Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by Interstate Television and Radio Company Mir
15 february 2011, 13:30
President Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by Interstate Television and Radio Company Mir
Mr. President, the first session of the Milli Mejlis, the parliament of the fourth convocation, was held at the end of last year, on 29 November. What tasks did you set before the new MPs as the head of state?
The main task facing our country is to further accelerate economic development, political reform and modernization. Very much has been done in this direction in recent years, including the activities of the parliament which also enabled us to promptly resolve arising issues and create the necessary legal framework. Thus, the role of the Azerbaijani parliament has enhanced. Most importantly, the decisions and laws that were adopted were in line with the strategy we had identified, i.e. economic diversification, political reform, modernization, reduction of a dependence on the energy sector, education and effective social policies. Therefore, new members of parliament have a traditional agenda. However, a new phase in the development of our country necessitates additional measures. So I am sure that over the next five years the parliament will also work successfully, and as a result of its activity our country will become even stronger.
Addressing the newly-elected MPs, you said that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was not a frozen conflict and represented a real threat. How tangible are the chances of a negotiated settlement?
Azerbaijan is committed to the peace process and the main proof of my words is the fact that we have been in talks for almost 20 years. In 1992, the OSCE Minsk Group was established. In 1994, a cease-fire agreement was reached, and negotiations have been under way ever since. Unfortunately, so far without much success. Therefore, first of all, we expect the peace talks to lead to a settlement and are actively involved in the process. The settlement, of course, must be based on the norms and principles of international law because there can be no other foundation. Parties to a conflict may have different expectations, hopes or dreams, but everything should boil down to a legal format. In this particular case, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, including Nagorno-Karabakh, is recognized by the world, by all countries of the world. When we became members of the UN, our borders were recognized the way they are. Nagorno-Karabakh is situated practically in the heart of our country and, of course, Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity must be restored. Four resolutions of the UN Security Council also confirm this thesis. So do the resolutions and decisions of other international organizations. Therefore, if the Armenian side shows a constructive approach, understands and accepts the impossibility of independence for Nagorno-Karabakh, we will move on. But if we are faced with unacceptable conditions, issues of secession, separatism and Azerbaijan’s consent for legalization of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence, then, of course, the negotiations will be futile.
The current round or the current stage in the talks focuses on the updated version of the so-called Madrid principles, whereby the rights to self-governance of those living in Nagorno-Karabakh today and those who will return there are to be secured, all occupied Azerbaijani territories are to be vacated, Azerbaijani refugees are to return to these territories, including Nagorno-Karabakh, the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan are to be normalized, and security guarantees are to be provided. This is the format that is on the table now. Of course, there are certain nuances there, but overall these are the principles we are discussing. If this is achieved, of course, we can soon talk of a breakthrough. If not, further developments in the region can follow various scenarios.
What is your assessment of the role of mediators in a negotiated settlement?
You know, we have a dual attitude to this. On the one hand, as someone who has been involved in this process for the last seven years, I can see the desire of mediating countries to find a way out of this predicament. And we welcome that. But on the other hand, the activities of mediators have produced no result in the last 19 years. There have been various formats of the talks, some progress was made at certain stages. But every time, due to some tragic events taking place in Armenia or a change of Armenia’s stance on issues already agreed on earlier, the talks were either halted or disrupted. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to give a positive assessment to the role of mediators if there is no result. At the same time, I can’t say that they are not doing everything in their power either. Therefore, we hope that co-chairing countries, three leading countries of the world and three permanent members of the UN Security Council, will use their authority and political resources more effectively to urge the occupying state to vacate occupied territories.
Mr. President, Azerbaijan has been demonstrating strong economic growth for many years. It is an undisputed leader among CIS countries. Azerbaijan continued to register growth even despite the global economic recession. It may not have been as impressive as in previous years, but this 9.3-per cent growth must be very valuable. It occurred even though the oil price dropped. I am aware that the average monthly wage in Azerbaijan is around 400 dollars. This is also a graphic example. What is the secret of your successes?
You know, we could talk about that for a long time. Briefly speaking, first of all I think it has occurred because of our correct assessment of the situation that was unfolding in Azerbaijan at the turn of centuries. Along with the great achievements in the areas of stabilization and economic development, there were many areas in which we needed to double or triple our efforts. We made the right choice of strategies and specific programs that have allowed us to greatly diversify the economy. And the said economic growth of 9.3 per cent which occurred in 2009 is much more important for me than the growth of 25-30 per cent in previous years, because it happened at the very peak of the crisis, when oil prices fell four times – after all, our economy is largely focused on the energy sector. This was an indication that our reforms have bolstered other sectors of the economy. We have created more than 900,000 new jobs over the past seven years, the level of poverty was reduced from almost 50 to 9 per cent. All social programs were implemented. Over half a million Azerbaijani citizens are receiving monthly social assistance from the state, the average wage is already above 400 dollars, and this is certainly not the limit.
We have done a lot in the countryside. We are implementing a program on the development of districts since 2004. It covers the infrastructure, social infrastructure, roads, power stations, so that people could live well in districts and did not migrate to Baku and other countries. And I must say that the process of domestic migration has practically been eliminated.
Also, a lot has been done to modernize the country and invest in the sectors that will grow significantly in the future. First of all, the information and communication technologies sector. We are creating our own space industry. Next year Azerbaijan’s first artificial satellite will be put into orbit. In other words, we always look ahead, perhaps even a few steps ahead. Although we have immense oil and gas resources and are earning a lot on that, we want Azerbaijan’s sustainable development not to depend on the oil price or the volume of oil production. In our case, the transformation of the “black gold” into human capital has turned out to be not just a slogan but a reality. Therefore, this is how I would briefly describe it.
Also, I must say that a great role has been played by a team of professionals. A lot depends on the players. We have managed to create a government and select proper leaders of government agencies and public companies, a team of qualified professionals and managers well-versed in the modern economy and the regional situation. Therefore, I think we have a combination of these factors. And, most importantly, we did not stop halfway. The revenue windfall has not made us feel relaxed and complacent. I have repeatedly said that we must work as if we have no oil and gas, because the biggest successes have been achieved by countries that don’t have such resources. They had to seek other areas, mobilize human resources and technological progress. In other words, it is human talent that has brought about development in these countries. There are practically no energy superpowers among the world’s most developed countries. Therefore, we did not have to invent anything. We simply needed to use the most positive experiences of successful countries and apply them here considering, of course, our own specificity, realities and geopolitical situation. It was necessary to determine a strategy and an annual action plan on modernizing the country. We have five-year plans, strange as it may seem given the five-year plans of Soviet times. But overall, such a period is quite reasonable. We also have annual action plans which explicitly say who does what, who is responsible for what, financial resources and so on. So I think this is the main result of what we have today.
You have mentioned that a large number of people have been provided with jobs in various economic sectors. Could you specify what economic sectors registered the highest number of job openings?
Most of the jobs were created in districts. Of 900,000 jobs we have created, over 700,000 are permanent. This is in line with our program on the development of districts. Also, we are actively developing the areas associated with our climate, we are developing agriculture. We have almost reached self-sufficiency in terms of major agricultural commodities, which was never the case in Soviet times. We depended on imports. We used to sell fruit, vegetables, grapes, wine, and purchase everything else. Today we are almost fully capable of providing for ourselves and are already exporting our products. Therefore, we will certainly concentrate on the areas in which we have our own natural resources or raw materials.
We are implementing a program on educating our young people abroad. The state has been fully financing this program for several years, thousands of our young people have received education through this program and are now returning to Azerbaijan to work and apply their experience here. We must create conditions for people to want to come here for work because it is impossible to force anyone to do that. Now Baku and other places have everything a developed European country does. Besides, there is a good climate and warm weather here. So I think that all those receiving education abroad will return and work for the benefit of their country.
What countries of the CIS would you like to establish or have already established priority economic relations and why?
Apparently, there are both historical and geographical factors involved. Of the CIS states, we have the closest economic relations with neighboring countries. First and foremost, it is Russia. Our turnover is growing and the structure of trade improving. We export a significant portion of our products to Russia and import from Russia as well. Russia is our biggest partner in terms of imports. On exports: since our exports are largely made up of energy resources, our major partners are European countries. Of the CIS countries, we also have serious and broad economic ties with Ukraine. This has also been the case traditionally. We maintain economic relations with neighboring Georgia, a country where Azerbaijani companies are active and where there is extensive Azerbaijani investment. Our turnover with Georgia is also increasing. The same holds true for other countries too: we have very good contacts with countries of Central Asia, Baltic states, although they are not part of the CIS, but still it is the former USSR. We have had embassies in all FSU countries for a long time now and, of course, these countries are of particular importance for us. We are actively involved in all CIS programs, primarily in the sphere of humanitarian cooperation. Last year we hosted the first Russian-Azerbaijani forum of humanitarian cooperation, which will be transformed into an international one. Of course, this will further unite our countries as we have lived together for decades. Therefore, of course, the historical factor, pragmatism and the level of political relations play a collective role here.
What is your overall assessment of the role of the CIS? How much farther do you think the Commonwealth has moved in the 21st century in comparison with the 1990s?
I think the CIS is now entering a new qualitative level. Of course, it is difficult for me to make a judgment about the 1990s, because I was not involved in these processes in the same capacity as I am today. But as for the last seven to eight years, my assessment is that the CIS has become more dynamic. I think there is more understanding in all CIS countries of what we want from this organization. There are fewer illusions and claims. And I think we all have started to view the CIS as a very important mechanism for addressing serious issues. Not only the issues of integration – every country treats integration in line with its own priorities, some need it more, others less – but also in terms of solution of highly important and pressing issues, security challenges, fight against terrorism. It is impossible to fight terrorism in isolation from neighbors, allies or partners. In other words, everyone has complete understanding that this evil can be defeated only through collective effort. And there should be no distinction between terrorists, all terrorists should be treated the same way. Migration issues within the CIS are also quite acute. There are issues of economic relationships, transportation security. i.e. issues that are discussed very actively, not to mention the humanitarian component, which, in my opinion, is the foundation of our organization. The CIS, in contrast to other international organizations, was established in the wake of a collapse of the Soviet Union, not because of some initiatives to unite. The fact that these countries managed to survive the deep crisis, including political, of the early 1990s and parted peacefully is a major achievement for all those who took part. This may be somewhat forgotten or underestimated at times, but this is a great achievement indeed. The collapse of such a vast country passed practically without major upheavals, with the exception of the armed conflicts we have talked about. Therefore, I believe that there is a sober assessment now, in Azerbaijan at least, there are less unfounded expectations, more understanding that each country is responsible for itself. I think we should all learn how to approach the issue from this angle. No-one owes anything to anyone – this is our most important thesis. And we should build relationships on the basis of friendship, good neighborliness, market economy, market-based pricing for all products and services. Then there will be more understanding, more predictability, fewer illusions and claims. This is our approach to this issue. I believe that this approach is constructive. As for Azerbaijan, we will continue to participate in all CIS initiatives.
What are Azerbaijan’s priorities outside the Commonwealth?
You know, it is difficult to draw a distinction between these issues. In general, our foreign political priorities are quite clear. We want, are interested and I think have already established friendly, smooth and predictable relations with all countries. We are a reliable partner. We are a self-sufficient country. Therefore, we do not depend on any international financial or political centers. Our main objective was to achieve economic independence. We achieved it through energy independence. Next in line is transport independence. Today, the North-South and East-West transport routes are already a reality, it is simply impossible to bypass Azerbaijan geographically. The self-sufficiency in food I spoke about recently also allows us not to depend on price fluctuations or crop failures. Therefore, our self-sufficiency and self-confidence, in a good sense of the word, are the factors that determine our foreign policy. Both with our immediate surroundings and with foreign countries, our relations are based on pragmatism, realism, mutual interests, respect and noninterference in each other’s affairs. Our relations are free of the edifying tone in relation to Azerbaijan. We do not tolerate that, this is also a reality and it is good that all our partners understand that. And we are in fact a reliable partner. Our words and deeds always overlap, our word is worth as much as our signature. Therefore, Azerbaijan is now seen as a factor of political stability in the region. And as our country and its political authority strengthen, this role, of course, will grow further. I think this will benefit everyone.
Mr. Aliyev, I am aware that you studied in Moscow, then worked there for some time and often visit it now. I understand that it is difficult to notice much from the window of a passing car, but do you think the Russian capital has changed a lot?
Yes, of course, there are huge changes. When I come to Moscow and drive along its streets, everything seems familiar. I know Moscow very well. In fact, I know it well beyond the routes usually used by government delegations. I spent 15 good years studying and working in Moscow. I have very good impressions about those years, not only because those were the years of my youth, the best period in life for all of all, but also because those were very good years indeed. I felt very comfortable, I felt completely at home. In fact, I was at home, it was one country. Of course, Moscow has changed a lot. And we are welcoming the transformation and reforms taking place in Moscow now. I must say that there was a period in Baku too when radical changes and reforms, sometimes painful, were required, but that is inevitable. So Moscow is a very dear city for me. I am always happy to visit Moscow and I often do.
I can also say that I had not come to Baku for a very long time. Absolutely everything here is amazing – the squares, streets, new roads, houses, palaces. Everything is truly astonishing. Your wife has become a member of the Milli Mejlis. Do you speak more about politics in the family now?
You know, this is not the first time my wife has become an MP. This is her second time. The first time she was elected in 2005. Therefore, we have somewhat got accustomed to this status. Do we speak more about politics now? No. Perhaps as much as before, i.e. very little. At home we usually do not talk about politics because it is not necessary. All the topics that exist in Azerbaijani society, including the political arena, are well known. The position of our government is clear. I must say that there is no debate in society as to how our country should develop. I would say there is a consensus. The way we want to see Azerbaijan in the future – I have explicitly stated that and this course enjoys popular support. So now we speak more on abstract subjects at home – our lives, our relationship, our children, and our grandchildren. We have ordinary topics of discussion, as any other family.
Once you have touched upon the subject of grandchildren, I can’t help asking you: how often do you get to see them?
I try to see them as often as I can, although they too, despite their young age, are often away together with their parents. But every time they come to Baku, it gives us great joy and happiness. We see our children in our grandchildren, and that binds us together even more.
I know that you love sports and support its development in the country in every possible way. Azerbaijani sportsmen have indeed made tremendous progress in recent years. I can’t but recall the recent victory of FC Inter Baku at the Commonwealth Cup. Please accept our congratulations. The game was remarkable. It was broadcast on our channel. In fact, we were the main broadcasters of the whole competition. What are your further goals in sports and what sport do you like most of all?
In general, I like watching football, of course. As for doing sports, I like individual sports – gymnastics, athletics, swimming. As for future plans, we have plans only to increase the number of wins. In recent years we have become a country that has its own say in international competitions. I am very glad that we are raising a generation of talented young athletes. In the first Youth Olympic Games held in Singapore, our team finished 11th, leaving behind many leading athletic nations. This suggests that our policies on child and youth sports, the conditions we are creating, the foundation for the development of sports and the treatment of veteran sportsmen have played a role. Children want to become athletes because our well-known champions become role models. They enjoy great respect in society and are supported by the state. We strongly advocate for them, promote their victories. I have to say that in their private lives too they are also considered role models. They are modest and patriotic. We have many Olympic, world and European champions. In the next Olympics, we also have major plans in terms of winning medals. This has brought about a situation when an athlete is respected in Azerbaijan again. This was not the case in the early 1990s because our sportsmen left Azerbaijan, while sports were neglected. There were too many problems in the country at the time. So I think this has played a role. Additionally, we have built 29 Olympic centers in all districts of Azerbaijan over the past 10 years, this is in addition to Baku. Almost all of them have swimming pools, all the other facilities and indoor courts. In other words, it is possible to conduct any international competitions there. And of course, I am paying constant attention to sports. I have also been President of the National Olympic Committee of Azerbaijan since 1997, and despite my busy schedule, I still have this position because I believe this is necessary, maybe not for me but for sports on the whole. Sports are a means of expression for people. Competitions, Olympic Games, championships – this is where countries compete with each other. Where else can countries show which of them is first and which second? Nowhere. So this is a very important factor for public life as well. It also strengthens the spirit of patriotism and love of the motherland, especially when you win, your flag is raised and anthem played. These are very moving moments.
It raises one’s spirit.
And my last question. Very briefly. Do you have a medals plan for Sochi-2014?
In Sochi we will be represented modestly. After all, we are a southern country. At the same time, we have made great progress in establishing a mountain skiing facility and are planning to commission it at the end of this year. But our main plans are certainly associated with the summer Olympics in London. I don’t want to look ahead too far, but we have the opportunities to enhance Azerbaijan’s impact on sporting processes and win more medals than before.
Thank you very much, Mr. Aliyev, for this interview. It was a pleasure to listen and speak to you. Thank you very much.
Thank you. I always watch the programs of your channel with interest and consider it unique, indispensible, interesting and at the same time educational. Even the programs not related to CIS countries are interesting as well. You have established a very attractive channel and given us the opportunity to follow the developments in other countries. This will bring Commonwealth countries even closer together, there will be more understanding. And I think that the policy of your channel is also very correct and positive.
Thank you, we are trying.
All the best.