A bilateral agreement was signed between the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Vatican on restoration of Roman catacombs, June 22. The document was signed by First Lady of Azerbaijan, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mehriban Aliyeva and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravazi, the Minister of Culture of Vatican and chairman of the Pontifical Commission of the Pope for Sacred Archaeology.
At a meeting held before the signing ceremony, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravazi thanked Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva for her visit to Rome and for the meeting. Noting that he was looking forward to this meeting, the Cardinal underlined its special importance. Cardinal Ravazi emphasized that the document to be signed today was an obvious example of a dialogue between religions and cultures, and it was in the spotlight of the Italian press. Touching upon the significance of the relations between our countries, the Cardinal said the cooperation existing between us to date shows that Azerbaijan is an open country.
Expressing her gratitude for the meeting, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva emphasized the significance of the relations between Azerbaijan and Vatican. Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva said our 20-year long diplomatic relations are developing day-after-day, and Azerbaijan is interested in extending this cooperation.
A ceremony of signing took place at the end of the meeting. Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva delivered a speech at the signing ceremony. Saying “I’m hopeful we’ll celebrate the 20th anniversary of our diplomatic relations in Vatican in a special ceremony and a large exhibition to be organized on this occasion will amaze visitors viewing samples of the Azerbaijani culture”, the First Lady of Azerbaijan noted that this event will be held on the initiative of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Vatican.
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Then a ceremony of signing an agreement on restoration of the Holy Roman catacombs on the initiative of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation took place.
Pontifical Councils’ secretary for Sacred Archaeology Giovanni Carru thanked the Heydar Aliye Foundation and its president, First Lady of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva for support given to implementation of this project and said:
- I would like to express my deep gratitude, as the Pontifical Council’s secretary for Sacred Archaeology, to President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, doctor Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva, who will support the works to be carried out for the restoration of Sacred Marcellino and Pietro catacombs, financing of these works, doing a very well-wishing work. This act has been recognized by representatives of the Council dealing with protection and valuation of Christian catacombs located in the territory of Italy as a symbol of very large contribution. In fact, this act of the Republic of Azerbaijan makes us be greatly proud. Members of our council feel very much honoured. Not fully studied yet and having a special place among the most ancient Christian monuments in historical and architectural terms, Sacred Marcellino and Pietro catacombs will be restored in accordance with the agreement. The restoration works to be carried out will increase the significance of the catacombs, the best examples of the Roman artistic heritage. We will inform representatives of the Foundation of the works done. I would like to deeply thank the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and its President doctor Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva for this important initiative, which pleases us very much and is honoured with our extremely high appreciation. Thank you very much, Mrs. Aliyeva.
Addressing the meeting, authorised representative of the Pontifical Council for Sacred Archaeology, Fabrisio BISKONTI said:
- Among 60 catacombs located around the city of Rome, Marcellino and Pietro catacombs are very significant and interesting ones for the Christian world, and are located in Lavikano street. With his own grave and the mausoleum built in honour of his mother empress Helena, this catacomb is a sign of value given by emperor Konstantin to tolerance. I would like to mention that numerous art works are also preserved here. Among them, there are some 100 works, little part of which has been restored by the Pontifical Council’s for Sacred Archaeology at their own expense.
From this point of view, we highly appreciate the financial support provided to us by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. We are very much honoured with this. Therefore, I want to express my gratitude to President of the Foundation Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva for such a great goodwill, and making a decision to make contribution to restoration of our influential archaeological monument. At the same time, I would like to note that there is a painting portraying Orpheus among the works to be restored. As you know, Orpheus was a personality, who has left a special trace in the history. He used to heal even animals suffering from certain diseases with his wisdom. Existence of open religious dialogue at that time is characterising the environment, in which close relations between various cultures had been formed. Thus, this environment will be strengthened further as a result of the step made by the Foundation. Very harmonious melody of Orpheus will once more be sounding for all of us. Orpheus had since historical periods tried to build broader and more extensive dialogue between people. Thus, he was reviving the history of thoughts and cognitive ideas and belief once more before eyes. And this had reflected the semi-ethnic and multilingual environment since very first times.
Characterising the project to be realised under the Heydar Aliyev Foundation’s patronage as a great present from the Muslim world to the Christian world, Cardinal Gianfranco RAVAZI, the chairman of the Pontifical Council for Sacred Archaeology, said:
- I’m supporting the speech by professor Biskonti here. We would like to once more say that this monument carries very big symbolic significance for us. Actually this symbol, this monument has played a significant role in my activity as a primary motive for my rise to the level of a cardinal. I’m very proud of it. Today Orpheus’s monument has two essential features. One of them is that the cooperation so far existing between us is extending further. In fact, on the other side, this monument reflects in itself the merger of Greek, Roman and Christian cultures and ensures various voices among them to get together, and formation of harmonious unity.
Works under the agreement will be carried out just due to the support from the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. This act is a contribution made by the Muslim world to an essential monument of the Christian world. In fact, it is first time in the history of the city of Rome and in Rome, in general, that the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, an organization functioning in the Muslim world, makes its contribution to the improvement of the Christian world’s art, moral values and culture. On the other hand, a unity will be formed among handicrafts being of artistic importance.
While being on a visit to Azerbaijan, I watched the beauty of this country and its monuments with great feeling of gratitude. Thus, in future, Azerbaijanis visiting Rome will not only see the beauty of this city, but also a significant monument restored by support from their country. Of course, we are hopeful that the first Azerbaijani, who will see this monument after it is restored, will be Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva, a citizen of Azerbaijan. At the same time, we would very much like to see your husband, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mister Ilham Aliyev at a ceremony to be held on this occasion. Thank you very much Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva.
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Then First Lady of Azerbaijan, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mehriban Aliyeva and Vatican’s Minister of Culture, chairman of the Pontifical Council for Sacred Archaeology cardinal Gianfranco Ravazi signed a bilateral agreement on restoration of catacombs.
After mutually presenting gifts, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva and chairman of the Pontifical Council for Sacred Archaeology cardinal Gianfranco Ravazi answered questions by press representatives.
Correspondent of Russian ITAR-TASS: Your noble initiative has made a great impression on the Apenin Peninsula and the whole Western Christian world. If possible, could you please talk about the projects implemented by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in humanitarian and cultural spheres.
Mrs. Mehriban ALIYEVA: You correctly mentioned that since the very first day of its establishment, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation has been attaching great importance not only to the protection of Azerbaijan’s, but also world’s cultural heritage. We have implemented a number of large projects. We have a project entitled “Azerbaijan – the address of tolerance”. Within this project, we have restored both Muslim mosques and Christian churches, and constructed a school and a cultural centre for Jewish children living in Azerbaijan. In Europe, we have taken part in restoration of architectural monuments of the Versailles Palace and stained glasses at a cathedral church, and took part in a number of projects. I would like to once more note that I consider this project very important, as Azerbaijan, a secular Muslim country, not only partakes in restoration of sacred places and historical and cultural monuments of the Christian world, but also restores monuments of world importance. This is the Foundation’s policy and I believe that just culture and cultural heritage may unite today’s complicated world. Thank you.
Correspondent of Italian “Repubblica” newspaper: My question is to His Excellency Cardinal Ravazi. We know that actually realization of such restoration with support from a Muslim country is for the first time. We had a few chances to meet with you. I had asked you these kind of questions earlier too. In consideration of the relations existing today between the Muslim and Christian worlds, we would like to know if, to your opinion, there may be expected such a support from other Muslim countries?
Let me ask a question Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva too. Mrs. Aliyeva, we would like to know if you have any plan to extend the work you have been doing after you have completed this project, and to cover other such areas?
Cardinal RAVAZI: In response to your question, I would like to say that the Holy Bible too has always advocated and considered very important doing acts of goodwill. But as concerns the catholic world, I would say if we take ten person related to our belief, and one of them was a person relating to another religion, then we would see that that one person approached our heritage more delicately than ours. So, we are deeply grateful for this gesture of Azerbaijan. Because we see that this step by you has great symbolic importance.
At the end of this year, organization of a next exhibition in Vatican is planned by Azerbaijan. As concerns the place of organization of the exhibition, it would either be Vatican Museum or such other places.
We are ready to hold such a dialogue with other Muslim belief countries, and build cooperation in the cultural area. Such meetings may be held between us. Such meetings may be organized between scientific circles, religious experts from both the Christian and Muslim worlds, and also between culture workers of Azerbaijan or other Muslim countries.
In conclusion, I would like to admit that we, Vatican, had made such invitations in connection with restoration of this monument. We had applied to a number of Christian foundations and organizations. However, it was a foundation of a Muslim country, representatives of a Muslim society, which came to support us.
Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva: I would like to note that in Azerbaijan tolerance and respect for colourfulness of world culture has very deep and strong roots. For centuries Azerbaijan has played a role of a bridge between the West and the East. One of the best features of our people is to regard all nations, religions and cultures with great respect. I think in the today’s tense world this is a very nice and great resource. We believe that people may be brought together only be means of dialogue and tolerance. We have been making every efforts for that.
As regards the future projects, I can only say that the Heydar Aliyev Foundation is ready to implement such projects, and is open for proposals.
I would like to once more thank esteemed Cardinal Ravazi for this cooperation. Recently we carried out works on restoration of ancient manuscripts preserved at the Vatican library. I’m hopeful that this project will continue. We are ready.
Correspondent of the Azerbaijani Television: Mister Ravazi, you have expressed gratitude for the cooperation formed today between Vatican and Azerbaijan. May it happen that the Azerbaijani model with the Christian world would play the role of a platform and you could use good examples in this model in your relations with other Muslim countries?
Cardinal RAVAZI: Of course this event, this step is an act being of great importance in terms of restoration of catacombs located in the city of Rome that are considered to be very essential and reflects our reality. In fact, the biggest significance of the work we had done earlier and already finished, i.e. restoration of ancient Azerbaijani manuscripts in the Vatican library, was that scientific circles were given a chance to conduct their researches just on these manuscripts. Of course, after the restoration works on the catacombs are completed, these site will be open for pilgrims and tourists to visit. Visitors will directly witness that just here it is possible to hold concrete dialogue between nations and religions. In fact, this would become a symbol of holding dialogue and building mutual relations, despite the difficulties both for the Muslim and Christian worlds.
Correspondent: My question is to Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva. I would like to ask when restoration of these catacombs will be completed?
Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva: As long as restoration of catacombs requires. For sure, scholars know this better. You would better address this question to them, as there would be much scientific works in addition to technical ones. Based on the information I have, this process will be carried out in several phases. I’m hopeful the first phase will be finished in the following year. Our cooperation in this project will continue for three years. We will again be ready to take part in such projects in future.
Correspondent of “Repubblica” newspaper: I would like to ask my last question. This question is to Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva.
Actually, we very well know that very close relations are linking Turkey and Azerbaijan in terms of history, culture and even language. We know that Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva speaks Turkish very well. We know that she pays visits to Istanbul, delivers important speeches there. This initiative has been put forward by Azerbaijan. Now I want to know if there was any reaction from any of the neighbouring countries located in the same geographical region, or did this cause an echo, or were they jealous? Or this is a step made by Azerbaijan, and no opinion is received from any neighbouring country in connection therewith?
Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva: I would like to once more note that this is one of the directions of the state of Azerbaijan’s policy. It is no coincidence that great importance is attached today at the highest state level in Azerbaijan to such works, forums and meeting, i.e. building different cultural relations between the East and the West, the Christian and Muslim worlds. From this point of view, today Azerbaijan may be an example as a Muslim country for the world.
As concerns specifically this project, for the time being I’ve no information regarding its echo. But I’m confident it will only be admitted as a positive step in the region, by our neighbours, or may be on a larger scale.