In Kazakhstan, global religious leaders agree faiths should be used for peace and resolving conflicts

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)The all-male delegates at the Sixth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana, Kazakhstan on Oct. 10-11, 2018 pose for 14 seconds with the Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

ASTANA – Religious leaders from all the major faiths have signed a declaration in the Kazakhstan capital that to resolve conflicts and ensure stability, they agree to establish dialogue with politicians, international organizations and civil society.

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The declaration was made on Oct. 11, the final of the two-day long Sixth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

It gathered more than 80 delegations in Astana where officials increasingly look to the city as a place for peace and intrnational negotiations.

There were representatives of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism and Zoroastrianism along with representatives of religious and public organizations and high-level officials.

NEGOTIATIONS IN MILITARY CONFLICTS

The leaders said they were also calling for negotiations between the parties of military conflicts while they rejected the use of violence and most of the praised Kazakhstan for hosting the conference, while some used their statements to send political messages relating to their own areas.

"Religion will play the peacebuilding role," said Dmitry Safonov, the executive secretary of the Interfaith Council of Russia.

They also agreed to support and respect religious diversity and counteract provocations of pseudo-religious rhetoric enticing hatred and extremism.

The religious leaders stressed that extremism should not be associated with religions.

"We should not confuse Islam with terrorism. It is the mistake of many media. Islam is the religion of peace and tolerance. It doesn't promote extremism. Security and safety is a human right. That is what Islam believes," said Mufti of Tajikistan Saidmukarram Abduqodirzoda.

Astana hosted the first such congress 15 years ago and believes the congresses held every three year have had a positive impact on interfaith relations making incremental steps in confidence-building with different religions that are sometimes constrained from talking to each other in their own countries.

GRADUAL PROCESS

"This is a gradual process. The first congresses disagreed on many issues. Now they have more understanding. It is a big success that they are talking about peace and cooperation.

"Earlier it was hard to even imagine how all of them can sit together. Now it is easy," Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Yerzhan Ashikbayev told journalists.

Ashikbayev and other officials also stressed the importance of taking actions.

One of the first steps forward could be the opening of what was proposed to be called Nazarbayev Center for Inter-Civilizational Dialogue that will serve as the hub for reconciliation and building peace a centre.

Another key measure mentioned by the deputy minister is educating youth, which was also included in the declaration. It specifies that education about should be about religions, tolerance and respect for family values.      

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Meeting center of Oct. 10-11, 2018 Sixth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana, Kazakhstan.

"To prevent the radicalisation of youth. To make religion serve its original purpose and not to confuse them with messages from radicals," said Ashikbayev.

Kazakh officials say that international politicians, such as Kofi Annan, George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Jiang Zemin, Nelson Mandela, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Mikhail Gorbachev and others supported the initiative to create and hold the first Congress.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in a speech at the opening of the congress on Oct. 10 said, "The well-known principle of "unity in diversity" is the true philosophy of the Kazakh capital.

"Astana has become known to the entire international community as the place that attracts peace-making processes and unifying initiatives. Our capital is characterized by a special spirit of solidarity, mutual respect and tolerance."

He said that in the three years since the last congress, important global events had taken place in the capital of Kazakhstan, and while he did not mentioned them by name he was thought to be referring to internationally-brokered talks aimed at paving the way for the UN-backed peace process for Syria.

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Religious leaders at Oct. 1011, 2018 Sixth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana, Kazakhstan

"The decisions adopted in Astana had a wide international resonance, since they were instilled with the idea of peacekeeping, partnership, tolerance, creation," said Nazarbayev.

The President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic, who was on an official visit to Astana, joined Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the opening session.

UNIVERSAL VALUES

At the religious forum, Vucic stressed the necessity for believers of traditional religions to understand that "everyone has one God, believes in similar things and has the same values."

"This is a good opportunity for people from different parts of the world to come and try to exchange attitudes that influence having more rational relationships in the world, simply for peace to be the one that will prevail," Vucic said.

President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and Head of the Delegation of the Holy See Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio struck a conciliatory noted when he said, "A safe world is a permanent need for humanity. Unfortunately, we live in a world that lacks safety: one feels unsafe and unsecure at home, on the road, on the plane and event in places of worship, considered sacred spaces and therefore immune to any form of violence.

"This is why promoting and preserving safety and security are the profound desires of every person, community, nation and indeed of the entire world."

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Jewish leaders at the Oct. 10-11, 2018 Sixth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana, Kazakhstan

Some of the church leaders present had sharper statements on issues closer to their home base such as the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate for external church relations.

UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH

He noted he was the representative of a church uniting millions of Orthodox Christians in many countries: "Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova and in several other countries."

He asserted that the Ukrainian Orthodox church is determined to break away from Russia's control. The Moscow Patriarchate is, however, is using its vast influence with the Orthodox world to block any rupture, but it is facing headwinds, like in Bulgaria, whose Orthodox church sided with Kiev."

Hilarion alluded to Western countries for having fomenting terrorism by "destroying" Iraq and Libya, supposedly "in the name of democracy", but which had resulted in "chaos."

"The same could have happened in Syria, had not Russia interfered in the situation", he said. He further argued that terrorism as the world experiences it today was a result of Western "interference in internal affairs."   

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Archbishop Urmas Viilma of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Lutheran World Federation vice president for Central Eastern Europe speaking on the theme "Religious Leaders for a Secure World" in Astana, Kazakhstan on Oct. 10, 2018

Archbishop Urmas Viilma of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Lutheran World Federation vice president for Central Eastern Europe speaking on the theme "Religious Leaders for a Secure World" said, "The question of security does not just concern the political and military spheres, but needs to be seen in a more holistic way.

"In the 1990s, the United Nations Development Program introduced the concept of "human security" and thus promoted a people-centered und multi-disciplinary approach to security.

"Such an integrated approach is reflected in goal number 16 of the United Nations Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development that reads: "Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels."

A cleric from Iran, Ayatollah Sheikh Mohsen Araghi, called for the Congress to define the concept of terrorism as he argued that terrorism comes from powerful countries that seek to impose their culture and economy on other countries.

Without naming any country the Iranian religious leader said some powers want to destroy other people's cultures and their identity.

He noted that his "region" suffers from "economic terrorism," such as sanctions "imposed on entire peoples, who are deprived of the most important things for everyday life."

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Muslim and Christian leadrr pray at Oct. 10-11 Sixth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana, Kazakhstan
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