Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the opening of a campus of SOCAR's Baku Higher Oil School

01 may 2017, 10:45

Dear friends, students, professors and representatives of the Oil Company.

It is a very significant day in the life of our country today. We are celebrating the opening of a campus of Baku Higher Oil School. It meets the highest standards. Baku Higher Oil School has been operating for six years. It has been very successful. Over these years, the school has earned itself a worthy place in the sphere of education in Azerbaijan. The school moves to a new campus, a new building today. All the conditions are available here to study and master knowledge. The most modern technologies have been applied. All the buildings are beautiful and built with taste. There are sophisticated laboratories here, and I have been familiarized with them. The level of education here will meet the highest standards.

I am glad that our young specialists already working in this school as teachers show their attachment to the state and to the Motherland. We once delegated them to study at the world's leading higher education institutions. They have completed their studies, become good specialists and returned to the homeland. And they are sharing their knowledge with students today.

The establishment of such a school and its relocation to such a beautiful campus are further evidence that Azerbaijan is investing "black gold" in human capital. I said this back in 2003: oil is not a goal but a means for us. We should strengthen and develop our country using oil and invest oil revenues in human capital. We see that clearly today. Azerbaijan’s successful oil policy has had a positive impact practically on all spheres of life, including education. It is thanks to this that new educational institutions have been set up in our country in recent years. Without investment and financial opportunities, it would be difficult to do this work even if we wanted to. We have used oil revenues very rationally. We have strengthened our country, created a new infrastructure and improved all our cities. Baku has become one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Work on improvement and landscaping of all our regions is well under way. Today, the economy of Azerbaijan develops more at the expense of the non-oil sector. If we look at the statistics of recent years, we can see that the main driving force of the Azerbaijani economy is the non-oil sector today.

At the same time, of course, the oil sector plays and will continue to play a very important role in the life of our country. The projects implemented on our initiative have long gone beyond the country and acquired international significance. The Contract of the Century has been implemented for more than 20 years. We have managed to achieve all this success thanks to the Contract of the Century. The contract of the 21st century, the Southern Gas Corridor project, is being successfully implemented today. Azerbaijan plays a leading role in the implementation of this megaproject. This leading role is reflected in the resolution of the Advisory Council of the Southern Gas Corridor, which held its meetings in Baku for three times. All countries participating in this project, as well as representatives of the European Union, the United States of America and the United Kingdom, have once again shown and confirmed the leading role of our country in the resolution adopted. It is a great honor and a great responsibility. Azerbaijan shows an example in how to address energy issues not only within the country. Today we are playing a special role in terms of regional and global cooperation. The Southern Gas Corridor being implemented today is the biggest infrastructure project in Europe. It envisages investment of $40 billion. All work is progressing on schedule. I am sure that we will achieve the most important part of this project, Shah Deniz-2 and TANAP, next year. I do hope that all other segments of the project will also be implemented in a timely manner.

This is our dynamics. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project commissioned in 2006 has contributed to the implementation of gas projects. The foundation of all this work was laid by great leader Heydar Aliyev in 1994. The signing of the Contract of the Century is a historic event. Khoshbakht Yusifzade and I remember only too well the difficulties associated with this contract. At that time, the great leader sent us, as representatives of the Oil Company, to Houston. More than a month, we conducted negotiations there, trying to fully protect the interests of the Azerbaijani state. I think that that we managed to do that. Although the negotiations were quite tense, were sometimes held in very difficult conditions and led to confrontation, Azerbaijan managed to achieve great success, thanks to which 75 per cent of the profit oil today belongs to Azerbaijan although all investment in the Contract of the Century was made by foreign companies. Many other important issues are also reflected here. In particular, I should highlight that it was on our persistent request that the contract included a provision stipulating that the number of Azerbaijani specialists in all contract works would gradually increase, and we are seeing that today. Whereas in 1994 the ratio of our specialists was about 5-10 per cent, today it has reached 90 per cent. Our specialists are involved in the most difficult and complex technological processes. So the Azerbaijani people are already seeing the significance of the Contract of the Century. If we had not signed the contract at that time, no-one would have invested in Azerbaijan and we could not have created the huge oil infrastructure.

The large drilling rig we have recently started building is ready and will be put into operation in the near future. The volume of investment in it exceeds $1 billion. All of the jackets and platform topsides necessary for oil and gas operations are produced in Azerbaijan. Tens of thousands of people are engaged in this work. They are paid well and demonstrate professionalism. Several years ago, a shipyard was built in Baku on our initiative. Why? Without the Contract of the Century we would not need so many vessels, and today our shipbuilding plant fulfills orders for both SOCAR and the Caspian Shipping Company. I am sure that Caspian littoral states will also take advantage of the plant’s capacity. So the signing of the Contract of the Century has set our entire economy in motion. Local firms signed contracts and improved their financial status. The trained personnel already work in all sectors in Azerbaijan, and we are maintaining this positive dynamics.

The Contract of the Century still benefits our country today. As you know, negotiations are currently under way between SOCAR and partners to extend the term of the contract, and I have a positive view about that. Of course, all our conditions must be met for the contract to be extended.

Shah-Deniz-2 is one of the largest gas projects in the world today. For several years now, gas from Shah-Deniz has been supplied to world and regional markets. Today we are very close to the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor. This project will link Azerbaijan with main external markets for us, the European markets. After that, the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor will secure the economic interests of Azerbaijan for decades to come.

Today's event is a logical result of the dynamics I have noted. Let me go back to 2003. At that time, I said that we must turn "black gold" into human capital. We did that. The main source of human capital is education. In recent years, more than 3,000 schools have been renovated in Azerbaijan. The literacy rate in Azerbaijan is close to 100 per cent. There can’t be a higher result.

The educational process in our universities is improving. We once sent our youth to study abroad. On my initiative, thousands of young people were sent abroad through the State Oil Fund. In addition, SOCAR also joined this project of sending our youth to study abroad. We have probably spent hundreds of millions of dollars on that. So these are the funds invested in human capital. Then I said that this process, of course, should be continued. At the same time, by creating modern educational facilities in Azerbaijan, we should try to keep the youth here. We are seeing that today. This school provides education and deep knowledge to the Azerbaijani youth, but I am absolutely sure that a large influx of students from abroad will begin here in the near future. I don’t think that such conditions are available anywhere else.

This place is also of great symbolic significance. Ten years ago, I asked the State Oil Company to clear the Bibiheybat territory and the land around rigs which had been contaminated for decades, to drain the oil ponds, and create large landscaping zones here. And they started this work. Photos and video footage of these places have been published in various editions, magazines and newspapers. In fact, a James Bond film was even shot here. If you watch this movie, you will see what this place used to look like. It was a place of an environmental catastrophe. Today it is one of the best landscaped places of our city.

The area was landscaped, trees were planted, but drilling rigs continue to operate. We have created such a wonderful school of oil, a sports camp, an aquatic center. The buildings over there are intended for journalists. I believe that this is a unique initiative. No other government builds houses for journalists. The journalists living in these buildings represent various media outlets, and apartments were distributed by lots, so fairness and objectivity were fully ensured.

The landscaping and cleaning of the Bibiheybat zone of environmental catastrophe show again that we are investing the capital derived from "black gold" into human capital. As young people, you probably will not remember that 10 years ago the air in Baku was completely different. On the one hand, it was polluted by oil evaporating from this territory and, on the other, by the oil waste on the territory of the present-day White City. As a result of cleaning work, oil deposits more than one deep were extracted from that area. The White City has become a modern environmental project. The Balakhani dump was also a disaster zone. The poisonous smoke from the garbage burned there enveloped our city. This area has also been cleaned. There is also Lake Boyukshor. During World War II, this lake was used as an open reservoir and it was impossible to stand there due to the oil smell. Today, birds land on this lake. This is today's Azerbaijan. We are cleaning and will continue to clean all contaminated areas. Baku is a city of parks and squares, a city of clean air today. The same applies to Sumgayit.

I would like to note the activities of SOCAR. It invests a lot both in the projects implemented in the country with foreign partners and abroad. Investment of about $20 billion has been made in Turkey. The polymer and nitrogen fertilizer plants, the oil refineries, the modernization of enterprises in Azerbaijan and other projects have already turned SOCAR into a world-wide energy company. Oil and gas will continue to serve the development of our country, while the non-oil sector will diversify the country's economy. Young people will ensure our successful future. Thus, the Azerbaijani state will live on and strengthen, and our people, looking at all this with a sense of pride, will contribute to our common cause with even greater enthusiasm.

I congratulate you on this wonderful event again, and wish you success.