Sporting success can help Azerbaijan act as a bridge between the West and the Muslim world.

That, I believe, is arguably the main message to emerge from the recently concluded European Games, which Azerbaijan hosted.

Over 17 days, my country welcomed 6,000 athletes from 50 countries, who competed in 20 sporting events.

In doing so, we showed we are more than capable of successfully staging a major international event and, perhaps more significantly, that we can act as a kind of bridge between the West and Arab worlds. 

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President Ilham Aliyev and his family were closely involved in preparations of the European Games and closely followed the events.

The First Lady of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva, headed the Organising Committee, proving once more the invaluable contribution a Muslim woman can make to secular world values. 

Development and modernisation

Yes, we are a young country still, but it is important to acknowledge our development and modernisation during the last 24 years of our independence.

Events such as the European Games are further evidence of the "European values" Azerbaijan holds dear.

But let's also remember that Baku is particularly proud to be hosting the Islamic Solidarity Games in two years and this, I would suggest, shows that we remain very much part of the Islamic world as well.

This is what is meant by "bridging" the two communities, and Azerbaijan is in a unique position to fulfil this role.

Let's not forget that Azerbaijan's territories were divided following the Gulistan and Turkmenchay treaties between Persia and Russia in 1813 and 1828. Today, 30 million Azerbaijanis live in Iran and are part of the Azerbaijani diaspora of 50 million individuals around the world.

Since independence, we have become a model for religious harmony with the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Jews, and Muslims - including harmonious relationships between the countries Sunni and Shia populations.

The need for unity 

We acknowledge there is still more to be done in our country, particularly in pushing ahead with our internal reform process.

 

In what is currently a very troubled world, the need to unite groups from different religious and cultural backgrounds has never been greater.

Azerbaijan gained its first independence in 1918. We were the first democratic Muslim country. Women here obtained the right to vote and to be elected before both the United States and France. The world's first oil academy, the first theatre, cinema, and first woman pilot in the East were in Azerbaijan. 

But I would remind you that despite resolutions by the UN, OIC, Council of Europe, and European Parliament in favour of our country's territorial integrity, 20 percent of Azerbaijani territories remain under Armenian occupation.

Yes, sport has a vital role to play and the Solidarity Games in 2017 offer another opportunity to underline our continuing efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in other parts of the Muslim world.

The decision to allow Azerbaijan to host this event was taken by a majority vote by the Islamic Solidarity Sport Federation, an Olympic Federation comprised of 57 countries, in Jeddah in 2013.

The Games will take place in Baku on May 12-22, 2017. Some 58 countries will compete, including Kosovo, and more than 6,000 sportsmen and women will compete in the 23 events.

The people of Azerbaijan greatly supported the European Games and everybody fulfilled her and his tasks, as expected. We are sure that we will achieve the same success at the Solidarity Games.

Azerbaijan is ready

We very much look forward to once again hosting another successful sporting spectacle, this time for the Arab world, and the acclaim we received in staging the European Games can do no harm to our chances of hosting the "big one" - the Summer Olympics in 2024. I really do believe we should now be considered a serious candidate for what is recognised as the biggest and most followed sporting event on the planet.

Azerbaijan is also ready in terms of human capital for the Islamic Solidarity Games with 20,000 experienced volunteers and over 1,500 local sports managers in the country. 

Azerbaijan welcomed 6,000 athletes from 50 countries [AP]

Some doubted our ability to host the European Games, even questioning our right to hold them in the first place. The acclaim with which they were universally greeted showed we disproved the doubters.

We acknowledge there is still more to be done in our country, particularly in pushing ahead with our internal reform process.

But look at just how far we have come as a country since independence from the Soviet Union. Ours is a modern, thriving country that is forging ahead in many different ways.

It is worth recounting that more sportsmen took part in the European Games than the Sochi and Vancouver Olympics. Azerbaijan has managed to become a sports capital, not just of Europe but the Arab world as well - something that I would suggest should be a source of great pride for Muslims everywhere.

Azerbaijan is a small country with a population of just 9 million, but our "sporting model" can, and will, help promote peace and harmony throughout the Muslim world of 1.5 billion people.

The challenge now is to carry this momentum forward and I am quietly confident that we, as a nation, will rise to the challenge.

Ceyhun Osmanli is a member of parliament to Milli Majlis of Azerbaijan since 2010. He is a member of the International Relations and Inter-Parliamentary Relations Committee. He is also a member of the Azerbaijani delegation to Euronest Parliamentary Assembly and a board member of the World Bank and IMF Parliamentary Network.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera