Dear ladies and gentlemen!
Dear fellow countrymen!
I want to cordially congratulate you on the opening of the Third Congress of World Azerbaijanis and wish good health and success to each one of you.
This congress is a very significant event. It has already become a wonderful tradition to conduct congresses of world Azerbaijanis in Azerbaijan. The foundation of this tradition was laid by great leader Heydar Aliyev in 2001. It was on his initiative that Azerbaijanis of the world converged in Baku for the first time and held a wonderful congress. After that, new conditions emerged for the institutional development of world Azerbaijanis.
In 2002, also on the initiative of great leader Heydar Aliyev, the State Committee for Work with the Azerbaijanis living abroad was established. It is now called the State Committee for Diaspora Affairs. Thanks to the activities of the committee, our compatriots living on all continents have set up their own organizations. Today, these organizations are operating successfully on all continents and in all countries.
The great leader applied great efforts towards solidarity and unity of world Azerbaijanis. Back in 1991, when he was in Nakhchivan, 31 December was declared the Day of Solidarity of World Azerbaijanis on his initiative. Today, 31 December is our national holiday.
The film demonstrated here today showed different development directions of our country. This year Azerbaijan is marking the 20th anniversary of its independence. Over the 20 years we have traveled a long and glorious path. While marking the 20th anniversary, we recall the contribution great leader Heydar Aliyev has made to our country and people. Heydar Aliyev, who came to lead the country at the request of the Azerbaijani people at the crucial moment for independent Azerbaijan, managed to save the country from tragedies, disasters and civil war.
In 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan became independent. However, the processes unfolding in the country and the dire situation of the time jeopardized our independence. The country was dominated by chaos, anarchy and mass disobedience. The economic and political recession were leading the country into the abyss. Additionally, the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan and the subsequent occupation of our lands, infighting, standoff and civil war – all this was happening in the early years of our independence.
In 1993, thanks to the tireless activities of Heydar Aliyev, an end was put to all the negative phenomena. Stability was established in the country, and Azerbaijan embarked on a period of development. So we can say confidently and with determination: Heydar Aliyev is the founder of independent Azerbaijan, the creator of independent Azerbaijan. Today Azerbaijan is moving and developing along the path laid down by him.
Azerbaijan’s development directions were identified in 1993 and in the first years of our statehood. Those initiatives were crucial at the time because it was then that the present-day realities were identified and built on selected directions. The right direction was selected: Azerbaijan was to integrate into the international community, pursue a policy of “open doors” and attract foreign investment. We succeeded in doing that. The construction of a democratic and secular state in Azerbaijan is also the result of Heydar Aliyev’s policy. Today, Azerbaijan is a rapidly and successfully developing country. The political processes in the country are developing in a positive direction. The political system is modernizing. The country is governed in line with democratic principles. The freedom of speech, conscience and press, human rights issues are a priority for us. Azerbaijan is successfully building a law-governed state. We are successfully cooperating with all international institutions and organizations.
In 1995, on Heydar Aliyev’s initiative, the Constitution of independent Azerbaijan was adopted. Our fundamental law enables the country to develop successfully and rapidly.
The tasks our country is facing are being fulfilled. I want to repeat that it was the direction correctly determined in the 1990s that has brought about present-day realities. At present, the policy of Heydar Aliyev is still living on, continuing and being enriched with new forms.
The process of construction of a modern state is successfully ongoing in Azerbaijan. At the same time, we are very committed to our national and spiritual values and cherish them. Azerbaijani values are of utmost importance to us. For centuries the people of Azerbaijan have managed to preserve their national and spiritual values, the native Azerbaijani language. Today, a modern state of Azerbaijan is emerging and strengthening on this solid foundation and has already become a very important factor in the region.
Our affinity to national values is the will of the Azerbaijani people. At the same time, Azerbaijan is applying the best practices that are considered acceptable for us. A policy of broad modernization is under way in Azerbaijan. We can see the signs of modernization in all areas. We will stick to that this policy in the future.
At the same time, Azerbaijan has created a strong economic potential. As a result of the economic reforms of recent years, our country can fully support itself, and even the financial and economic crisis that has led to major problems throughout the world had very little impact on Azerbaijan. In the worst years of crisis – 2008, 2009 and 2010 – the Azerbaijani economy continued to evolve and grow.
Political and economic reforms in Azerbaijan complement each other. Our goal is to create a strong and modern state by deepening these reforms. We have already achieved great successes in that.
Over the last seven years, our economy has grown threefold, i.e. the gross domestic product has risen by 300 per cent. This is unseen elsewhere in the world. Industrial production has increased about threefold. The number of people living in poverty has dropped five times. This shows that our reforms are socially oriented. Underlying our policy is the human factor, and the slogan that “We must turn oil into human capital”, announced a few years ago, is now being fulfilled. As a result, we can see revival and development in all areas of our economy. Our financial capabilities are expanding. There is extensive creative work in Azerbaijan. Foreign and domestic investment is made in Azerbaijan. A total of $16 billion was invested in our economy last year alone. I do hope that this figure will keep growing. Let me repeat that as a result of our reforms we managed to preserve economic and macroeconomic stability even in the worst months and years of the recession. Moreover, the steps and initiatives we have taken further improved the well-being of our people, social programs were fulfilled, social benefits, wages and pensions are rising.
Of course, the economic independence allows us to openly and clearly express our opinion on international issues too.
Azerbaijan’s influence on regional processes is growing. And this is natural because Azerbaijan accounts for 75 per cent of the South Caucasus economy. I should also note that 80 per cent of the gross domestic product is generated in the private sector. This, in turn, shows that Azerbaijan is successfully carrying out market liberalization.
As a result of regional cooperation initiatives, a great atmosphere of cooperation has emerged in the region. The initiatives we have put forward as part of the oil strategy of great leader Heydar Aliyev are yielding excellent results. Azerbaijan is pursuing a very successful energy policy. As for energy security, Azerbaijan has become a popular talking point in recent months, and this is natural because the work under way in Azerbaijan and the funds invested in infrastructure have led to a new situation. We will remain committed to this policy. Azerbaijan’s development should not be limited only to economic steps. Let me repeat that we want Azerbaijan to apply the most advanced technologies and best practices in all directions, so that living standards could improve every year. We have all the opportunities to achieve that. We have a thought-out strategy, and our tactical steps are also very successful. Azerbaijan has not made a single mistake in its foreign and domestic policies and in ongoing programs. I think that as a result of that our country is enjoying much more respect in the world today.
Azerbaijan is recognized as a reliable partner. We are reckoned with. There is an increasing number of countries interested in cooperating and being friends with us. Independence is the greatest asset, our greatest success. Azerbaijan has been living independently for 20 years. The Azerbaijani people live freely. The Azerbaijani people are the masters of their fate, the will of the Azerbaijani people is the most important factor for us. I am confident that the socioeconomic issues the country is facing will continue to be resolved successfully. This is possible thanks to our experience, the financial potential and economic capacities.
The most painful issue facing the country is the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Unfortunately, despite years of negotiations, the issue remains unresolved. Our lands are under occupation, all international organizations protect and support Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. The United Nations, the OSCE, the European Parliament, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the Council of Europe and other organizations have passed decisions and resolutions protecting Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and calling for a withdrawal of occupying forces from our lands. Unfortunately, the issue remains unresolved. The only reason for that is the unconstructive position of Armenia and its unpreparedness for peace. But we know well that sooner or later Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity will be restored.
We want to resolve this issue peacefully and soon. The Armenian side has to understand that the potential created in Azerbaijan cannot be compared to Armenia’s. Our economic power and potential are 10 times greater than Armenia’s. Over time, this difference will become even greater, the abyss between us will expand further. Therefore, Armenia should be interested in seeing this issue resolved quickly because it can’t compete with Azerbaijan now. Our military spend alone is 50 per cent higher than Armenia’s total budget. And this is only the first result of our work. We understand and see very well what lies ahead. Azerbaijan will be among the world’s richest countries. International organizations are already putting Azerbaijan very high in their rakings on all directions. We are the CIS leader for economic competitiveness. We are the CIS leader for the application and spread of information and communication technologies. According to the UN estimates, Azerbaijan’s has made the biggest leap in terms of the human development index.
In other words, we know very well what Azerbaijan’s potential will be like in 5 or 10 years, because, I repeat, the work we are doing and the ongoing projects are enabling such forecasts. Therefore, the speediest settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is in the interests of both Azerbaijan and Armenia. The international community wants it too.
The international community also wants an end to the conflict. One of the important factors that has encouraged us in recent months is the fact that mediators and heads of mediating countries are unequivocally stating that the status-quo is unacceptable. The status-quo must be changed. And the change of the status-quo, of course, requires liberation of our lands from occupation.
We hope the negotiations will yield a result. In any case, Azerbaijan has always demonstrated a constructive approach in the talks. We will strive, using all the available opportunities, to restore our territorial integrity soon.
You, Azerbaijanis of the world, know very well that Nagorno-Karabakh is a primordial and historical Azerbaijani land. Our people lived and created on this land for centuries. Armenians came to this territory as guests. We all know the story of their arrival in Nagorno-Karabakh. In fact, in 1978 Armenians established a monument in Nagorno-Karabakh that reflected their resettlement there. In the early years of war, the Armenians destroyed the monument. But history cannot be revised.
History is history. Armenians, who marked the 150th anniversary of their resettlement to Karabakh in 1978, are well aware that they came to these lands as guests. And not only to Nagorno-Karabakh. The history of present-day Armenia was formed on Azerbaijani lands. The Erivan Khanate, the Zangezur Mahal – these are historically our lands. If we look at the map, we can see that as a result of a separation of Zangezur from Azerbaijan and its transfer to Armenia, the great Turkic world was geographically split. So the transfer of Zangezur to Armenia had hugely negative consequences. We do not want these lands to be annexed to Azerbaijan now. Every Azerbaijani, every citizen and every child should know their history. We should know that these are historically Azerbaijani lands. In order to resolve the problem, all factors must be considered, of course. History is well known. This is our land – not only Nagorno-Karabakh, but also other regions. International law is fully on our side. The statement made by heads of the Minsk Group co-chair countries also refers to the Helsinki Final Act, which states explicitly and clearly that the principle of territorial integrity and the one of national self-determination should not be in conflict. So our position is strong from a legal point of view as well.
From an economic point of view, Armenia and Azerbaijan are incomparable. We are in completely different weight categories, so to speak. In terms of opportunities of influencing political processes, Azerbaijan is also in a better position. Due to a geographical location, the work we are doing, the infrastructure, the energy policy, the strengthening of security in the region and the role Azerbaijan is playing, we, of course, are further increasing our political clout. I have no doubt that thanks to all these factors and through the strengthening of Azerbaijani army, we can settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must and will be restored.
Dear friends, dear compatriots, let me cordially welcome you to Azerbaijan again. I am sure you are very pleased to come home. The modern appearance of Baku, I am sure, is also producing a very positive impression on you. Baku is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Baku is our capital of, our dear city. There are plans on its further development. I am sure that every time you come to Baku, you will discover new and beautiful parts of our city. I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts regarding the activities of Azerbaijani Diaspora organizations.
First of all, I must say that I am very pleased that Azerbaijani Diaspora organizations of the world are already fully formed.
Over the time that has elapsed since the first congress, i.e. in 10 years, a lot has been done, the number of organizations has increased. Five years ago we had 336 Diaspora organizations, while now their number has reached 416. It is very important.
But at the same time, the number may not be the top priority here. I am very pleased that our Diaspora organizations are growing stronger also in terms of quality, their activities are more focused and efficient now. The actions conducted by our Diaspora organizations in various countries show that our organizations can state their opinion, express protest or provide support anywhere. This is a very important factor. I am very pleased that Diaspora organizations existing in the world today have risen to new heights. Coordination efforts among these organizations can, of course, further enhance their activity. I think that our Diaspora organizations should unite entire Azerbaijani communities in their respective countries. In an ideal world every Azerbaijani should become a member of a Diaspora organization, participate in its activities, provide support, assistance and, if necessary, receive assistance from a Diaspora organization. For that to happen, these organizations should be even stronger. I believe that one of the crucial factors is unity among Diaspora organizations. There are several Diaspora organizations in some countries. In large countries, there are dozens. In most cases the relations between communities are quite sound. But there are cases when there is some controversy, problems or misunderstanding. I am urging you, if such phenomena do occur they must be stopped. We must be together both in and outside the country. Unity makes us stronger. If there is no unity, we cannot be strong. It is an axiom. So I believe that in order to develop the activities of Diaspora organizations, we must ensure this unity. At the same time, the number of Azerbaijan’s permanent and diplomatic missions in the world is growing. When the previous congress was held, we had 46 Embassies and consulates. Today, the number has reached 65. In the near future, we will open Embassies and consulates in eight other countries. First of all, this certainly demonstrates the power of the Azerbaijani state, the fact that we are cooperating with the whole world. Today, we have 65 Embassies and consulates, and when the number reaches 73, there will be no major country left in the world in which we do not have an Embassy.
Cooperation between Embassies and Diaspora organizations should become more solid and goal-oriented. I am hearing this applause and seeing that you know what I mean. I do not want to go into too much detail, but sometimes the contradictions between Embassies and Diaspora organizations disappoint me a lot. We must not allow this. The Embassy is part of Azerbaijan, an official representative office of the Azerbaijani state, a symbol of Azerbaijan in a foreign country. We must ensure that Embassies and Diaspora organizations are always on good terms. If there is a problem, misunderstanding or discontent, it must be addressed immediately. No-one should step aside or hide in a corner, so that we have to intervene and try to normalize the situation. They should respect and support each other because we have one homeland – the state of Azerbaijan. Every citizen of Azerbaijan should strive to create a positive image for his state, an opinion about his people that reflects the reality. If citizens of foreign countries see that Azerbaijanis do not get along with each other abroad or are working against each other, they will inevitably have the wrong impression about our country and people. So let me ask you this: if something happened on someone’s mistake in the past, let’s discard this and turn over this page. In the future, Diaspora organizations and Embassies should work as a team, be as a fist, inform citizens of their respective countries of what a beautiful country Azerbaijan is.
I repeat that in most cases, Embassies and Diaspora organizations cooperate very well. However, as I said, there are other facts, but I am sure that these issues will be resolved after this Congress.
The activities of Diaspora organizations are also a great response to the dirty campaign the Armenian lobby is waging against Azerbaijan. It is no secret that in the first years of independence, we did not have great financial opportunities, while the Azerbaijanis living abroad were not well organized. But now, our Diaspora organizations counter Armenian propaganda in all countries with Azerbaijani realities. I am welcoming such actions and policies, and I want to thank members of our Diaspora organizations for this selfless and remarkable mission. We must try to communicate the realities of Azerbaijan to the world. We are countered in the world by the Armenian lobby. It is fighting against us. Some politicians, print media and public organizations in their sphere of influence are campaigning against Azerbaijan, are engaged in a smear campaign, spread trumped up and false information to distort Azerbaijani realities, circulate lies and slander.
The Azerbaijani state is and will be protecting itself. I am also very pleased that our Diaspora organizations do not only provide a resolute response to Armenian lobbying organizations, but also conduct their own propaganda against Armenia on the basis of very serious and real facts. I have always said in meetings with our ambassadors and want to repeat today that our diplomacy should be offensive. Our diplomacy should not be defensive, of self-defending nature. Our offensive diplomacy is working. When you consider that we are the right and aggrieved party in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, our arguments are certainly more serious and powerful. I think we must continue countering Armenian lobby throughout the world, expose its lies, promote Azerbaijani realities and present them for what they are. Various conferences, workshops, roundtables are being held. I am welcoming that. Newspapers are published. I think the number of newspapers should be increased, and newspapers in the Azerbaijani language should be regularly published abroad. Newspapers and magazines should be released and propaganda materials demonstrated in the languages of different countries. We are living in the Internet era, and access to the Internet in Azerbaijan is open. This is very important. There are no restrictions. The number of Internet users in Azerbaijan has reached 50 per cent. Sometimes we hear as a result of the Armenian propaganda or from some hypocritical politicians influenced by the Armenian lobby that there is allegedly no press freedom in Azerbaijan. But how can that be the case in a country where there is free access to the Internet, where the number of Internet users is 50 per cent and where there is free press? So in the Internet era we must harness these opportunities. New web-sites should be created. There should be numerous web-sites reflecting the history and culture of the Azerbaijani people, the present realities, Azerbaijan’s policies, and Azerbaijani state bodies should provide assistance in that. I have issued relevant instructions. In other words, we must try to introduce ourselves abroad the way we are. We can achieve even more in that.
At the same time, I think – and in some cases we are already seeing this – that our Diaspora organizations should become a factor in the domestic policies of these countries. This is the time to do that. Both the development of our country and the strengthening of Diaspora organizations are opening up such opportunities before us. Our compatriots, the Azerbaijanis, should be represented in state and government agencies of their countries. Their numbers provide for that opportunity. They should be represented in the legislature. For that, there should be even stronger mutual support and unity among the Azerbaijanis. I think this is feasible. I do hope that we will hear good news about that before the next congress. This will be great support for both the Azerbaijanis living there and for our country, because the stronger the Azerbaijanis living abroad, the more secure the interests of our state. The stronger Azerbaijan, the more confident and comfortable our countrymen will feel. So I think it would be desirable to involve Diaspora organizations in general and their members individually in real politics and real activities. Of course, you can always count on the support of the Azerbaijani state.
Some of our compatriots abroad are working in business entities. Most of them do business. They have a relatively strong economic foundation. We are welcoming that. We want all Azerbaijanis, regardless of where they live, to live well, to be well-off and to have ample opportunities. I am very pleased that the vast majority of our compatriots living abroad are well-to-do. Our compatriots who have left Azerbaijan for foreign countries to work or have lived there for many years are not employed in undervalued jobs. They either work in business entities or are engaged in science in higher education institutions. Business structures are also quite strong. Our only wish for them is that they help other compatriots.
At the same time, as I have said, Azerbaijan’s economic opportunities are expanding. We are now investing not only in Azerbaijan but also in foreign countries. This is also one of our strategic economic and political steps. Now, both public and private Azerbaijani companies work in foreign countries, implement contracts and invest. Sometimes this investment amounts to hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars.
Relevant government agencies and public companies from Azerbaijan have been instructed, while private companies encouraged to attract more Azerbaijanis in the countries of their operation. This process has begun. I believe that when our companies abroad grow stronger, the Azerbaijanis living there will be more involved in this work. We are not talking only about the employment of Azerbaijanis and promotion them to a position. The companies operating abroad must participate in the projects being implemented by Azerbaijani companies, public companies. They should participate as contractors, as parties to an agreement. They must earn more money.
I want you to know that public and private companies have been instructed and advised not to overlook this issue. I think you will have many more meetings today and tomorrow. You will meet with representatives of the state. This question can and should be discussed more broadly.
At the same time, we have started establishing houses of Azerbaijani culture abroad. This is a new initiative. The Azerbaijani government intends to acquire property in the central cities of major countries. It is necessary to organize Azerbaijani culture houses there. At the same time, Azerbaijani trade houses should be set up. The instruction has been given to establish Azerbaijani centers in central parts and streets of capital cities. We should represent and sell Azerbaijani products and other propaganda materials there. So this is part of our plans, and this process has already begun starting from this year.
I believe that the opportunities of Azerbaijani Diaspora organizations must play a role in this. In this regard, we have instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Economic Development. I think the State Committee for Diaspora Affairs should also join this work, so that we could do it with maximum efficiency and secure the interests of the Azerbaijanis living abroad. This will benefit both the Azerbaijanis living there and us.
Dear friends, there is a lot I want to say. But time moves on. I do not want us to have to amend the congress regulations. I would like to conclude my remarks. I want to say again that the Third Congress of World Azerbaijanis is a momentous event. First of all, because we have got together again and demonstrated to the people of Azerbaijan and the entire world that we are united. We are a people, we are a great nation. The strengthening Azerbaijan is a source of pride.
I am sure that you, as people familiar with the processes ongoing in Azerbaijan, are legitimately proud. As an independent state, Azerbaijan has come a long way to become a fully free and independent country with a great economic potential in 20 years. People live in an atmosphere of security in Azerbaijan. Tranquility, security, public and political order are protected, there is every freedom. There are no political and economic restrictions. Our positions in the region are quite strong, and I am absolutely sure that our influence will gradually increase further. We have a large family living abroad, they are Azerbaijanis. These are the people attached to their native homeland. Our distinctive feature is that no matter where we live, we are attached to our home country. This is our homeland, our common homeland. Independent Azerbaijan is the motherland for all Azerbaijanis. We have one motherland – Azerbaijan! We have one language – the Azerbaijani language! We have a nationwide ideology – the ideology of Azerbaijanism! I want all Azerbaijanis of the world always to be together, to know that a strong state of Azerbaijan is behind them and they can always rely on Azerbaijan.
I want to conclude my remarks with the unforgettable words of great leader Heydar Aliyev: “We are all proud to be Azerbaijanis.”