The UNESCO Tehran Cluster Office, the Iranian National Commission for UNESCO, Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicraft, Bu-Ali Sina University and the Iranian Research Center for the Silk Roads cooperated to hold the International Conference on “Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue along the Ancient Silk Roads: Religious Influences on Cultural Heritage Sites” on 28-29 September in Hamedan, hosted by the Municipality of Hamedan and Bu Ali Sina University of Hamedan.
The event brought together experts on the Silk Roads and Religious Heritages from both Iranian and international background and embodied participatory academic lectures and discussions. Experts from Russia, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, China, Switzerland and France have all gathered in Hamedan to share their professional knowledge and experience evolving around the theme of the conference.
The conference turned to be a key activity in reference of the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures, in which UNESCO was appointed as lead agency: it was born of the need for new articulations between cultural diversity and universal values. The International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures calls for Member States’ commitment to furthering interreligious and intercultural dialogue and the promotion of mutual understanding and cooperation for peace.
In the opening session, Dr. Hojatollah Ayoubi, the Secretary General of the Iranian National Commission for UNESCO emphasised the importance of intercultural and interreligious dialogue and called upon all the audiences to build mutual understanding and tolerance between peoples from the region.
In his speech, Mr. Cvetan Cvetkovski, Officer in Charge of the UNESCO Tehran Cluster Office, emphasized the great value of the ancient Silk Roads in terms of its role of promoting communication and peace among the societies: “To tackle with the turbulence and unrest of our time, people have to look back to our history for an answer of peace and sustainability. The numerous splendid historical and cultural heritage sites along Silk Roads left by our ancestors have demonstrated perfectly that there is a way for people of different ethnicities, with different beliefs, to live together peacefully and prosperously. By looking into the development and history of the Silk Roads, we would learn how people once exchanged knowledge, ideas and beliefs while also living and interacting in a harmonious way”. Mr. Cvetkovski also stressed the role of the religious heritages played in regards to improve the peaceful communication between people, as he mentioned: “Each of these sites or monuments not only represents the religions of local communities, but also bears witness to the cultural interaction and disseminations of religion that took place in or around them, revealing the influence of religions from around the world, brought into contact via the historic silk routes”.
The deputy minister of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts, Dr. Mohammad Hasan Talebian, gave his remarks on the tight relation between the Silk Roads and the different believes. He pointed out that our modern society should learn from the people who lived along the ancient Silk Roads to live with each other peacefully. He also called upon the society not only to focus on the differences between the religions but also the common points existed among them, for these common points are the cornerstone of mutual understanding and respect.
Dr. Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, President of Academy of Persian Language and Literature, emphasised the importance of the historical Silk Roads and its role of connecting knowledge and beliefs between the west and the east. Speaking of the modern Silk Roads, he also expressed his high appreciation for the new international Silk Roads initiative and its role of promoting international peace and communication.
Ayatollah Sa’bani, the Imam Jom’eh of Hamedan, also expressed his wish of letting people abandon prejudice on religions. He stressed that no matter what religion one might believe in --- Islam, Christianity or Judaism, people should respect the difference of each other because all the religions ask their followers to show the benevolence and kindness.
After the opening speeches, the two-day long expert panels kicked off at Bu-Ali Sina University and then at Baba Taher hotel. International and national experts on the Silk Roads shared their knowledge regarding themes such as “Shared values among religions and their reflections on the cultural heritage sites”, “Protection and sustainable development of religion-related cultural heritage sites” and “Fostering peace and mutual understanding from a religious point of view”. In the presentations and discussions, religious influences on the sites along the Silk Roads were elaborated and the understanding about the relation between religion and heritage were emphasized.
On the closing session of the event on the second day, the mayor of Hamedan, Mr. Abbas Soufi delivered his remarks by thanking all the contributions made by the experts in the conference. He also highlighted the significant role that Hamedan played in the historical Silk Roads and expressed the will of keeping Hamedan in the loop of promoting the peaceful development of culture.
After his speech, Mr. Cvetkovski concluded the international conference by reiterating the significance of the historical value of the Silk Roads and the effort of preserving the shared value of respect and tolerance along the Silk Roads made by different parties, as he said: “It is my hope that from the two day’s conference, we can genuinely improve our understanding about the importance of embracing cultural diversity and respecting different beliefs …it is not exaggerating to attribute what we have achieved today to our ancestor’s benevolence and generosity to others, and to their selfless sharing with each other.”
In addition to the panels of the conference, the Municipality of Hamedan has also arranged a series of cultural field trips for the experts. Participants took the chance to explore some famous historical and natural sites such as the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai, Imam Khomeini square and the Alisadr Cave.
It is expected that a publication reflecting the outcomes of the Conference will be prepared and co-published in the near future by UNESCO and the Iranian Research Center for the Silk Roads at Shahid Beheshti University.