It was Mr Matsuura’s fourth visit to the country, throughout which he was accompanied by Ambassador Husseinova, Permanent Delegate of Azerbaijan to UNESCO.
Upon his arrival in Baku, the Director-General was received by President Aliyev for bilateral discussions. The talks focussed on the progress made in Azerbaijan’s cooperation with UNESCO in recent years, particularly in the fields of culture and education. The Director-General paid tribute to the President and the First Lady for the importance they personally attached to preserving the Azeri tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The sciences were identified as a new area of cooperation and Mr Matsuura pledged UNESCO’s assistance in the review of the country’s science and technology strategy.
Following his meeting with the President, Mr Matsuura participated in a Round Table with members of the country’s National Commission for UNESCO. The meeting was chaired by Foreign Minister Mammadyarov, Chairperson of the National Commission, and attended by Minister Mardanov of Education, Minister Garayev of Culture and Tourism, Minister Abbasov of Communication and Information Technologies, Minister Rahimov of Youth and Sports, Minister Bagirov of Ecology and Natural Resources, as well as other members of the Commission representing governmental departments, national institutions and NGOs involved in UNESCO’s fields of competence.
In a meeting with First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the Director-General and the First Lady signed a letter of intent between the Foundation and UNESCO. The document foresees the reinforcement of cooperation on the promotion of the intangible cultural heritage, in particular in the framework of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, and with a focus on capacity-building and professional development in developing countries.
On 20 March, the Director-General attended, with the President and the First Lady, the Novruz celebrations in the Old City of Baku. Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Museum of Contemporary Art* later the same morning, Mr Matsuura underscored the crucial role of museums in delivering UNESCO’s ideals around the world and culture’s fundamental role in building more sustainable strategies for development.
In the afternoon, the President and the Director-General opened an International Mugham Festival in the new International Mugham Centre**. In his intervention, Mr Matsuura recalled laying the centre’s foundation stone with President Aliyev during his visit to Azerbaijan in August 2005. Highlighting Mrs Aliyeva’s active role in safeguarding the cultural heritage – in particular the living heritage – in Azerbaijan as well as in other parts of the world, Mr Matsuura said that during his visits to Azerbaijan, he had come to learn “the extent to which the President’s and the First Lady’s commitment to safeguarding intangible cultural heritage was shared by the people of Azerbaijan”. Expressing his satisfaction at the proclamation of the Azerbaijani Mugham as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003, the Director-General explained that in November 2008 the Mugham had been incorporated into the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in the context of the new UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, along with the other 89 former Masterpieces.
“The International Mugham Centre expresses a collective desire of all Azerbaijain’s people to ensure that present and future generations walk in the footsteps of their ancestors and continue to perform and create the magnificent art of Mugham”, stated Mr Matsuura. He concluded by saying that the new Centre promises to be “a stimulating forum where young and old masters of Mugham can present, explore, transmit and develop their art for the enlightenment and entertainment of the public” and expressed his hope that “it will also become a magnet for masters, students, performers and music lovers from other countries and other performing traditions, within Azerbaijan and beyond”.