Ladies and gentlemen.
It is a wonderful and memorable day in the history of our country today. We are celebrating the opening of a new building of the Diplomatic Academy. At the same time, we are opening a traditional meeting with the Ambassadors.
The establishment of the Diplomatic Academy has been a significant event in the history of our country. I am very pleased that the Academy has achieved rapid development in a short time and earned great authority in the country, region and the world.
The activities of the Academy on training professional personnel are evident. I am sure the Academy will further expand its operations in the coming years. We talked with the rector of the Academy about that today.
The Academy has a beautiful building now. I can say that of all the buildings constructed for educational institutions in recent years this one is remarkable for its beauty, design and functionality. Of course, there are all the conditions for studying and working here. I am sure that the young people studying here will continue to protect the national interests of Azerbaijan.
There are new proposals and plans on the development of the Academy. I believe that on this basis we should further expand the activities, directions and functions of the Academy.
It is no coincidence that the traditional meeting with Ambassadors is held in the new building. The first event in this building is linked to this topic. This is natural because Azerbaijan's foreign policy is a flexible, dynamic and rapidly developing policy that brings our country great success. My contacts with the Ambassadors are, of course, of regular nature. We meet at the time of appointment, we meet on a regular basis. Also, they receive relevant instructions and orders through the Foreign Ministry. In short, the number of our Embassies in the world is growing fast.
Of course, this is one of the key contributors to our successful foreign policy. In the future, we will increase the number of diplomatic missions so that Azerbaijan could defend its interests even more successfully.
Ambassadors are professional diplomats. There are many young people among them and there are also experienced diplomats. They are well aware of their duties and, I think, in general, they do a good job. The duties of the Ambassadors are well known and understood. But, I repeat, life is changing fast, international relations are changing, new issues and challenges arise in the international arena. Of course, we need to regularly amend our foreign policies. But we should remember that our strategic course remains unchanged. Azerbaijan's foreign policy was defined by great leader Heydar Aliyev. Today, this strategic course is pursued in this and all other areas.
The main problem related to our foreign policy is, of course, the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This is the main issue facing not only our foreign policy, but also the country as a whole. As you know, the issue has remained unresolved for many years, justice and international law are violated and this injustice continues.
Azerbaijan does and must do everything possible to resolve the issue. Diplomatic efforts must be and are stepped up. Other factors must also play a role in resolving this issue, and important steps are taken in this direction.
If we look at the years of independence, we can see that the gap between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the 20 years has become even bigger. In subsequent years this gap will only grow, Azerbaijan’s advantage will become even more visible.
Diplomatic efforts are continuing. Embassies work consistently in this direction. A growing number of countries are friends with Azerbaijan. International organizations have passed a sufficient number of fair resolutions, i.e. those securing our interests on Nagorno-Karabakh.
Four resolutions of the UN Security Council, OSCE decisions, resolutions of other international organizations – the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the Non-Aligned Movement, NATO decisions. So the legal framework is wide, strong and indestructible. To resolve the conflict, it is first necessary to create strong legal framework.
Armenia's position on this matter is very weak, while ours is very strong.
I have repeatedly expressed my views on the historical aspect of the issue, given appropriate instructions, including those to our scientists, to publish books with substantive arguments on the historical aspect of the issue. Work in this direction is ongoing, our research and writings reflect the truth and are based on historical facts. The historical side of the issue is also very significant, because the Armenians through their Armenian lobby have been trying for many years to form an opinion in the world that Nagorno-Karabakh is allegedly ancient Armenian land and that the Armenians had lived in this land for centuries. This is absolutely false and distorted information. We are exposing these lies and presenting the truth, while also strengthening the historical basis for a settlement.
As you know, Nagorno-Karabakh is native Azerbaijani land. Place names of all settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh are of Azerbaijani origin. The vast majority of names not only in Nagorno-Karabakh but also in modern Armenia have Azerbaijani origin.
Our people lived and worked in this land for centuries and must continue to live there. We will achieve that.
Other aspects of the issue are also of great importance for the settlement. In particular, the economic issues. Today the gap between Armenia and Azerbaijan is quite large. Our economy is incomparably ahead. Our military spending alone is twice the entire budget of Armenia. Our economic opportunities are expanding. The number of our economic partners is increasing, our export potential is growing. The economy has become diversified, the first six months of this year show that growth in the non-oil sector exceeds 10 per cent. The results of the first nine months will be announced in the near future.
So we have managed to achieve what we wanted. By efficiently using our energy, we have diversified our economy. The non-oil economy is developing successfully. Armenia is in a hopeless situation from an economic point of view. If there is no foreign aid, loans and donations from the Diaspora, the Armenian economy will collapse. Even according to their own official statistics, the breakdown of Armenian exports has recently been disclosed. It has some very funny export items – frogs. It might be inappropriate to talk about this in this audience but it is a reality. So the internal resources of the country are running out. The economy is falling apart. The industry is paralyzed.
The demographic situation is deplorable. About 100,000 people leave the country every year, and this process continues. It is impossible to stop it as long as Armenia continues to lay territorial claims to its neighbors.
Meanwhile, we are developing successfully. Azerbaijan's reputation in the world is growing. Our election to the UN Security Council is a historic victory, not only diplomatic, but in general. I would say it is the biggest political and diplomatic victory in our history. This victory, which coincided with the 20th anniversary of our independence, shows the successful development of our country. It also shows that we have dealt a major blow to the Armenians and foiled the Armenian lobby's attempts to create a false opinion about Azerbaijan. We have changed it and today Azerbaijan is supported by 155 countries. When we were elected to the Security Council, I said we would defend justice and international law. And from day one we have been faithful to these principles. Today, I constantly exchange views on the subject in meetings with my colleagues. Azerbaijan’s fair and strong position is always emphasized.
Membership in the Security Council will give us the opportunity to give the world complete information about ourselves, introduce ourselves as a young, dynamic, modern and developing country. Of course, Armenia is helpless in the face of these victories. In fact, it admits defeat. Because diplomats will know that Armenia also applied for membership in the Security Council. But then, after weighing up all the circumstances, they understood that they would suffer a bitter and ignominious defeat. Because Azerbaijan certainly has stronger positions. Armenia quietly withdrew from the race. It has to retreat in other races too. It can’t compete with us.
We will increase our power. I repeat: historical, legal, economic factors reinforce our position. A growing number of countries want to be friends with us. I appreciate the role of embassies because we have made great progress in the bilateral format, especially in the last few years.
The demographic situation, in general, will determine a lot in the future. For some reason, this factor has not been taken into account much. But we can see that the opportunities, authority and the power of influence in many cases depend on the size of the population. We have a positive dynamics. I expressed my opinion on this matter at a Cabinet meeting. We must make sure that the Azerbaijani population grows even faster. If there are still people in the Armenian government who are not detached from reality, they should understand that in the short- and long-term competition with Azerbaijan they will only suffer defeat. Now, if they agree to the option on the negotiating table and withdraw their troops from the occupied territories, they will secure a future for their people. Because in the future they will face great dangers. The world is changing, you are aware of the processes occurring in the region. There may come a time when each country will have to defend its interests on its own. Azerbaijan is ready for that because we have been fighting alone for 20 years. In some cases we secure our interests against much bigger forces, we do not back down to anyone.
Some recent regional developments suggest that policy initiatives cannot be implemented here without respect for our interests. We have passed the biggest tests with dignity. Even when the forces that did not share our position and took the opposite view took a common stance, the position of Azerbaijan prevented the developments that would have run counter to our interests. So not only are we ready to fight alone, we already do fight on our own, assert ourselves in the world and define our own future. Armenia, of course, is a country that has no future whatsoever without foreign aid. I repeat that regional developments could lead to a situation where Armenia will not have much of a choice. Therefore, they had better give up false claims and vacate our lands. Then peace and cooperation can set in and Armenia can also join regional issues.
We have our say in the region and our position will become even stronger. We can never allow Armenia to join any political, economic, energy and transport projects. We have isolated them and make no secret of that. In the future, our isolation policy must be continued. It is paying off. If our partners constantly sending us messages on a negotiated settlement really want to see peace in the region, Armenia should vacate the occupied lands. Because otherwise a different solution of the issue is not ruled out. We have never ruled it out. International law gives us that right. But Azerbaijan’s peaceful policy, its growing responsibility for regional processes and the fact that Azerbaijan is already a stabilizing factor in the region are deterring us from these radical steps. So a speedy solution to the issue must be in the interests of each party.
We want the issue to be resolved. We want peace in the region. Mediators want that too. But we also want our lands back. This is the difference. We don’t take the “peace at any cost” approach. The “freezing” of the issue impossible. Armenia, naturally, wants the issue to be “frozen”, the status quo to stay on, the talks to be held but, as they say, without any result.
During the talks we have thought several times that we had come close to an agreement. But Armenia’s hypocritical position and false promises prevented an agreement. So it is no secret for us that Armenia is trying to “freeze” and delay the settlement as much as it can.
The statements by presidents of co-chair countries that the status quo is unacceptable, that it must be changed are, of course, reassuring. But we expected specific action to follow such statements. We expected that the aggressor would finally be given serious signals that enough is enough, that if it doesn’t leave these lands, Azerbaijan would resolve the issue in another way.
Therefore, when the priority of a peaceful settlement is always announced, Armenia gets the wrong message that it shouldn’t worry, the issue will be resolved peacefully and can be delayed. This is a wrong approach. I have repeatedly told our partners about this. We, too, want peace, but I want to say again that first of all our citizens must return to the occupied lands.
I want to repeat that this is our main issue, a national issue, and we will keep stepping up our effort. We are on the right track.
Every day brings us closer to victory. To achieve victory every citizen of Azerbaijan, especially diplomats, should work hard every day.
Another important foreign political issue directly related to this problem is the recognition of the Khojaly genocide. I think we have pursued a successful policy in this area and in a short time the parliaments of three countries recognized the massacre in Khojaly as an act of genocide. Khojaly memorials are erected in other countries. Since the 1950s, the Armenians, of course, through the Diaspora, have been raising the “Armenian genocide” issue in different countries and some countries recognized it.
We have been dealing with this issue for several years and already have excellent results. So I think this policy should be continued. Our ambassadors and diplomats should raise the issue whenever possible. The legislative bodies of the countries where they operate should raise the issue of the Khojaly genocide. We must strive to get this genocide recognized at various levels. We must always pursue this case at both regional and municipal levels. Of course, if it is done at federal level, it would be even better. The results certainly inspire us and show that it is possible. In general, the dynamic development of our country and the formation of a very positive view about Azerbaijan show that it is possible, a lot is possible. We simply need to work, have a specific program, give and execute orders.
So I am sure that Mexico, Pakistan, Colombia will be joined by other countries in the future and the Khojaly genocide will be recognized by more states. There will come a time when the perpetrators of this genocide will be brought to book.
I repeat that the tasks related to foreign policy are known and clear to ambassadors. I want to express my views on several issues again. We need to strengthen the bilateral format as it brings us great success. Especially given the growing number of countries willing to establish close relations with Azerbaijan. Our foreign diplomacy is very active. My numerous visits abroad strengthen this excellent base, the visits of my colleagues to our country and our talks intensify the bilateral format. So our main line in foreign policy is bilateral relations. I can say that in our bilateral relations, no matter how big or small a country is, we have formed equitable relations. This is very important. And it should be so. Because equitable relations in the bilateral format are the only possible relations. Our approach is that our policy is well-intentioned, is aimed at cooperation, deepening of cooperation in all areas. Of course, these relations should be based on mutual respect, mutual interest and non-interference in each other's affairs. I can say that our relations with all countries – ambassadors know this, let the public know this too – rest on this foundation. Therefore, the number of our embassies will grow in the future, so the bilateral format will further expand. Of course, we have to establish active ties with the 155 countries that supported us in the election to the UN Security Council. I can say that we don’t have active relations with all the 155 countries, so they provided their support in advance. Now we need to strengthen these relations.
Our role in the Non-Aligned Movement will become even more active. We have recently joined this organization, and given the support of 120 countries for the resolution of the Non-Aligned Movement, the resolution of prestigious organization such as NATO – which also provides for a settlement on the principle of territorial integrity – we can see that at least three quarters of the world community see a settlement only on the basis of the principle of territorial integrity.
We have to push forward our economic agenda in the bilateral format. Of course, I repeat, life goes on and Azerbaijan is amending its investment policy. We have started to invest abroad. Of course, this process began with regional countries. But the demand for our investment in the world is growing. In particular, countries affected by crisis feel a great need for financial resources. We can offer these resources on acceptable terms. Thus, investment, loans and new forms of economic cooperation are already in use. Ambassadors have to be more active in this. We encourage the activities of Azerbaijani companies abroad. At the latest meeting with entrepreneurs I gave specific instructions on this matter, so I don’t want to repeat them. But Azerbaijani companies – both public and private – must access foreign markets as investors and contractors.
Ambassadors must also facilitate the operation of Azerbaijani companies. It should be so. Developed countries always try to create good conditions for their companies in other countries. We, too, must follow this path. Because the economic direction is relatively new, the ambassadors must pay constant attention to that.
The number of Azerbaijani Diaspora organizations is increasing and the quality of their work improving. The demonstrations, protests, activities, conferences regularly conducted worldwide show that we have created strong Diaspora organizations.
Embassies have to be in close contact with Diaspora organizations. In most cases they are. But I want this to be the case everywhere. It further enhances our strength, attaches the Azerbaijanis living abroad to their homeland. On the one hand, we provide the Azerbaijanis living abroad with more support. They also know that a strong Azerbaijani state is behind them. For us, the activities of Diaspora organizations are very important, especially in relation to the Armenian-Azerbaijani issue. This direction must always be in the spotlight.
Of course, our ambassadors should be in close contact with the governments, liaise with the ministries of the countries where they work. I also think that relations with non-governmental organizations should be even more active. This should not be forgotten. Media relations should develop more actively. Because unfounded allegations against Azerbaijan are still made at the instigation of the Armenian lobby. We know where they come from. Of course, the first source of such dirty scribble is the Armenian lobby. The Armenian lobby, Armenians of the world have chosen Azerbaijan as target number one. This is a reality.
Because they know that Azerbaijan is the biggest threat for them.
For us, too, the Armenian lobby is the biggest enemy. I want to say that I am not afraid to talk about this. Because this is a reality, it is true. Their dirty money, so to speak, pushes some politicians, some public figures to such an unacceptable way. We must constantly fight this. Secondly, the reason for the articles full of false information about Azerbaijan is the independent policy of our country.
Our independent policy is not to everyone's taste. But we did not set out such a task. We set the goal of strengthening our independent policy and securing the interests of the Azerbaijani people. In some cases, in an effort to guide us or soften our stance on an issue, certain circles stage campaigns against us. We saw this during the “Eurovision” and before. But the reality is that these campaigns have no effect. No-one can influence our will, the policy of Azerbaijan. Our history of independence has repeatedly shown this. All these efforts are in vain. None of them can affect our policy. At the same time, these circles want to tarnish the positive image of our country. Therefore, our ambassadors, diplomats should always communicate with these media and explain their misguided policies. In some cases such articles are published on ignorance. So the relations with foreign media should be more active, more complete information should be given about the country – how Azerbaijan develops, how it addresses economic, social issues, how it secures freedoms.
In some cases, when I explain to foreign visitors that there is free Internet in Azerbaijan, they express surprise. Not every country has free Internet. For example, some countries are considering limiting the Internet or introducing censorship. We have free Internet. The number of Internet users has reached 65 per cent. So how we can limit the press if we have free Internet and a growing number of users? All our media are free. The freedom of assembly is guaranteed. Any political force can conduct its activities in designated places. There were such cases in the recent past. But no-one comes to such events. Therefore, some political forces want to conduct such rallies in the Fountains Square or other central locations so that a TV channel could come, film and show it. We know that.
So there is every freedom. There is freedom of conscience. Some countries should learn from Azerbaijan. Countries that artificially increase Islamophobic tendencies should come and learn from us how to build interfaith relations. We are not doing it as an experiment. This is our way of life. This is how it should be. It should be this way. There can never be not only conflicts but also differences on religious or ethnic grounds. We will not tolerate that. Therefore, the freedom of conscience is guaranteed.
There is no limitation to political activities.
Azerbaijan has a free society. And foreigners coming to Azerbaijan, if they are not biased, can see that. These realities must be communicated to the people of other countries, so that there is complete information about Azerbaijan. I think there is still much to do in this direction.
As regards our foreign policy, it is fairly open. With regard to our membership and activities in international organizations, nothing is hidden from the public in this area. We are active in all the organizations of which we are members, we protect our interests and honor our obligations. And we can’t have any obligations to the organizations we are not members of. It is an axiom. If we are not a member of any organization, how we can take on a commitment? No organization, no international organization can impose any conditions on us. Because this is unacceptable. We do not accept this. In bilateral contacts I personally openly state that we accept equal treatment. It can’t be otherwise. We do not owe anything to anyone. We don’t depend on anyone. We don’t ask anyone for help. We just know that no-one will help. When we needed help, did anyone stand behind our backs? No. When our economy was in ruins, Armenia occupied our lands and ousted a million Azerbaijanis, did anyone help us? No-one did. So I haven’t had such illusions for a long time. Therefore, we are in favor of equal treatment with all the countries and international organizations. We join international organizations of our own accord. If we see that our interests are violated or there is a biased position towards Azerbaijan, we can leave the organization voluntarily. We have repeatedly seen this bias. I personally have. I have witnessed a biased position, double, triple and quintuple standards. Nothing has changed.
Nothing has changed in this issue since the early 2000s to the present day. Simply Azerbaijan has changed.
Azerbaijan has grown stronger. Azerbaijan has become a country it is impossible to put pressure on or blackmail. One can speak evil, spread slander, but it doesn’t affect us. Because the reality is quite different. The reality is that Azerbaijan is an independent, modern, secular and dynamic welfare state. Look at our economic indicators. Just a page of them is enough to say what we have achieved in the social sphere. Pensions make up 40 per cent of the wage. These are the EU criteria. We have achieved this. Perhaps many analysts don’t know this. The calculations of the Davos Economic Forum on economic competitiveness put Azerbaijan in 46th place in the world and in first in the CIS. In addition, we are in a leading position in the “Doing Business” program. During the crisis, the credit ratings of all European economies have fallen, while ours are rising.
“Standard & Poor's”, “Fitch” and “Moody's” – there are no better credit agencies. And all three have raised our rating. Have we done it at the expense of oil?
Earlier, envious people, spiteful critics and those who wanted to denigrate our success said that Azerbaijan develops because of its oil. But there are countries that have 10 times more oil than us. What is the situation like there? Why are their ratings falling? Why are there social upheavals there? It is not about oil. It is about choosing the right political and economic trends, about unity between the people and the government. Because without this no reform can be possible.
This is why we have a say in the economic sphere. We managed to reduce poverty several times.
I remember the time when I worked in the State Oil Company and when our contracts with foreign companies were being signed. Some analysts used to say that Azerbaijan would run into the Dutch disease, its economy would be lop-sided, it would collapse after the oil runs out. What happened? Our poverty rate has dropped from 49 to 7 per cent in eight years. If it really were the case, this would never have happened, the economy wouldn’t have grown three times. By listing all this I want to say that we can pursue independent policies and we do just that. Even at the most difficult time when our economy was in a dire situation we did not deviate from our path. And we certainly won’t now. Azerbaijan is the leading country of the region.
Azerbaijan's economy accounts for almost 80 per cent of the economy of the South Caucasus. We have the energy diplomacy.
I haven’t said anything about that yet but it is also a diplomatic tool we use.
We have a favorable geographical location. But without the infrastructure this geographical location means nothing.
We are creating the infrastructure. The railway that will link Asia with Europe is built on our initiative.
Now is not the time to uncover many issues, but this time will come. We faced a lot of pressure when he wanted to implement the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project. So much pressure was exerted from regional countries: you can’t do this, if you do this, Armenia will be gone. The issue of the blockade and isolation of Armenia will be fully ensured. But despite everything, we did it.
Now it is not only us who wants to use this road, but also those who once opposed it. If we had shown weakness then or stepped back in order to please someone, all this would not have happened. There was pressure, there were ordered articles and smear campaigns, but we eventually secured the interests of the Azerbaijani people and state. Therefore, our geographical location is such that not a single transportation project can be implemented in this region without our consent. And transport issues in the region, particularly on the issue of Afghanistan, will now be resolved in a new plane. And the role of Azerbaijan is gradually increasing.
As for our energy diplomacy, I can say today that the share of Azerbaijani oil in the energy balance of some European Union member-countries is close to 35-40 per cent. Azerbaijani gas is expected in the European region and we are working on that.
The collapse of a number of European projects which had been the subject of debate for 10 years forced us to propose our own project. In a short period we initiated the TANAP project. We did all the prep work. All the documents were signed with Turkey.
Today, a growing number of countries want to join TANAP. European countries officially support this project. If we hadn’t initiated the project, what would the situation be now? We gave it a name and chose the route. We also assumed the main financial burden. At present, our share in it is 80 per cent. But we are receiving proposals to yield a bit to partner companies. I don’t rule that out. So Azerbaijan has shown initiative again, and what will this give us?
This will enable Azerbaijan to be a reliable supplier of energy over the next 100 years. At least 100 years. There is probably no need to explain to this audience what that means. Our strength will increase. Our financial strength, political power, influence will grow, and we will be reckoned with even more. Any country, anyone wants this. Naturally, we also want this. We have achieved all this through our hard work.
Today, Azerbaijan is a young state. But look how many friends and partners we have in the world. We pursue our energy diplomacy. We pursue our cultural diplomacy. Look how many cultural events are held abroad. We promote our culture, history and art in the world's capitals. Of all former Soviet republics, Azerbaijan was the only one to have conducted major events to mark the 20th anniversary of its independence in the world’s capitals. It was our initiative, concerts, presentations and exhibitions were held in the capitals of leading countries. This area should be in the spotlight because it unites people and creates full understanding of the country.
We are a young independent country. Some countries believe that in 20 years Azerbaijan has secured a place on the world map. This is really the case on the political map of the world. But we have been on the world map for centuries. Our ancient culture, history, arts are our national treasure. We must promote this heritage, introduce it to the world. The work of the embassies in this respect is very significant. Work has now begun to establish culture services of embassies. This is also a successful initiative. Again, this initiative was made only by Azerbaijan. So these innovations, reforms and new insights lead us forward.
Today the political and economic situation in Azerbaijan, our foreign policy is such that sometimes I am told: maybe you should slow down a little, you shouldn’t go so fast. Because the beauty of Baku and other our cities annoys some people. We are moving forward very fast. Perhaps there is some logic in this - not to annoy others. But I think to myself: look where we are, Azerbaijan has reached a level of development when others tell us to slow down a bit. Because when you go very fast, other countries get annoyed.
But at the same time I am absolutely sure that we can’t slow down. We must go forward because there are many issues that lie ahead. The world is developing fast. We can’t wait a month, even a week. We need to jump the gun in foreign policy, in the economy, in the field of technology.
One of the benefits of this beautiful Diplomatic Academy is that the most modern technology is applied here. Our young people will receive education using these technologies. New technology, the development of the space industry. Some people wonder: how can a country like Azerbaijan have space industry? And why not? We have talented people, financial resources and vision. Therefore, we will not slow down. We will go ahead and achieve what we want.
I am sure that we will restore our sovereignty, and the day will come when the Azerbaijani flag will fly in Shusha and Khankandi. Thank you!