a native culture.

"The occupation of a territory has, among other things, humanitarian consequences that are tragic for the preservation of the cultural heritage and the development of culture," Efendiev said.

Not all examples were so bleak. Seyyed Makhdoom Raheen, Afghanistan's minister of culture and information, said his country's reconstruction process is a good example of cooperation between cultures.

"Afghanistan has suffered for several years under the shadow of terrorism and the Taliban rule, which resembled a nightmare in our national life," Raheen said. "Now the country, with the thoughts of its people and the assistance of the international community, is moving ahead towards its moral and material reconstruction. According to President [Hamid] Karzai, Afghanistan is a good example for cooperation of civilizations."

Violence in Afghanistan and Iraq was a strong theme throughout the gathering. Iranian Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi criticized the use of Islam by terrorists as a justification for their actions. He, too, pressed for better dialogue as the first step toward resolving international conflicts, but with a condition.

"No doubt a real dialogue is possible only when we see that the other part is also seeking the truth and the ideal and their words are part of this truth and this ideal," Abtahi said.

Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Eleonora Mitrofanova stated that attempts to bring in Western models of civilization have failed in Iraq. She said she believes it is impossible to use force to propagate Western-style democracy in a non-Western civilization.

(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz and Tajik services contributed to this report.)