Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the official reception on the occasion of the Republic Day27 may 2016, 14:45
Dear ladies and gentlemen,
Let me cordially congratulate you and the people of Azerbaijan on the upcoming Republic Day. I would like to see Azerbaijan constantly developing, our people living in peace and our country always strengthening its stability and security.
The establishment of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was a historic event for our people and the world, as it was the first democratic republic of the Muslim world. This republic was created by the Azerbaijani people and its leading representatives. Of course, we are proud of that. It was after us that democratic republics were established in other Muslim countries. The Azerbaijani people and state have always treated with great respect the memory of the founders of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and revered their memory. Unfortunately, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was short-lived. Two years later the republic fell. This shows once again that it is even more difficult to maintain independence than to gain it.
A Soviet era set in for our people. Of course, we were not independent and could not pursue an independent policy. At the same time, even at that time there were many positive moments. First of all, we resolved issues related to education, and the current level of literacy in Azerbaijan is almost 100 per cent. In Soviet years, we secured the development of science, culture, arts, agriculture and industry, especially when Azerbaijan was led by great leader Heydar Aliyev. If we look at the socioeconomic statistics of the Soviet Azerbaijan, we can see that by the 1970s Azerbaijan was one of the most backward republics. However, after Heydar Aliyev came to power, Azerbaijan began to develop and became a donor republic in a short time. In the Soviet Union, only two republics after the Russian Federation supported themselves and contributed resources to the All-Union coffers – these were Belarus and Azerbaijan.
It was a huge achievement because Azerbaijan developed in the years. Industrial enterprises were established, agriculture rapidly developed and our people began to live better. I think that this was why, thanks to the work done in those years and the respect people had for Heydar Aliyev, our people turned to the great leader again in 1993, in the most difficult moments, by inviting him to take power and demonstrating their wisdom once again. If Heydar Aliyev had not come to power at the request of the people in 1993, the fate of our independence could be very tragic.
The independence regained in 1991 was a great historic opportunity and a huge asset. Unfortunately, those who led our country in those years were unable to take advantage of this chance. Our country was gripped by chaos. Internal squabbles, anarchy, rampaging bandit groups, arbitrariness, economic downturn, military crisis and all these negative phenomena eventually led to civil war. This was a terrible civil war in which fraternal blood was shed. Taking advantage of this situation, Armenian nationalists and occupiers seized our lands. In 1992, they occupied Shusha and Lachin, and in April 1993 Kalbajar. Thus, a geographical connection emerged between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.
In those difficult and tragic circumstances, the people turned to Heydar Aliyev. He supported the appeal and came to power, after which Azerbaijan began to develop. It took about three years to ensure economic stability. We can see from the statistics that it is in 1996 that economic stability was achieved. And Azerbaijan's economy began to develop after that. A political system was established and the Constitution of Azerbaijan was adopted in 1995. Azerbaijan invited foreign investors to the country and embarked on a path of development. The 1993-2003 period was one of development and stability. It was in those days that the foundation of our statehood was laid. Our people supported the national ideology – the ideology of Azerbaijanism. Today we can see the fruits of the work undertaken in those years. And, of course, we are successfully and confidently leading Azerbaijan forward on this solid foundation.
From 2003 to the present day, Azerbaijan has been on the path of Heydar Aliyev. We are committed to this policy. Of course, the world is changing, the region is changing. Today we live in a completely different geopolitical situation, but we are true to our fundamental choice both in foreign and domestic policies. The people in Azerbaijan work towards a common goal and are rallied around the mission of further strengthening our country and improving the well-being of our people, enhancing Azerbaijan’s authority in the world even more, so that we could realize our sustainable and long-term development strategy. To achieve this, of course, we have an important agenda to address. In recent years, we have resolved all the tasks on our agenda.
I wound not like to talk at length about what has been done since 2003 to the present. It is obvious. Azerbaijan’s international authority has enhanced, we have become a member of the UN Security Council with the support of 155 countries, the national economy has grown more than three times, wages and pensions have been raised a multiple times. Azerbaijan has successfully implemented transnational energy and transport projects of great importance. Azerbaijan has turned from a country importing gas and electricity into a country exporting them. In the implementation of energy projects, particularly those on oil and gas, we are demonstrating our leadership to the whole world. Today we are becoming a regional transport hub. Representatives of all religions and ethnicities live peacefully in Azerbaijan like one family. This list goes on. If I talk about the work done, it would take a lot of time.
The main thing is that we need to focus on the work ahead of us because there is a solid foundation. The success achieved in 1993-2003 and in recent years has laid the groundwork for development. On this basis, we continue the process of building an independent state.
With regard to the goals associated with the domestic policy, we in Azerbaijan should, first of all, continue to provide security and stability. Security and stability. No country can develop in the absence of these two factors. Security in Azerbaijan is provided at the appropriate level. The Azerbaijani people live in security, especially in the present circumstances when we see the developments unfolding in the world. This deserves commendation. As for stability, the guarantor of it is the Azerbaijani people. The Azerbaijani people support the state policy, the unity between the people and the government is strengthening and, of course, the Azerbaijani people are committed to the choice of our country. The people of Azerbaijan want this stability to strengthen and Azerbaijan to become even stronger. Therefore, the guarantor of stability is the people of Azerbaijan.
The development of democracy is of great importance for any country, including Azerbaijan. I think we have made great strides in this direction. All democratic institutions are successfully functioning in Azerbaijan. All freedoms are provided – the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, the freedom of political activity. There are no and never will be any restrictions on that. The goal has been set that we have to be committed to democratic development in the future too.
Without security and stability, of course, there can be no talk of democracy, economic and social development, and we saw it in our recent history. Today, the whole world can see that. There are some very dangerous processes taking place in the CIS, Europe, the Middle East and around us. Democratic norms are violated, discriminatory tendencies are amplifying, there are stand-offs, misunderstandings and wars on ethnic and religious grounds begin. We see on television that demonstrators in developed countries are faced with violence. In the past, some countries tried to accuse Azerbaijan of allegedly violating human rights. They claimed that our democracy is weak and there is no freedom of assembly. Of course, everyone knows that all of this is a lie. No-one in Azerbaijan is savagely beaten, no-one is offended and there are no restrictions. How is it that when it comes to us, these fictitious charges are viewed as a sign of an authoritarian regime, while the countries considered to be the cradle of democracy which we see on television these days are regarded as democracies? How can it be that demonstrators get brutally beaten and insulted, and this is considered a democracy? The situation in Azerbaijan is stable. Our people live in comfortable and free conditions, but this is not considered a democracy. This policy of double standards must end. It is completely unbearable. Of course, the people of Azerbaijan can perfectly see and understand everything. They knows the reason for the campaign against us, who is the target and what is the anticipated result. The reason is that we are going down our own path, the path of independence. We do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and will not allow anyone to interfere in our internal affairs. Some forces can’t accept that, as they are accustomed to controlling countries in other parts of the world. The target, of course, is the political leadership of Azerbaijan and myself because I am the head of this country and define the policy of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s independence is guaranteed by myself and the people of Azerbaijan!
With regard to the methods of struggle, there are no innovations there. There are same old, template and stencil accusations, unfounded slander, fabrications, provocations, lies and defamation. We have become accustomed to it. All this can’t affect our policy and desire. However, I want to say once again that democracy is our conscious choice and our path. Azerbaijan has made great strides in this direction, but we must recognize that much still remains to be done. No society is perfect. We will continue with our efforts in this direction.
This year has been declared a "Year of multiculturalism" in Azerbaijan. It is a message to the world, especially in the current environment. The Azerbaijani society has lived in multiculturalism for centuries. We lived in the atmosphere of national peace, tolerance, mutual support and respect even before this expression appeared. Today, our sample is studied and supported in the world. We will and should try – I am setting this as an objective – for the experience of Azerbaijan to be widely promoted in the world, for us to share this experience with other countries in order to enhance the tendency of religious, ethnic tolerance and multiculturalism. Otherwise, it can create problems for us, because we do not live on an island and there may be outside influence. Just as we influence others, Azerbaijan, of course, also comes under influence through media and other means. Therefore, of course, we are interested in strengthening multiculturalism trends in the region and the world. We must continue work in this direction.
With regard to foreign policy, our policy is independent. It secures the interests of the Azerbaijani people, and does that successfully. We have established relationships with all countries based on mutual respect and non-interference in each other's affairs. We have no problems with any country except for Armenia. The relations with neighbors are a priority for us. I think this should be the case for any country, as we live in a common geographical area and in this neighborhood. We are interested in stability and development around us. We do not want any negative phenomena and risks. The security of our neighbors is our own security. If a neighbor's house is on fire, then, of course, you are the first to help him. At the same time, you are protecting yourself. Politics is the same. Therefore, our relationships with neighbors have been established, and these are great relationships. We have excellent political, economic and cultural ties with Turkey, Russia, Iran and Georgia in both bilateral and multilateral formats. These relations are very important for us. Our neighbors, in turn, also have the same position. In the future, we need to keep these relations in the spotlight as a priority. We will do everything necessary to strengthen these ties. Along with this, we are also working in a trilateral format. The trilateral format has also been initiated by us: Azerbaijan-Turkey-Georgia and Azerbaijan-Iran-Russia. With all our neighbors separately, we have already introduced a trilateral format. This is not just a formality, because many important issues are addressed within the framework of trilateral cooperation, projects related to security, economic cooperation, energy and transport are implemented. In other words, this cooperation is of great benefit both to us and our neighbors.
Our cooperation with Muslim countries has always been at the highest level. We have taken very important steps aimed at strengthening Islamic solidarity. In the international arena, in the UN, we are mostly supported by Muslim countries. We also support them. The resolution adopted at the recent Summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation unequivocally supported Azerbaijan and strongly condemned Armenia’s aggression and April provocation. At the same time, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has established a contact group to deal with the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This cooperation is of great importance for us. This cooperation is based on history, culture, religion and common interests, and should always be in the spotlight.
We are expanding our cooperation with European countries. We have excellent ties in the bilateral format. At the same time, we have done a lot of work to develop relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union. At present, these relations are on the rise. This makes us happy, and I am sure that European institutions are also delighted. Documents on our strategic partnership with eight European Union member-states have been signed or adopted. This constitutes a third of European Union member-states. In general, there are proposals on the table to establish relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union. I hope that serious talks will begin in the near future.
Of course, the main issue of our foreign policy, and not only foreign but also our policy as a whole, is the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. I have repeatedly expressed my thoughts on this matter. There is no change in our position, and the people support and endorse this position. This conflict must be resolved within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. There is no other way. Four UN Security Council resolutions calling for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from our lands must be fulfilled and the status quo must be changed. I am glad that the leaders and foreign ministers of the countries co-chairing the Minsk Group, as well as other representatives, are unequivocally stating that the status quo is unacceptable and must be changed. Changing the status quo would mean an end to the occupation, because the status quo favors Armenia. They do not want peace. They want the status quo to remain indefinitely. They want to hold endless negotiations, to conduct talks for the sake of talks and simulation. We have repeatedly said that this is impossible. We have been waiting for more than 20 years. The mediators always tell us: wait and resolve the issue peacefully. They have been repeating that lately. We also want a peaceful settlement. Who wants war?! But we want a settlement. This is the difference between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenia wants a peaceful settlement, but prevents the solution by creating artificial obstacles. It puts forward unacceptable conditions in advance, so that we could reject them and the negotiations could last for decades. Our position is constructive, and the mediators know that. Although they are not officially declaring that, they recognize it. We demonstrate a constructive approach. We want the issue to be resolved so that our lands could be freed from occupation and Azerbaijani displaced persons could return to their ancestral lands. There is no change in our position. I want to say again: neither the people of Azerbaijan nor the Azerbaijani state will ever tolerate a second Armenian state to be created on our historical lands. We will never allow this to happen.
As for the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, let them live there as they have done. However, the Armenian leadership has always distorted our position for its people. But I want to say again: our position is that everyone should live where they lived before.
Let me repeat: Azerbaijan is a model country in terms of multiculturalism, religious and national tolerance in the world. The political leadership of Armenia, nationalist groups and the people hating Azerbaijan want to disrupt these positive trends, to erase them. Our territorial integrity is not a topic of talks, and I believe that the Vienna meeting was a success. We expect that without wasting any time, serious and substantive talks, as the mediators say, will begin soon.
Along with this, we should certainly build up and strengthen our military power in the future. The process of army building has been under way for many years. Our combat capability and logistics of our army are at a high level. The most modern weaponry and equipment are imported to and produced in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan already manufactures military products of more than a thousand denominations. Today, the Azerbaijani army is among leading armies of the world. I have repeatedly spoken about that. The provocation committed by Armenia in April and the counteroffensive operation launched by the Azerbaijani army showed to Armenia and the whole world that the Azerbaijani army is among the strongest armies of the world. In the future, we will take further steps in this direction, and relevant instructions have already been issued. I do not want to reveal them. We are taking the necessary steps in terms of material and technical equipment and the additional acquisition of modern equipment. The Azerbaijani people should rest assured that this matter is always in the spotlight. We know our own strength but are not using it. We simply gave and, if necessary, will give an adequate response to the provocations, and make sure that the issue is quickly resolved peacefully.
Of course, to achieve all these successes, we need a strong economy. Over the past 10 years, the economic development of Azerbaijan has been very rapid. We now live in a new time. The global economic and financial crisis is deteriorating, oil prices are low, our revenues have declined and, of course, so are our expenses. At the same time, by diversifying the economy and conducting reforms, we are eliminating these difficulties.
2016 should be a year of stabilization. However, we are not talking about economic development quite yet. The national economy is in recession, and this is natural. This, however, should not affect the daily lives of our people. I am sure that stabilization is approaching and macroeconomic indicators will improve.
Although most oil and gas producing countries have cut salaries and pensions, suspended payments this year, we have raised salaries and pensions by 10 per cent. What does this mean? First of all, it is evidence of our policies – I have always said that we are conducting a social policy. On the other hand, it is evidence of our capabilities. We have enough capacity. Our financial position is good and stable. We have accumulated foreign exchange reserves. Earlier this year, it was believed that our revenues, the revenues of our Oil Fund, would reduce, but they are growing. Why? Because reforms are carried out, a policy of diversification and cost savings is conducted, the financial discipline has improved. The resources that have been used inefficiently are now used rationally. There is transparency in the financial system. But much remains to be done.
Economic development is the basis of our independence, military power and an independent foreign policy. If we depend on someone else economically, we will not be able to pursue an independent policy. Therefore, all our efforts are focused on that today. A serious discussion is under way in society and at the expert level. I welcome that I have repeatedly met with experts. New ideas and proposals are emerging. We analyze them all and choose the best options.
The economy should grow steadily. It is necessary to eliminate the dependence on the oil factor. I believe that we need a few more years to achieve this goal, and we will achieve it. This year we have made very important decisions related both to increasing our industrial capacity and developing agriculture. Specific steps have been taken, and this will be manifested in the statistics.
Of course, I can talk a lot about the goals. I do not want to take much of your time. I want to bring to your attention a few more issues. Of course, all necessary steps should be taken before the end of the year regarding the implementation of the "Southern Gas Corridor". There should be no delays. We have enough financial resources. At the same time, we have attracted financial resources from external markets. In fact, we did that in a short period of time – in less than a week. Azerbaijan has attracted $1 billion from world markets to the "Southern Gas Corridor". What does this mean? It shows that foreign investors' confidence in us is fairly large. If we had asked for $2 billion, we could have taken $2 billion. In other words, we have such opportunities, because our external debt is low, while the financial status and foreign exchange reserves are high. At the same time, we invest and should invest our own funds. These are fairly large sums. The "Southern Gas Corridor" is a strategic project. It will enable us to get additional large profits for years and decades, and this is a new format of cooperation.
Countries participating in the "Southern Gas Corridor" are turning into natural allies. This alliance goes beyond our region. This is in our interest. Azerbaijan is becoming an indispensable partner for Europe, and we are gaining a huge market. Therefore, timely implementation of the "Southern Gas Corridor" is always in the spotlight. I receive regular reports. I am sure that we will implement this project in accordance with schedule.
By the end of this year we expect to commission the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway. As you know, Azerbaijan has fulfilled all of its obligations. According to my data, the railway will be opened at the end of the year. Currently, negotiations are under way with relevant shippers. I am sure that this shortest route from Asia to Europe will be put into operation very soon and bring huge benefits to Azerbaijan.
Before the end of the year, important steps will be taken towards the creation of another important corridor. Azerbaijan must extend its railway to the border with Iran. This is also one of the tasks. A new railway bridge has to be built across the river Astara. This will resolve an important part of the North-South corridor. Azerbaijan will provide its support for the remaining section in the coming years. We are also ready to attract our financial resources.
These are the main challenges facing the country. I have no doubt that all of these tasks will be completed before the end of the year. We will successfully finish 2016. I think that economic development should become more rapid after this.
All of this, all these achievements have been made possible only in the period of independence. The value of independence is obvious. Azerbaijan has never been as strong as it is now. We are the masters of our own destiny. We are an independent country. We are a free people. We have taken a rightful place in the world. We will continue to follow the path of independence and development. I wish the Azerbaijani people every success on this journey. Thank you.