Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the Iftar ceremony on the occasion of holy month of Ramadan

17 june 2016, 21:30

- Your Eminence Sheikh.

Distinguished religious figures and ceremony participants!

By tradition, we are gathered for Iftar at his Eminence Sheikh’s in the blessed month of Ramadan. This is a great tradition. As His Eminence Sheikh has said, the basis of this tradition was laid by great leader Heydar Aliyev. Great leader Heydar Aliyev is the creator and founding father of modern Azerbaijan. His policies live on and continue to be enriched. The great leader also owns a special role and exceptional achievements in the regulation of relations between the state and religion.

The great leader and his Eminence Sheikh were bound together by strong friendship. This friendship was both of a personal nature and and had a great social significance. This friendship, these bonds and this sincerity formed the basis of relations between the state and religion and were a kind of a message to the entire society that relations should be built this way.

Azerbaijan is an independent secular state. According to the Constitution, religion is separated from the state, but religion and the state are always together, always close by. And this is the way it should be, because we have one goal and one wish. We want Azerbaijan to become an even more powerful state, our people to live even better, the international standing of Azerbaijan to strengthen further, our lands to be freed from occupation and our long-term development to be successful.

Today, I want to emphasize the activities of His Eminence Sheikh. His Eminence Sheikh is doing a great job both in the country and in the international arena. Believers in Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani public in general see and appreciate that. As President, I also appreciate that. Indeed, the work done by His Eminence Sheikh strengthens our country, because the relations between the state and religion can’t be decided by the President alone. Here, of course, religious leaders and the leaders of all faiths should make their contribution, and they do.

Our personal relationship and the relations of friendship with His Eminence Sheikh are not a secret for anyone. The Azerbaijani public also sees and knows that. At the same time, we are showing the way. We are showing how the country should develop, how a civil society should be built and how freedoms should be ensured. His Eminence Sheikh enjoys great authority in the Caucasus. And I was a witness to this in numerous meetings with leaders and religious leaders of Caucasian republics. His Eminence Sheikh is highly respected in the Muslim world, the CIS and the neighboring states. This is our great advantage. It lies in the fact that the head of Azerbaijani Muslims is a person enjoying a great reputation worldwide.

Of course, we will continue our joint activities in the future, because, I want to say again, we have one goal. We all strive to further improve the situation in Azerbaijan, to further enhance stability and to help our people live even better. We have always strived and will continue to strive to ensure that the values inherent in our people, the Azerbaijani values consistently prevail in Azerbaijani society. Religious values are an integral part of our national and spiritual values. National and religious holidays are a great asset for us. We cherish and celebrate them together. The development of relations between the state and religion on such a healthy footing will further strengthen our country in the future.

Azerbaijan is an integral part of the Muslim world. Azerbaijan enjoys great authority and respect in the Muslim world. The results of the recent summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation held in April confirm this once again. The summit lent great support to Azerbaijan. In particular, Muslims of the whole world once again condemned the expansionist and aggressive policy of Armenia in connection with the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the April events. A contact group was established in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the entire Muslim world, through the participation of its leaders and their votes, supported Azerbaijan once again. This is a great success for us. It proves that a nation that has been independent for only 25 years and lived in an atheistic state for decades prior to that, the Azerbaijani people, deserves great sympathy and respect throughout the Muslim world. We have deserved this by hard work, by our deeds and policies. We have deserved it by demonstrating a commitment to religious, national and spiritual values. Today, Muslim countries in all international organizations support us, and we support them.

During the traditional meeting with the ambassadors of Muslim countries in the month of Ramadan recently, we touched upon these issues once again. I pointed out that we need to strengthen Muslim solidarity and that some of the developments unfolding in the Muslim world are worrying. We want peace and stability to be restored to the Muslim world. We want an end to conflicts based on religious affiliation. We want unity. We can’t be strong without unity. Azerbaijan, in turn, is doing a lot to strengthen Muslim solidarity, and we are doing it in a consistent manner. Under the auspices of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, we have held numerous high-level events. Several years ago, Baku was declared the "Capital of Islamic Culture". In 2018, this honorable mission will be carried by Nakhchivan. Azerbaijan is working hard to promote Islamic values in the world, especially in Europe, where we organize exhibitions, presentations, music and art programs. Azerbaijan is the first Muslim country to conduct an exhibition at the Vatican. Of course, this is a manifestation of our policy. At the same time, it is our commitment to human values. We want the Muslim world to have unity. We are in favor of better mutual understanding and respect in the world.

As you know, Azerbaijan is also a member of the Council of Europe. We are working hard in this organization as well. Despite the provocations of some unfriendly forces, we have gained a lot of respect in this organization. In particular, the Council of Europe is already adopting resolutions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, condemning the aggressive policy of Armenia. This is a unique situation, because there are not too many countries in the world that are members of both organizations, and it is a huge achievement that we have earned respect in both organizations. How have we achieved this? I believe that with a sincere policy. After all, our deeds always correspond to our words. We value our words just as much as value our signature, and if we say something, we execute it. We have never made false promises. We have never taken any steps to please somebody. We have demonstrated a position of principle. At the same time, we have achieved success both domestically and in the international plane.

Today, Azerbaijan is one of the countries that have covered a long road of development and achieved success in all areas, especially in the present circumstances, when new centers of conflict arise in different parts of the world. Several countries in the Middle East have already found themselves in an uncontrollable state. As I said, unfortunately wars are breaking up in the Middle East. Europe is going through a deep crisis related to migrants. At the same time, it is a crisis of values. The migratory crisis inevitably reinforces the trend of Islamophobia in Europe. This is a huge threat to both Muslims and Europe. Under such circumstances, Azerbaijan is going down its own path. In fact, our policy has not changed. We have always tried to protect our country from all possible risks and the negative outside impacts, and we have achieved that.

In the current environment, when very difficult processes are taking place in the world, the example of Azerbaijan, of course, is even more obvious. It means that is it possible for representatives of all religions to live together like one family. It is possible for the trend of multiculturalism to strengthen. It is possible for a country to never have confrontation on religious or ethnic grounds. Not there has never been and never will be confrontation or even misunderstanding, I am sure. In other words, Azerbaijan today is demonstrating a unique model of development. Not because we want to prove something to someone. This is just the way we live. This is our policy. Azerbaijan is gradually becoming more recognizable in the world. And as we do that, people in the world are becoming convinced that in this geographical area there is a modern country relying on its own strength, firmly standing on its feet, conducting a principled policy, providing all the freedoms and ensuring a coexistence of all religions. This is why our experience, of course, is studied. The countries and forces loving and supporting us support us even more, while detractors get further disappointed. Hard as these detractors and anti-Azerbaijani forces have tried, they have not been able to affect our policy and our successful development.

Today, Azerbaijan is a country playing a unique role on a global scale. I am saying this with full responsibility. In other words, I am not saying this only to boast. This is a reality, because everything is relative, and today we have enough opportunities to make comparisons. We are observing and following the events taking place all over the world. Against this background, the successful and all-round development of Azerbaijan, of course, gets even greater approval.

The reforms ongoing in Azerbaijan, the current policies, of course, attract even more attention, and this is a positive fact. I believe that the world should know us better. In order to introduce ourselves, we are putting forward new initiatives. For several years now, Azerbaijan has been hosting events that attract the attention of the world community. These are activities of both continental and global scale. Today, one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world, Formula 1, is conducted in the streets of Baku. The audience of this event in the world is half a billion people. These half a billion people will see that there is such a beautiful country, a clean and modern city with beautiful architectural monuments – the city of Baku.

Of course, this will multiply our strength because it tears down all the libelous and provocative campaigns against us. Tens of thousands of tourists coming to Azerbaijan and Baku will see our realities with their own eyes. They will see and no longer pay any heed to the dirty articles written about us. There has never been a situation when someone coming to Azerbaijan for the first time did not express surprise. What caused this surprise? Before coming to our country, they must have read those dirty articles. And when they come here and see that people live freely and quietly here and that representatives of all religions live like one family, of course, their first reaction is a surprise. And then they ask: how did you manage to achieve this? We have managed to achieve this by our policy. We conduct sound policies. We rely on our own strength. Azerbaijan is governed by the will of its people. Of course, our successes are underpinned by civic accord. Civic accord would be impossible without inter-ethnic and inter-religious unity, especially in multi-ethnic and multi-confessional countries. We are proud to be a multi-ethnic country. We are proud of the fact that representatives of all religions and ethnicities live in Azerbaijan peacefully. They are proud to be citizens of Azerbaijan. They are making an enormous contribution to the development of our country both domestically and abroad. Our Orthodox Russian community shares the truth about Azerbaijan, promotes and explains it in the Russian Orthodox world. Our Jewish community spreads the realities of Azerbaijan all over the world – in Europe, America and all other countries. Most of all, we are supported by Jewish organizations abroad. Why? First, because the majority of them are natives of Azerbaijan; second, they have never lost contact with Azerbaijan; third, they know that the Jews and all the other peoples live here in peace. Azerbaijan has never experience and never will experience xenophobia and anti-Semitism. This is our policy. This further strengthens our unity. We celebrate all our holidays together. As His Eminence Sheikh has said, Imamzade is a sacred place for all Muslims. All the people present here also addressed the opening ceremony of it. I invited representatives from all regions of our country, so that they could come, attend the opening of this shrine after restoration and hear our words. There, in that sanctuary, our speeches are already a kind of a message, a message to society. And so it should be. We can’t allow discrimination and extremism. Only together can we strengthen our country. Only together can we achieve a happy future. For us, it is a way of life and public policy. The people of Azerbaijan endorse and support this policy.

The thoughts voiced at this Iftar ceremony today are very valuable. These deep and valuable thoughts further strengthen our unity. Therefore, we are building our future on the basis of these positive results, and we are building it successfully. The past and the present years were the years of tests for our country, because the world economy is still gripped by a crisis. Oil prices have dropped three- or fourfold. Therefore, of course, it was a huge test for us. But we are passing this test with dignity. During this period, we see that our society is even more cohesive and solidarity is even stronger. We are seeing even greater support of our policy. Of course, this further inspires us, gives us strength and encourages us to do more. 2016 will be remembered as a year of economic stabilization. And our successful economic development will be continued next year.

Representatives of all nationalities living in Azerbaijan are also united on the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – our most painful problem. This is a nationwide issue for us. Every citizen of Azerbaijan must and I am sure is doing everything possible on a daily basis for a speedy solution of this issue. For many years, part of the territory of Azerbaijan has been under occupation. Our lands are occupied. Our people have been subjected to a policy of ethnic cleansing. The Khojaly genocide has been committed. According to the reports of the OSCE fact-finding mission, all buildings on occupied lands have been destroyed. The Armenians have destroyed our historic buildings, tombs and mosques. This is an unprecedented atrocity. In Azerbaijan, in the center of Baku, there is an Armenian church. No-one has ever touched it. In fact, it has been renovated. Churches, synagogues and mosques are built in Azerbaijan. This is the difference.

The Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict must be resolved as soon as possible. International law favors our position. Historical justice is also on our side. In recent years, the mediators involved in this issue, as well as their senior officials, have been saying that the issue should be resolved in the near future, that the status quo is unacceptable and must be changed. We perceive it positively. But such statements were also made in the past. Statements regarding the unacceptability of the status quo have been made for many years, but no action is taken afterwards. It is time to take concrete steps. The occupier should be faced with very serious pressure, so that the issue is resolved peacefully. We are in favor of that. We have always been in favor of that.

At the same time, it is no secret that the balance of forces in the region, especially between Armenia and Azerbaijan, has changed dramatically. Azerbaijan has achieved a huge advantage in all areas and will never miss it. The difference between Armenia and Azerbaijan will increase in all fields because we are on the path of development. We have very clear and precise views and programs for the future. Armenia, in turn, can’t survive without foreign donations and support. This is already shown by their economic situation. This is shown by the April events. So we know our strength and rely on it. As I mentioned, we are also aware of our military power. Only a small fraction of our military capacity was demonstrated during the April fighting.

I think that this was a good lesson for the Armenian leadership. At the same time, it was a signal for the mediators and the world community that it is not a frozen conflict. If someone believes that we will continue to conduct meaningless talks for the next 20 years, they are mistaken. We do not intend to conduct meaningless negotiations. We will not imitate negotiations. Meaningful and substantive talks must begin immediately and unconditionally. In this case, we can approach a peaceful solution to the issue.

In May, there was a meeting in Vienna. Next week there will be a meeting in Russia, in Saint Petersburg. We hope that this issue can and must be resolved by peaceful means. To achieve this, Armenia should abandon its aggressive policy and vacate our lands.

I want to note again that there is a consensus on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijani society. The April events further united our people. The Azerbaijani people showed tremendous support for the state and our army. It showed the resilience and level of our people.

I am sure that we should and we will follow the path of development in all other directions. We confidently manage our country. I want to reiterate that economic and, of course, energy issues are being addressed. But the main source of our strength is our unity. The people present here today are demonstrating the unity of the Azerbaijani state and people.

Your Eminence Sheikh, I want to express my respect for you once again. I want to thank you for inviting us to Iftar as part of this tradition. I wish you all continued successes, and the people of Azerbaijan happiness, prosperity and development. Thank you.