Building peace in the minds of men and women

"Peace and stability is an imperative for the whole world", declares President Hassan Rouhani

On the occasion of the official visit of the Director-General to the Islamic Republic of Iran, Irina Bokova met H.E. Dr. Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the presence of H.E. Mr. Ahmed Jalali, Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of the Islamic Republic of Iran to UNESCO.

"Nowadays, world challenges are more universal and call for an increased role for UNESCO", declared President Rouhani, recalling the long-lasting relationship between the Islamic Republic of Iran and UNESCO.

"Our world suffers increasingly from violence and extremism, in particular in our region. This is also the problem of the Western world", stated President Rouhani. He went on to recall his initiative entitled WAVE presented at the United Nations General Assembly in the fall last year, aimed at countering violence and extremism through an enhanced cultural dialogue amongst nations.

"The first step towards such initiative has to be a cultural step since culture lies at the core of the identity of peoples, and it is an important factor for stability of nations and to ensure social cohesion".

In that respect, he underscored the importance of the media and education and emphasized the unique role of UNESCO in tackling this challenge from a universal perspective. President Rouhani warned against the danger of stereotypes that foster ignorance and misinterpretation of cultures. He further stressed the responsibility of UNESCO in promoting cultural dialogue amongst all nations, thereby fostering tolerance and respect for each and every culture.

"Your message at the United Nations General Assembly resonates strongly with UNESCO's mandate to construct the defenses of peace in the minds of men", declared Irina Bokova.

Similarly, "scientific research and development are to be equally shared amongst all nations", pursued President Rouhani, underscoring the paramount importance of international cooperation and offering his country's help to restore peace and stability in the region. "Iran stands ready to assist developing countries and countries enduring conflict and economic crisis in the region to help them fight poverty and achieve sustainable development."

The Director-General stated that her visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran marked a renewed commitment to strengthen the longstanding cooperation between UNESCO and the country.

This cooperation was marked by Iran's pioneering  contribution to the United Nations Year of Dialogue amongst Civilizations initiated by President Khatami in 2001, followed by the International Decade for Dialogue amongst Cultures, and the recently launched International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022), entrusting UNESCO a leadership role within the international community.

"In our globalized era, culture and identity are coming to the forefront of global challenges. UNESCO has a unique contribution to make, providing a unique platform for dialogue, for the respect of all cultures and promoting quality education. Education has to be grounded on cultural literacy as the cornerstone in response to the forces of extremism," added Irina Bokova.

President Rouhani and the Director-General concurred in emphasizing that all cultures have to find their legitimate place.

While recalling the magnificence of the Persian culture, enshrined in the refinement of the cultural heritage of ancient Persia in Shiraz and Isfahan and their strong influences over the Western civilization, Irina Bokova added "there is no pure culture, as cultures interact and transform themselves along the centuries of the history of humankind".

"One of the biggest challenges today, beyond economic difficulties, is to learn to live together respectfully in a world free of violence and extremism", said Irina Bokova.

In this context, she commended President Rouhani for achieving considerable progress in advancing education equally for boys and girls, and for the impressive rate of higher education achievements for girls and women, amounting to some 70% of the total post-doctoral population.

In response to President Rouhani's reference to the high enrolment rate of youth in science and technology, the Director-General noted the important contribution of the Regional Centre for the Development of Science Parks and Technology Incubators under UNESCO auspices, located in the Isfahan Science and Technology Town, fostering youth engagement and development, providing them with the opportunities to fully take part in the sustainable development of their country.

In pursuing her visit, the Director-General held bilateral meetings with the Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Head of Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO), H.E. Mr. Masoud Soltanifar; the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, H.E. Dr. Ali Janati; and the Minister of Energy, H.E. Mr. Hamid Chitchian.

All meetings emphasized Iran's commitment to become an active player in the development of the region, thereby fostering peace and stability. The already existing  strong ties between Iran and its neighbouring countries, especially Afghanistan and Tajikistan, were said to provide privileged opportunities in advancing joint cooperation -- in cultural heritage preservation, capacity-building and training, in the development of cultural industries and crafts, as well as in the area of water management. 

With regard to the latter, the need for an integrated approach linking cultural heritage preservation and water management was emphasized. The existing historical hydraulic structures of the Qanats, a unique system of water supply in Iran and in the region, were said to be valuable assets for the development of an integrated and comprehensive water management strategy within the region.

The Director-General invited the authorities to consider ratifying the UNESCO Convention on the protection and the promotion on the diversity of cultural expressions as a global framework to develop the cultural sector as an asset for economic and social development in Iran, but also more widely within the region.

The visit also provided the opportunity to visit a number of iconic cultural and historical heritage sites in the presence of H.E. Mr. Ahmed Jalali, Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of the Islamic Republic of Iran to UNESCO; Dr. Mohammad Hassan Talebian, Deputy of Cultural Heritage at the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization; as well as Mr. Mohamad Reza Saedabadi, Secretary-General of the National Commission for UNESCO. 

Amongst them, the landmarks of the pre-Islamic and Persian cultural heritage sites of Persepolis, the ancient city Arg-e-Bam, whose earthen architecture had been devastated during the earthquake in 2003 and which was recently removed from the World Heritage List in Danger following rehabilitation work.

The Director-General also visited the Eram Botanical Garden in Shiraz, as well the Mausoleums of the renowned poets and philosophers Hafez and Sadi.

During the visits, the Director-General exchanged views with the Governors of the Provinces of Kerman, Mr. Alireza Razm Hosseini,  and Fars, Dr. Seyed Mohammad Ahmadi, and highlighted the critical importance of ensuring sustainable tourism development, to ensure the long-term preservation and conservation of the sites, notably in the face of increased urbanisation.

During her visit to Isfahan, whose name signifies "half of the world", Irina Bokova praised the exquisite, highly refined and harmonious architecture spanning from the 9th century to 18th century embodied in the renowned mosques from the 9th, 10th and 13th centuries, palaces and ancient bazaar. The Governor of the Province of Isfahan, Dr. Rasoul Zargarpour, underscored the challenges the city is facing with regard to water management and called for UNESCO's assistance to devise a comprehensive water management strategy for the region, which is experiencing an unprecedented growth of tourism. He also referred to the challenges of desertification to agriculture development and for the industry. Isfahan is also characterized by the coexistence between different religions and cultures including Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Zoroastrian.

The visit of Isfahan concluded itself with a visit to the Isfahan Science and Technology Town, which hosts the Regional Centre for the Development of science Parks and Technology Incubators under UNESCO auspices. Irina Bokova engaged in an interactive exchange with Professors and students, highlighting the role of the Centre in providing training and mentoring to young scientists in order to facilitate their entrepreneurship in the areas of science and technology.