Athens.- GreekNewsOnline, ANA-MPA
Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos declared the opening of the 2nd International Conference of Athens on “Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East” at the Intercontinental Hotel in Athens on Monday.
In his address, Pavlopoulos stressed the urgent need to sincerely seek the terms and conditions for the continuous support of dialogue between different civilisations, in the context of full respect for cultural and religious pluralism.
According to Greece’s president, conflict and war were a form of logical inconsistency for true civilisation, in which humanism and peace served as “archetypal traits”.
In this context, he argued that “the global turmoil and its risks are not rooted in the clash of civilisations, but in the fact that these civilisations are fading. And precisely because of this fading course they were no longer able to fulfill the natural peace-making mission that their essence determines through their co-existence and co-operation on a global scale.”
The Greek president noted that the conference was extremely timely as eveyone is worried over developments in the Middle East amid an increase of refugee flows, creating conditions of humanitarian crisis, contrary to any sense of civilization and justice.
Greece has assumed an important role as the country with the strongest historical and cultural ties within the surrounding region and as a beacon of security and stability, Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, addressing the Conference of Athens.
“The five tripartite initiatives of our country in the region, together with Cyprus, the ‘spirit of Rhodes’ for new security structures, the global initiative for living ancient civilisations and this initiative, as well as the cooperation of the Euromed Seven, constitute the cornerstones of our policy in the region,” he said and added: “Greece has been and is the country that has for thousands of years supported respect for that which is different, tolerance between religions and civilisations, the creative exchange of their achievements, and learning from one another.”
Criticising the large organisations operating in the region, with emphasis on the UN, which does not yet have a comprehensive plan, and the EU, which operates selectively towards states, individuals and minorities rather than the whole region, and in particular religious and cultural communities, the foreign minister made two important proposals: “To table a special resolution in 2018 in the UN and the Human Rights Committee and to include in EU documents the issues that we will be dealing with tomorrow.”
At the same time, he proposed the further strengthening of the European Observatory, the center for religious pluralism in the Middle East, which was established in the framework of the First International Conference.
The foreign minister underlined that “extremists have committed crimes against people, against religious communities, against our common cultural heritage and have violated values and rights, destroyed historic memories and monuments,” adding that “in our region we must fight for respect toward what is different, especially between Jews and Muslims, Christians and Yazidi, but also between Sunni and Shia Muslims, Kurds and Arabs.”
Greece supports strongly efforts to tackle religious extremism and terrorism, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said.
“We support with all our powers tackling religious extremism and terrorism. We support promoting peace, stability and security,” he said.
“We are struggling to make this an issue for the whole international community which is why, through our active role and action in all international fora, we encourage taking drastic diplomatic and economic initiatives in this direction,” he added.
Tsipras aid Greece cannot remain silent or absent in the presence of challenges affecting the wider region which are increasingly affecting Europe and its core, adding that the country is exercising an energetic, multi-dimensional foreign policy which allows it to utilize its geopolitical position, promote peace and stability and open channels of communication.
“Greece insists on the values of humanism, solidarity and tolerance even in the most difficult times as we proved during the refugee crisis, when Greece shouldered the weight of humanity,” he said.
The conference, which is an initiative of the foreign ministry, is “proof of the important role played by Greece in the wider region, highlighting once again our country’s long-standing culture of dialogue, solidarity and active participation in solving global and regional crises.”
Tsipras said Greece is the only country of the EU and NATO which is also located in southeastern Europe and experienced the consequences of conflicts through the refugee crisis.
“We know, therefore, very well how important it is to maintain the religious and cultural pluralism in the Middle East for the future of Europe. And the other way round: How important it is for Europe to contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East with determination, but also on the basis of international law and democratic and humanitarian values,” he added.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Interfaith cooperation can provide the ground to build peace and normalcy in the East Mediterranean and the Middle East, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew told the second international conference in Athens.
In the first day of the two-day conference, the ecumenical patriarch warned that even if peace is achieved in the region, “the remaining problems will require time and a lot of hard work, as well as joint responsibility, synergy, and collaboration.” The wars in Middle East have “created large-scale destruction in the human, natural, cultural and religious environments,” and interfaith collaboration is vital to handle the continuing religious crisis and heal peoples’ emotional traumas, he said.
“Wherever people turn away from or interrupt dialogue,” he said, “what takes over is rigid ideologies, totalitarian regimes, brutal demagoguery, and finally weapons – destruction and death.” The ecumenical patriarch said the alternative was sincere dialogue in a loving spirit. “Sincere dialogue has the power to change the flow of history,” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said.
Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt
In regions where religious freedom is not protected, instability, human rights abuses, and violent extremism are more likely to take root, U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt said on Monday in remarks at the 2nd International Conference on “Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East”, held in Athens.
“As President [Donald] Trump has highlighted, ‘From the beginning, America has been a place that has cherished the freedom of worship…Our goal is to achieve a better tomorrow-one where good people of all faiths, Christians and Muslims and Jewish and Hindu, can follow their hearts and worship according to their conscience,” he said.
Pyatt quoted comments made by State Secretary Rex Tillerson on the presentation of the 2016 International Religious Freedom Annual Report to note US commitment in continuing the country’s work with regional partners to protect religious minority communities from terrorist attacks and to preserve their cultural heritage.
“Where religious freedom is not protected, he added, we know that instability, human rights abuses, and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root,” the ambassador said.
He concluded by presenting a short video message from the US Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia, Knox Thames.
FM IOANNIS KASOULIDES
Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides underlined the need to actively protect social and religious diversity in states, speaking at the 2nd International Conference on “Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East” on Monday in Athens.
He supported the establishment of a fund under international management to help the efforts of societies to not only build their homes from scratch but also their local infrastructure and economies.
He invited the participants to sign the Nicosia Treaty «in order to fight those who vandalise our cultural heritage in order to finance their criminal and terrorist organisations”.
Kasoulides congratulated his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias for organising the conference, noting that it was one of the Greek foreign ministry’s many initiatives for promoting dialogue and a positive agenda of cooperation in the wider region. He said that the Athens conference, together with the Conference of Rhodes, have created a web of dialogue and collaboration with tangible results within the region.
Finally, Kasoulides referred to the systematic destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq by Daesh terrorists and underlined that “if we tackle the illegal market in cultural and archaeological treasures, we will strike a blow against those who are profiting from them.”