The ceremony took place at The Baku Olympic Stadium, which has been transformed into an enormous theatre space equipped with a state-of-the-art projection system.

Seated in the VIP section at the stadium were President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, first lady, chair of the Baku 2017 Organising Committee Mehriban Aliyeva, Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen and other officials.

In July 2013, Baku was announced as the host city for the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games – an exciting multi-sport event uniting the Islamic world.

Athletes from more than 50 Islamic countries will come together from 12 to 22 May 2017 to represent their nations over 10 days of competition across 20 different sports.

They include 24 disciplines (Athletics and Para Athletics, Aquatics: Diving, Aquatics: Swimming, Aquatics: Water Polo, Basketball 3x3, Boxing, Football, Gymnastics: Artistic, Gymnastics: Rhythmic, Handball, Judo and Blind Judo, Karate, Shooting, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Tennis, Volleyball, Weightlifting, Wrestling: Greco-Roman, Wrestling: Freestyle, Wushu and Zurkhaneh) in 16 state-of-the-art competition venues across Baku.

The Organising Committee was set up by decree of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. The committee is headed by First Vice President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva.

The Azerbaijan Islamic Solidarity Games Operations Committee (AISGOC) is organizing and running the Games in cooperation with the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation (ISSF).

Azerbaijan has hosted a number of major events in the past few years. In 2015, the inaugural European Games and the Chess World Cup were held in Baku. The following year, Azerbaijan hosted the World Chess Olympiad, Arena Polo World Cup, UEFA European Under-17 Championship and AGF Trophy World Cup 2016 Rhythmic Gymnastics Finals.

Looking ahead, in the summer of 2017 the Azerbaijan Grand Prix will see Formula 1 cars racing through the streets of Baku for the second year running; and later in the year, the Women’s European Volleyball Championship will be held in the city. In 2020, Azerbaijan will host the European Karate Championship, plus three group stage football matches and a quarter-final of the UEFA Euro Championship at the Baku Olympic Stadium.

Baku 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games launched the Journey from the Caspian, which started with a ceremony at the Stone Chronical Museum on April 5. During the launch ceremony, 16 children from across Azerbaijan were presented with a copper Baku 2017 Water Vessel, containing water from the Caspian Sea, which they took back to their home towns and cities. In doing so, they brought the spirit of the Baku 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games to the people of Azerbaijan.

Over the course of its journey, which exceeded 3,000 km in 37 days, the Journey from the Caspian visited spectacular water locations across Azerbaijan.

In his article headlined “The strengthening of Islamic Solidarity is a challenge of time”, which was published in the OIC Journal, President Ilham Aliyev highlighted the importance of the Islamic Solidarity Games: “Today the Islamic world needs unity and solidarity like never before. Therefore, declaration of 2017 as “The Year of Islamic Solidarity” in Azerbaijan is a goodwill message to the Muslim community and to the whole world. Major goals of “The Year of Islamic Solidarity” are to strengthen unity in the Muslim world and to show the whole world that Islam is a religion of peace and culture. I think that apart from being a sporting event, the Islamic Solidarity Games will be the days of unity and solidarity of the Islamic world.”

At the final meeting of the Baku 2017 Organising Committee, First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva said: “We are completely ready to successfully host the Games in our country. Our aim is to host the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games at the most decent level in Azerbaijan. There are all conditions for that. We have state support. The organizing committee has been working successfully. We have the team, the volunteers are ready. I’m sure that we would be able to make another important achievement in the glorious and rich history of our country.”

Baku 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games have four core values: Unity, Peace, Respect, and Excellence. The motto of the Games is “Solidarity is our strength!”

Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz, President of the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation, said: “I would like to thank the people of our wonderful host nation – Azerbaijan – and First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva for her leadership as Chair of the Baku 2017 Organising Committee. Azerbaijan is passionate about sport, and has shown unwavering commitment to hosting an event of the highest standard. I have no doubt that these Games will be a credit to the hard work and commitment of Baku 2017’s organisers and volunteers, and that our athletes will be provided with the perfect conditions in which to excel.”

Azad Rahimov, Minister of Youth and Sport of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Chief Executive Officer of Azerbaijan Islamic Solidarity Games Operations Committee, said “this evening’s Ceremony will be an unforgettable celebration of unity and solidarity, as Azerbaijan honours its heritage while continuing to build a reputation as a centre for international exchange and major sporting events, including the Azerbaijan Grand Prix this summer and UEFA European Football Championship matches in 2020”. “The Baku 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games are the culmination of over 20 months of careful planning and preparation, and we are ready to host thousands of athletes at 16 state-of-the-art sporting venues.”

Catherine Ugwu, Director of Ceremonies and Executive Producer, said: “These Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku come at a critical moment in world history. A time marked by uncertainty and discord, when our differences seem to divide rather than unite us. Tonight, our Ceremony seeks instead to focus on what brings us together, as nations and as people.” “Ours is a universal story of peace rooted in the culture and traditions of Azerbaijan. A timely reminder of the enormous contributions Islamic civilisation has made to everything we see and do today. A tale of solidarity and hope filled with optimism for our collective future. Thousands of people from across the world have worked many months to make this Ceremony a reality – I’d like to thank them all for their creativity, passion and commitment.

My heartfelt gratitude goes to the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, the First Vice President of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Chair of the Baku 2017 Organising Committee, Mehriban Aliyeva, and the Minister of Youth and Sport, Azad Rahimov.”

Nathan M. Wright, Artistic Director, said: “At the heart of our Ceremony is a little girl from Baku, Mina. We follow her on a journey of discovery, guided by her friendly kite. Along the way she learns about her identity and heritage, her beliefs and dreams. By the end, her hope for the future is all-embracing, her joy an inspiration. Mina’s story is a celebration of the power of community and unity. A wish, for a better world living in peace and harmony.”

The stage design – an interlaced pattern of circles forming a central hexagon in tribute to the extraordinary geometric designs characteristic of Islamic art – features two minarets, each 28m high.

The vast screen (85m wide by 35m high) was filled with rich video content developed over many months – from hyper-real animations to stunning cinematic sequences.

More than 5,000 people from 31 different countries have helped make the Baku 2017 Ceremonies a reality, including production staff, technical crew and cast.

The Opening Ceremony was brought to life by 2,200 volunteer performers from Azerbaijan. They are joined on stage by more than 40 animals – horses, camels and donkeys. The music heard in the Ceremony – performed by more than 100 world-class musicians – featured works written by more than a dozen Azerbaijani composers, including the legendary Uzeyir Hajibayli, Fikret Amirov and Gara Garayev.

In a video, a flying kite led us from the Old City through Baku to the Stadium. It caught the attention of a little girl, Mina, and her friends, who chased it through the city all the way to the Stadium.

People in the stadium saw some of Baku’s iconic landmarks: the Flame Towers, Maiden Tower, Philharmonia Garden, the Heydar Aliyev Centre and, finally, the Olympic Stadium.

Inside the Stadium children were holding kites with numbers counting down from 10 to one.

Once the countdown was complete, the stadium welcomed officials and guests – President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, First Vice President and Chair of the Baku 2017 Organising Committee Mehriban Aliyeva, Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen, and others.

700 volunteer performers filled the stage as Eldar Mansurov’s “Yalli” was played. They held reflective hexagons to create a series of shapes. They were joined by 10 male dancers from the Azerbaijan State Ensemble, who performed with 7-metre-long silks.

The cast formed a crescent moon and star and the Baku 2017 logo. The cast flipped their hexagons to reveal the flag of Azerbaijan.

In the Islamic calendar, a crescent moon marks the start of each new month. These Games signal a fresh chapter in the long history of Islamic solidarity and cooperation.

The national anthem of the Republic of Azerbaijan was played.

The flag of Azerbaijan was carried by eight and raised by three servicemen of the National Guard of the Special State Protection Service.

Fireworks shot from the Stadium roof in the national colours of Azerbaijan.

A video on the screens showed the Journey from the Caspian Launch Ceremony, and children collecting water from locations of great natural beauty across Azerbaijan.

The children of Azerbaijan entered holding copper vessels, and poured the waters of Azerbaijan into the large copper bowl on stage.

Almost 40 days ago, waters from the shores of the Caspian were sent throughout the country by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev to bring the Games closer to everyone. In return, crystal waters collected by children from lakes and rivers, waterfalls and springs across the land are united here tonight. The Journey from the Caspian visited 16 locations visiting 5 lakes, 1 reservoir, 3 rivers, 1 spring, 3 waterfalls, and the Caspian Sea.

The Parade of Athletes began. Teams entered the Stadium in English alphabetical order. The host nation, Azerbaijan, concluded the Parade. Each team was led into the Stadium by their flag, a man holding a placard designed to look like an Islamic armillary sphere – a tribute to the distances the athletes have travelled round the globe to be here tonight – and a woman carrying a Baku 2017 Water Vessel.

Teams of Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros paraded first.

Then came Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Indonesia, and Iran.

Teams of Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, and Morocco entered the stadium.

They were followed by Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. A friendly country for Azerbaijan, Pakistan has sent 125 athletes to the Games. Saudi Arabia has a large squad of 188 athletes.

The next teams to enter the stadium were Somalia, Suriname, Syria, Tajikistan, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. Turkish athletes were given a rapturous applause from spectators. Turkey has the second largest squad at the Games, which includes a total of 337 athletes.

Finally the host nation, Azerbaijan, concluded the Parade. Natig Shirinov and another 19 drummers performed as Team Azerbaijan entered the Stadium. Azerbaijan`s squad at the Games includes 425 athletes. The flag bearer was five time karate world champion Rafael Aghayev. President Ilham Aliyev and first lady Mehriban Aliyeva applauded the Azerbaijani athletes. The drummers played on to close the Parade.

The ISSF flag was carried into the Stadium by 10 Azerbaijani sporting champions. They were: Namig Abdullayev, Freestyle Wrestling Olympic gold medallist at Sydney 2000; Irada Ashumova, Shooting Olympic bronze medallist at Athens 2004; Nazim Huseynov, Judo Olympic gold medallist at Barcelona 1992; Elnur Mammadli, Judo Olympic gold medallist at Beijing 2008; Farid Mansurov, Greco-Roman Wrestling Olympic gold medallist at Athens 2004; Zemfira Meftahatdinova; Shooting Olympic gold medallist at Sydney 2000; Movlud Miraliyev, Judo Olympic bronze medallist at Beijing 2008; Niyamaddin Pashayev, Taekwondo World Championship gold medallist at Jeju 2001, Rafiga Shabanova, Handball Olympic gold medallist at Montreal 1976, Lyudmila Shubina, Handball Olympic gold medallist at Montreal 1976.

The flag wass then handed to 10 members of the armed forces and raised by three additional members. The ISSF flag flew beside the flag of the host nation – the Republic of Azerbaijan.

One athlete and one referee from Azerbaijan then took oaths on behalf of everyone participating in the Games, pledging honour and fair play, honesty and integrity. Oath takers were Radik Isayev, Taekwondo Olympic gold medallist at Rio 2016, and Fuad Aslanov, Boxing referee, Olympic bronze medallist at Athens 2004.

First Vice-President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Chair of the Baku 2017 Organising Committee Mehriban Aliyeva was invited to the stage to deliver a speech.

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