An official reception marking the 20th anniversary of the restoration of state independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan has been arranged at the Buta Palace.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev participated in the official reception.
Participants warmly welcomed President Ilham Aliyev and his wife Mehriban Aliyeva.
The national anthem of Azerbaijan was played.
The head of state made a speech at the reception.
Speech by President Ilham Aliyev
- Dear ladies and gentlemen!
Let me sincerely congratulate you and all the people of Azerbaijan on the 20th anniversary of the restoration of state independence.
We have been marking this great event throughout the year. At the beginning of this year, in January, I signed a corresponding resolution to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the restoration of our state independence, and various celebrations of our independence anniversary have been conducted throughout the year both in Azerbaijan and abroad. This is a really great holiday. In 20 years, independent Azerbaijan has covered a long and successful journey.
We remember the first years of our independence very well. We remember Azerbaijan, along with all other Soviet republics, gaining independence as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. We already had the experience of independence in the early 20th century. At that time, following the break-up of the Russian Empire, Azerbaijan gained independence and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic emerged. However, the republic did not last long – the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic collapsed after two years.
We can say that similar processes occurred in the late 20th century too. In the early years of our independence, a period when our country was dominated by negative trends, anarchy, chaos and arbitrariness, our independence was in jeopardy again. We remember those years very well. We can say that in 1991-1993 the country was out of control. There was total crisis – economic, political and military. Due to Armenia’s aggressive policy against Azerbaijan, we lost our lands. As a result of the occupation of Shusha and Lachin in May 1992 and Kalbajar in April 1993, a connection was established between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. So those were very dangerous years, a great challenge for our young republic.
Unfortunately, in the early years of our independence we could not pass these ordeals with honor. Under such circumstances, in 1993, when the situation in the country reached an unbearable point, the Azerbaijani people turned to Heydar Aliyev. The Azerbaijani people saw their salvation, their future only in Heydar Aliyev, and such attitudes and thoughts certainly had very good grounds. After all, the development Azerbaijan experienced in the 1970s and early 1980s was associated with Heydar Aliyev. It was his determination and his word that played the pivotal role at crucial moments for Azerbaijan. On the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Heydar Aliyev, showing great political courage, always stood by his people. Immediately after the aggression against Azerbaijanis, the bloody tragedy of 20 January, he raised his voice.
He blamed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and its political leadership for these atrocities. And he did that officially. Then he left the Communist Party which he served for many years. Heydar Aliyev has also made an exceptional contribution to changing the name of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in November 1990. The words “Soviet Socialist” were removed from the name of the autonomous republic.
The tricolor flag of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was raised in Nakhchivan in November 1990 as the official state flag at Heydar Aliyev's initiative. A request was filed with the Supreme Council of Azerbaijan that this flag be proclaimed the state flag of Azerbaijan. When a referendum on preserving the Soviet Union was held in Azerbaijan in March 1991, it was not held in Nakhchivan at Heydar Aliyev's initiative. All of these events and steps are etched in the hearts of the Azerbaijani people and echo in their souls. It is no coincidence that at the most difficult moments the Azerbaijani people turned to Heydar Aliyev and made their choice. In 1993, Azerbaijan set on a path of development and creation. First of all, stability was restored and illegal armed groups disarmed. Very valuable initiatives were put forward in the economic sphere and, most importantly, the right choice of the country’s strategic development was made. Azerbaijan had to develop as a modern, secular state integrating into the world community, committed to the principles of a market economy and democracy. The Azerbaijani people made this strategic choice in 1993 under the leadership of Heydar Aliyev, and Azerbaijan has been successfully developing ever since.
The 1993-2003 period will go down in history as one of stability and development of our country because it was in those years that the foundation of statehood was laid and the state of Azerbaijan was built. In 1995, the Constitution of our independent state was adopted, the ideological foundation of the state was laid. The main ideological motto of our country is the ideology of Azerbaijanism. This foundation laid by Heydar Aliyev shows the way for the people of Azerbaijan today. Our transition to a market economy in those years is paying off. Azerbaijani economy is fully run on the basis of market laws now. But in 1993 this choice was not so clear. That is, there was no basis for this choice because there were neither market economy trends nor remnants of a planned economy in Azerbaijan at the time. The entire economy was in tatters and industrial production was paralyzed. Oil production had fallen sharply. The new strategic choices required great professionalism, wisdom, world outlook. The Azerbaijani people are very happy that Heydar Aliyev came to the leadership at the most difficult and decisive moments for our country and managed to take it out of this predicament.
The great leader’s decisions relating to the democratic development of our country are still relevant today. The abolition of censorship, the policy of integration into international organizations and other similar steps are still the main directions of our development.
Ways of reviving the economy were sought because, as I said, the economy was completely destroyed. Azerbaijan had no future without foreign investment.
But how could this investment be attracted when the country was dominated by chaos, tyranny and anarchy until 1993? Armenia continued its aggressive policy against Azerbaijan. The number of people interested in investing in Azerbaijan was very limited. Therefore, it required great professionalism and skill to attract investors, create appropriate conditions for them and ensure national interests of Azerbaijan. The crucial factor for the country’s economy and, in general, for our future was the signing of the Contract of the Century. Now, with hindsight, we can say with confidence that if the Contract of the Century hadn’t been signed then, in those difficult years, the current state of Azerbaijan could be quite different. It is actually impossible to imagine where Azerbaijan would be now if it hadn’t been for this historic contract. It introduced Azerbaijan to the world. It attracted investments to Azerbaijan, led to the creation of jobs. At the same time, it showed that Azerbaijan is part of the global economy. Today, Azerbaijan's energy policy secures not only our own interests, but also the interests of our partners. Today Azerbaijan is perceived in the world as a reliable partner, and the foundation of this policy was laid precisely by the signing of the Contract of the Century. This enabled us to channel the revenue into all sectors of the economy and achieve diversification.
Of course, the crucial role at that time was played by the steps taken in the energy sector. Heydar Aliyev’s oil strategy was launched, a contract for the Shah Deniz gas field was signed. Today this project constitutes the major portion of Azerbaijan’s gas resources. If it hadn’t been for those projects, our oil and gas pipelines would not have been built and, in general, it would be impossible to talk about energy security in the region. This gave us economic independence. At the same time, economic independence has led to political independence. Why can Azerbaijan confidently pursue its policy in the region and the world? Why does Azerbaijan rely on itself? Because we have a powerful economic support. This strong economic support facilitates political independence. Today, Azerbaijan pursues a truly independent policy. This policy serves the interests of the Azerbaijani people. This is a policy of good will. This policy is not aimed against anyone. This policy strengthens cooperation, including regional.
Today the policies of Heydar Aliyev are continuing in all areas. Ever since the Azerbaijani people showed their great confidence by electing me as President, I have been committed to this policy. In 2003, I expressed my view on this issue. I will abide by this policy. The successful development ongoing in Azerbaijan since 2003 is a triumph of Heydar Aliyev’s policies, a triumph of independent Azerbaijan. We can see great progress and specific results in any area. Of course, the country still faces challenges, and this is natural. But these problems are being solved and, most importantly, we have specific programs to address them. These programs cover all areas. Political reform and democratization are successfully under way in Azerbaijan. There are specific economic programs, programs on the development of districts, on infrastructure projects, conceptual approaches to foreign policy, and our policy shows that it is very successful. It is sometimes called a multi-vector or a balanced policy. I think it is an independent policy, the policy of good will, the policy protecting the interests of Azerbaijan.
Our activities in all areas are based on specific programs. Therefore, the development of the country is very successful and rapid.
We will continue trying to deepen political reform in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has done a lot to promote democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and these policies will be pursued in the future too. We have become members of international organizations as a reliable partner and meet all our obligations in a timely and adequate manner. At the same time, political reform requires strong economic support. Over the last eight years Azerbaijan has been showing the rate of development that is unparalleled in world history. This is clear for everyone and is evident in our statistics. In eight years our economy has grown 300 per cent, industrial production 300 per cent, we have created 950,000 jobs, poverty has reduced five times, or 500 per cent, budget expenditure has increased about 20 times. Thus, we have secured a successful, sustainable and rapid development of the country. If we had achieved only 30 per cent of this, it would still be perceived as a great success. But our successes show that we are on the right track.
The principles of social justice are fully established in Azerbaijan. We are committed to the principles of market economy. At the same time, we are conducting a strong social policy. If it wasn’t the case, our pensions would not have been raised 40 per cent this year.
In a word, our economic and social policy has yielded results. This policy will be continued in the coming years, and I am sure that all our economic and infrastructure problems will be resolved in several years.
I always think: we have achieved this development, but if our lands hadn’t been occupied and if we hadn’t been exposed to a policy of ethnic cleansing, we could have achieved even more. Unfortunately, due to the mistakes made in the early years of our independence and, as I said, the seizure of Shusha, Lachin and Kalbajar in 1992 and in early 1993, our lands were occupied.
As you know, the talks after the ceasefire was established have not yielded fruit. If Heydar Aliyev had been the leader of Azerbaijan in the first years of our independence, I am absolutely sure that not an inch of our land would be under enemy occupation. We are blessed in the fact that the Azerbaijani people appealed to Heydar Aliyev and encouraged him to take power. But our misfortune is that the forces playing with the fate of our country in the first years of our independence could not realize their historical responsibility and govern the country properly. This is a great responsibility before history. Leading independent Azerbaijan, taking the country forward is a huge responsibility before all previous generations. Unfortunately, because of the mistakes committed in the first years of our independence, in some cases due to incompetence and in others because of betrayal, our lands are under occupation. Now we are trying to rectify this injustice and restore our territorial integrity. We are and will be in talks. Unfortunately, the negotiations do not produce any results.
While conducting negotiations, we are strengthening our country. I said several years ago that in order to achieve for a fair solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in line with international law, Azerbaijan has to become even stronger.
The difference in the level of development between Armenia and Azerbaijan has further increased in recent years. A solution of this conflict is possible only through acceptance of international law. Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity recognized by the international community and the United Nations must be restored. Four UN Security Council resolutions must be implemented unconditionally. The occupying forces must withdraw from our lands.
The territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan must be restored. The citizens of Azerbaijan who have suffered from Armenian vandalism, atrocities and the policy of ethnic cleansing must and will return to their native lands. I have no doubt about that. To do this, we must become and are becoming even stronger. In the economic, military and all other areas Azerbaijan's potential is several times greater than that of Armenia, and it must grow further.
We will continue our diplomatic effort, but at the same time we will use all our opportunities to restore our territorial integrity. Justice is on our side, everybody knows that. No matter how difficult it has been for 20 years and no matter how hard the Armenian lobby has tried, we have declared and shown the world that Nagorno-Karabakh is native and historical Azerbaijani territory, from both historical point of view and from the standpoint of international law. Today, our offensive diplomacy is producing effect. I am sure that this issue will be resolved in line with international law and Azerbaijan will restore its territorial integrity. There are sufficient grounds for that. I occasionally share my thoughts with the Azerbaijani public on this issue. There are sufficient grounds. In addition to the historical and legal factors, the balance of powers is proof of Azerbaijan’s superiority. Economic strength is incomparable. After 20 years of independence, Azerbaijan accounts for 83 per cent of the South Caucasus economy. As a result of the measures to be taken in the future and the upcoming reforms, this figure will only continue to grow, it will not diminish, but grow further.
In addition to economic factors, any country, including Azerbaijan, is taking steps to protect itself. Our growing military spending is a natural process. All our expenses, including the military, are growing. Considering the fact that we have the Karabakh problem, an increase in our expenses is natural. If they did not increase, it would be unnatural. They are and will be growing. The task I set a few years ago is now in the past. I said that our military spending must equal Armenia’s total budget. Today, our military spending is 500 million higher than the Armenian budget. In the future, the difference will further increase.
One of the reasons for my optimism is the demographic situation in the region. The population of Azerbaijan is growing every year, we have over 9.1 million citizens. The population of Armenia is decreasing by the year, and will continue to reduce due to natural processes and because of the hopelessness, unemployment and mass apathy prevailing there. All these and other factors, needless to say, further strengthen our confidence. Most importantly, the people of Azerbaijan will never put up with this situation. The people of Azerbaijan will ensure the existence of Nagorno-Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan.
A lot has been done in the 20 years to develop and upgrade all areas. We could talk about the work done for hours. Most importantly, over the 20 years Azerbaijan has achieved recognition in the region and the world as a reliable partner, as a dynamically developing and friendly country. Azerbaijan has gained friends in the world thanks to its policy of good will. The number of our partners, those interested in establishing good relations with Azerbaijan is increasing. We want this too. We are pursuing a policy of good will in all spheres. We are in favor of cooperation. We are putting forward cooperation proposals. If necessary, we provide all our support for cooperation. There are examples of that. Azerbaijan has repeatedly held out its hand of friendship to its partners when necessary. We will continue this policy.
We want peace and calm in the whole region. We want all the people to live in an atmosphere of good-neighborliness. The stability, development, the policy of good will and a wonderful atmosphere in the country make us even stronger. Azerbaijan is a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional country. This is our big advantage, our happiness. Representatives of all ethnicities and religions living in Azerbaijan are our dear citizens. We are one family. All of us are citizens of Azerbaijan. Every citizen of Azerbaijan should and does play a role in the comprehensive development of our country. I am absolutely sure that all our tasks will be successfully fulfilled.
In 20 years we have covered a long road, the road of independence, sovereignty and freedom. Twenty years is both a long and a short time. It is short because 20 years is nothing from the standpoint of history. For the development of an independent country 20 years is not a long time either. But at the same time, so much has been done in the 20 years that we can and we do perceive them as a long period. But all of us present here, those watching us today, our citizens know that these are only the first steps for independent Azerbaijan. Independent Azerbaijan will live forever. These 20 years will turn into 120, 220, 520. Our independent republic will live forever. It is up to us to determine the foundation on which Azerbaijan will be governed. The foundation laid today – independence, sovereignty, democracy, market economy, social justice – is the foundation of statehood. A strong national ideology, the national spirit, national dignity – these are the guiding principles for us. A lot depends on us. Being independent and free is a great happiness. Previous generations lived for centuries and died with the dream of independence. They were not lucky enough to see this independence. We, our generation, are happy. We not only see this independence, we strengthen it. We are leading Azerbaijan, an independent state, forward. Azerbaijan is governed by the will of its people. The present-day Azerbaijan has emerged through the work and talent of its people. It all depends on us. As it did in 1991. Unfortunately, our country was not up to par at that time. In 1993, everything also depended on us. And it does now. Every citizen, everyone loving his homeland should strive to strengthen the native state through work and professionalism.
We are building a modern state. We are building a modern state in line with strong traditions, strong values, national and spiritual values, and we are building it successfully. Azerbaijan is already portrayed in some circles as a model country. This makes us happy. This is an assessment of our progress. But at the same time, it raises our responsibility. We want things in the country to go well, we want peace and calm around us. In foreign policy, our desire is to increase the number of our friends. We have mobilized all our effort to develop Azerbaijan, create better conditions for people, improve their well-being, strengthen the economy. Azerbaijan is already a regional power center. The reason for that is not only our natural resources. Natural resources have just given us the initial impetus to efficiently use them.
At the core of our success are our policies, our vision for the future, our strategy, our unity. For 20 years the Azerbaijani people have shown civic solidarity. Over these years the Azerbaijani people have shown how great this nation is. In 20 years we have made great strides. I am sure that in the future we will multiply these successes, will work hard for a comprehensive development of our country and create an even stronger and more beautiful country. I wish you all every success in this.
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Then a film documenting the successes Azerbaijan has made in all areas in the 20 years of independence was demonstrated.
The reception was concluded with a concert.