On 7 December 2014 in Saint Petersburg, Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General received the “Al-Fakhr” decoration, the highest distinction of the Russian Muslim community. The distinction was awarded to her by the Council of Muslim leaders of the Russian Federation for her important contribution to the preservation of the Muslim cultural heritage and to the strengthening of the international cooperation in that area.
The Director-General met with Mufti Sheih Ravil Gaynutdin, Chairman of the Religious Directorate of the Muslims of the Russian Federation and President of the Council of Muftis of the Russian Federation, on the margins of the 3rd Saint Petersburg International Cultural Forum. By presenting the distinction and the certificate to Ms Bokova, Mr Gaynutdin paid tribute to UNESCO’s role in the protection of the cultural and natural sites of religious interest. He commended the Organization’s role in the promotion of inter-religious dialogue and cooperation and thanked the Director-General for “her tireless efforts to protect and safeguard the Muslim cultural heritage and architectural treasures throughout the world”.
By accepting this high distinction, the Director-General underscored the special role of culture and heritage to foster social cohesion and mutual understanding in multicultural and diverse societies. "This is especially important in the context of the celebration of the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures", she said.
Ms Bokova spoke about the role of cultural heritage as a bridge of tolerance and mutual acceptance between different religious communities. “Dialogue among cultures and religions has never been so important – and too often we are witness of religion taken hostage of ignorance or conflict. This is simply not acceptable and our heritage is one way to fight for tolerance and build the bridges of confidence,” she emphasized.
The Director-General paid tribute to significant efforts deployed by the Russian authorities to safeguard and the promote the cultural heritage and recalled the recent inscription, on the World heritage List, of the Bolgar Historical and Archeological Complex in Tatarstan (Russian Federation) as a “symbol tolerance and inter-cultural tolerance”.
Mr Gennady Gatilov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Ms Eleonora Mitrofanova, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation to UNESCO and Mr Grigory Ordzhonikizde, Secretary-General of the Russian Commission for UNESCO, were also present during the presentation ceremony, which took place within the premises of the State Hermitage Museum.