Speech by Ilham Aliyev at official reception on the occasion of Azerbaijan's Republic Day
26 may 2017, 13:00
Dear ladies and gentlemen!
I sincerely congratulate you and all the Azerbaijani people on the upcoming Day of the Republic. I wish all the people of Azerbaijan continued success and victories.
Ninety-nine years ago, a democratic republic was created for the first time in the Muslim world. The people of Azerbaijan are justifiably proud that this republic was created by our people. This is a historic event, a historic event for our people and on a global scale. The people of Azerbaijan gained independence. The world's first Muslim democratic republic was established in Azerbaijan. This in itself showed again how progressive and talented our people are.
The Azerbaijani state and people have great respect for the activity of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and for the memory of its founding fathers. A monument has been erected in the center of Baku in honor of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. I have recently signed an Order on conducting the 100th anniversary of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic.
Unfortunately, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic did not last long. Two years later, our independence was taken away from us. If Azerbaijan had managed to maintain its state independence, I am sure that Azerbaijan would be one of the most developed and richest countries in the world today. However, as a result of foreign intervention, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic fell.
After that, the people of Azerbaijan lived in the Soviet Union for 70 years. Although we were not independent, the Azerbaijani people developed. Azerbaijan developed particularly rapidly under the leadership of great leader Heydar Aliyev in the 1970s-1980s, when we achieved great success both in economic and social spheres.
In 1991, following a collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan gained independence for the second time in the 20th century. But history seemed to be repeating itself, and two years later our independence was faced with major threats yet again. In essence, the first two years of independence were of formal in nature because Azerbaijan could not carry out fully independent policies. In addition, the political, economic and military crisis our country was experiencing, the occupation of our lands and the start of a civil war by the then authorities put our young state on the edge of an abyss, of course. In 1993, Azerbaijan was faced with a great threat again. The wisdom of the Azerbaijani people saved our country and state from this disaster.
The Azerbaijani people showed wisdom and invited great leader Heydar Aliyev to take power. A period of development began in Azerbaijan in 1993, and it continues to this day. An end was put to all the negative phenomena and civil war. Illegal armed groups were disarmed. The foundations of statehood were laid, the Constitution of the independent Azerbaijan was adopted and the influx of major foreign investment began. Azerbaijan managed to overcome international isolation and break through the information blockade. In a word, from 1993 to the present day Azerbaijan has been on a path of development. The present-day Azerbaijan confirms my words again: if we had not lost out independence in 1920, Azerbaijan could be one of the most advanced countries today.
The history of our independence shows that this is the case. Look at the level of development Azerbaijan has achieved in just 23 years since 1993, how much stronger it has grown and what solid positions Azerbaijan enjoys in the world. Azerbaijan has made great strides in the economic, social and all other spheres, and the whole world knows and accepts this today. Azerbaijan is an example for many countries.
I would like to say about the challenges ahead of us. We must preserve and, I am sure, we will preserve the positive momentum in the coming years. As for the domestic policy, first of all, security must be ensured in Azerbaijan. I can say that there are no internal sources of risk in Azerbaijan. Possible risks are formed abroad. Under such circumstances, we must continue to protect our country from external risks, both from a physical perspective and by implementing the right policy. We have sufficiently strengthened the protection of borders, and additional steps will be taken in this direction. At the same time, Azerbaijan does not get involved in any unfavorable international actions and adventures that are unprofitable for us although various parties have regularly tried to involve us in such actions. Such attempts are being made even today. Azerbaijan does not join and will not join any unprofitable actions and initiatives.
First of all, we think about our interests, our security, development and well-being. If any international proposal or initiative coincides with our interests, then, of course, we can treat it positively. First of all, the national interests, the interests of Azerbaijan, issues of tranquility, the well-being of our people and the security of our country are in the foreground, especially in the present conditions. We have been pursuing this policy for many years. This is exactly why pressure is sometimes exerted on Azerbaijan from various places. Campaigns are conducted against us. However, the current conditions, the present international situation show once again that this is the only correct policy because risks and threats are expanding in the region and the world. Unfortunately, there is stability in our region. On the contrary, the situation exacerbates with every passing year. Therefore, security issues should be in the forefront.
Along with this, all freedoms will be continue to be guaranteed in Azerbaijan, and there should not be any contradictions between these two approaches. Azerbaijan is a free state, a democratic state, we have many achievements in the field of democratic development, and this process must be continued. All fundamental freedoms will continue to be provided in Azerbaijan and our people will live in freedom.
Inter-ethnic and interreligious relations in Azerbaijan will continue to be resolved at the highest level. We are an example for many countries today. This is no secret to anyone. Not only the international events held in our country, but also the situation in Azerbaijan serve as an example for many countries. My colleagues and foreign guests I speak to have repeatedly asked me questions in an effort to understand the secret of this. The secret is very simple. It is just necessary to pursue the right policy. There should be development, literacy must be increased, ethnic and religious policies should be carried out correctly. Representatives of all the peoples living in Azerbaijan and religions should feel comfortable. Such a situation is a reality today. Representatives of all peoples line in Azerbaijan like one family, in the conditions of friendship, peace and mutual understanding. This is our great asset and strength. We protect and should protect it. I am glad that our policy, the steps being taken in this direction are fully supported by the people. Therefore, Azerbaijan is considered the center of multiculturalism in the world.
At the same time, we are committed to our national and spiritual values. It is no coincidence that last year was declared a Year of Multiculturalism in Azerbaijan, while this year is a Year of Islamic Solidarity. This shows again that the people and state are attached to their roots and will always pursue the right policy. A people with strong national values will always succeed and develop. I believe that the Azerbaijani model, including the successes we have achieved in this direction, are very attractive for many countries. Our traditions, history, culture and religion are sacred to us. At the same time, we are open to the world. We are modern and try to establish good relations with all countries.
Of course, taking into account all these factors, stability in Azerbaijan will be maintained in the future too. It is already a reality that there can be no development in the absence of stability. No-one will invest in unstable countries. No-one will come as a tourist or try to establish good relations with an unstable country. Therefore, stability is the main factor for any country – the main factor behind development. However, it is impossible to achieve stability by administrative means alone. It will only be temporary. Certain countries are taking special security measures and applying a special regime these days. This is an administrative path. However, the actual essence of stability is that the people should support public policies, be satisfied with the situation and take pride in development. We have created just such stability, and these factors form the basis for stability in Azerbaijan: the unity between the people and the government, our policies and the successes achieved. The best means of propaganda is real life. Azerbaijan is comprehensively developing today and has achieved great success in all directions.
As for domestic policy issues, we will continue to pay special attention to the social sphere, of course. this is a priority for us. I have repeatedly said that our policy is centered on citizens of Azerbaijan. We are doing all this work for our people to live even better. Many social initiatives have been put forward in Azerbaijan. Social infrastructure projects have gained momentum. At the same time, Azerbaijan is putting forward initiatives that are innovative for the world. Among them, I would like to specifically mention the medical screening program. This program has been under way for several years. Its implementation primarily required reforms and a modern health infrastructure. Such opportunities are already available to us thanks to the construction and repairs of more than 600 hospitals. All the agencies involved in the medical screening program have obtained the following results: more than 5 million Azerbaijani citizens underwent free medical checkup this year. This is our policy. Our policy is manifested in the construction of more than 3,000 schools, higher salaries and pensions. Social expenses will, of course, remain a priority in our state budget, and further steps should be taken in this direction.
Azerbaijan has made great strides in the foreign political sphere. The Azerbaijani public already knows this. We will continue to defend our national interests in the international arena. We are known all over the world as a country enjoying great respect. The number of countries interested in cooperating with us is growing. We have no problem in a bilateral format with any country except for Armenia. We have put forward a number of trilateral formats of cooperation.
Today we have excellent relations with international organizations, and we play an active role in them. First of all, I would like to mention the Organization of Islamic Cooperation among them. Azerbaijan is an active member of this organization. Last year, this organization established a Contact Group in connection with the Armenian aggression. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has condemned the Armenian aggression and their provocations committed in April last year. The Azerbaijani state and the position of Azerbaijan in connection with the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict receive constant support.
At the same time, Azerbaijan is expanding bilateral relations within the framework of this organization. I want to specifically note the Arab-Islamic-American summit held in Saudi Arabia recently. Azerbaijan participated in this Summit at a high level. I believe that this Summit has a great meaning. First and foremost, the Muslim world has demonstrated solidarity, and it is worthy of approval that the President of the United States, Mr. Trump, has paid his first official visit to a Muslim country. We in Azerbaijan appreciate this. I consider this as a sign of great respect shown by the President of America for the entire Muslim world. So this visit and the organization of the Summit are already an important event, and the thoughts voiced by the President of America there certainly deserve a very high assessment. In particular, he said that the United States of America will no longer interfere in the internal affairs of Muslim countries, will not teach or lecture them. This is a very serious statement, and I can say that almost all the Summit participants, including Azerbaijan, highly appreciated these statements. After all, we all know quite well that Azerbaijan is one of the countries that comes under intense shelling as a result of external interference.
I do hope that this serious signal reaches all relevant organizations, including European institutions, and attempts to interfere in our affairs will cease. There have already been changes in the American leadership this year, and we see that the manifestation of such interventions is being gradually removed. We welcome this and hope that this continues, because this policy is the only right one. I said this before and I want to say it today: if countries do not interfere in each other's affairs, there will be no wars or conflicts. There will be only peace and cooperation.
Azerbaijan has never interfered in the affairs of any country and has never allowed and will not allow anyone to interfere in our affairs, teach us or looked down on us. Azerbaijan is a dignified state. We have kept and will continue to keep our pride.
The main direction of our foreign policy is the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There are no changes to in our principled position in this regard. Nagorno-Karabakh is the native land of Azerbaijan. This is the case today and so it will be tomorrow. The conflict must be resolved in accordance with the norms and principles of international law within the territorial integrity of countries, in accordance with the decisions of the Helsinki Final Act. Azerbaijan will never allow the creation of a second contrived Armenian state on our historical lands. Even the existing Armenian state was created on our lands. We are well aware that Erivan was presented to Armenia in 1918. Therefore, it is impossible to create a second contrived Armenian state on our lands. The resolutions of the UN Security Council must be implemented and the occupying forces must unconditionally withdraw from our lands.
We are satisfied with the Resolutions and resolutions of international organizations. This is the legal basis for resolving the conflict. At the same time, the recent statements and steps deserve a high assessment. In particular, the Minsk Group co-chair countries, the European Union and other bodies unequivocally state that the status quo is unacceptable and should be changed. True, no steps were taken after these statements. We are waiting for this step to be taken and pressure will be exerted on the occupier. We are waiting for sanctions to be applied to them. They must be applied. If no sanctions are applied to Armenia for its aggressive policy, this will be another sign of double standards. Despite this, I believe that such statements are a positive step.
At the same time, there was a very harsh reaction to the far-fetched "referendum" held in Nagorno-Karabakh by neighboring countries, the Minsk Group, the European Union and other countries. No-one accepted this notorious assembly, this disgrace. On the contrary, everyone has condemned it. They have once again proved and demonstrated that Nagorno-Karabakh is an inalienable part of Azerbaijan, an integral part of our country. We will continue our policy. Our principled position at the talks is absolutely justified, and we will not deviate from this policy by an inch.
Our policy related to the internally displaced persons is obvious. About 100 IDP settlements have been built in recent years. New settlements are currently under construction. At the same time, we are starting to build new buildings for the IDPs living in emergency buildings in Baku and Sumgayit. This will also be a very extensive program. In the near future, several thousand IDP families will move to new beautiful houses and apartments.
Our army building policy has fully justified itself. The Azerbaijani army today is among the strongest armies in the world. This is evidenced by international ratings. The material and technical equipment, the fighting capacity of our army and the patriotic spirit are at a high level. We are acquiring and will continue to acquire equipment and weaponry possessing the most advanced technologies. We will allocate as much as necessary for our army. Unlike Armenia, we provide our army at our own expense and live as an independent country. They have chosen a different path – the path of a colony. This is their choice.
The Azerbaijani army is ready and capable of fulfilling any task today. This was shown by the fighting of April last year. The April fighting demonstrated the strength of our people and army. They showed yet again that Azerbaijan will never tolerate armed provocations of Armenia and will never reconcile with the current situation.
Of course, to implement all our plans we must have a strong economy. Great steps are also being taken in this direction. The Azerbaijani economy is ranked in 37th place in the world in terms of competitiveness although the international financial crisis has also affected us and the fall in oil prices, of course, had a negative impact on our revenues. The economy of Azerbaijan has already adapted to the current situation, our national currency has stabilized and non-oil exports have increased. The economic indicators of the four months are very positive. Our foreign exchange reserves and turnover have increased. The positive balance in the turnover has reached $1.2 billion. The turnover has risen by 11 per cent, exports by 41 per cent, non-oil exports by 22 per cent and agricultural exports by 44 per cent.
The current financial and economic situation in Azerbaijan is sustainable. All budget forecasts are being fulfilled. I do not foresee any problems for the country's economy this or next year, especially if we take into account that our foreign exchange reserves are increasing. They have grown this year too. Our foreign exchange reserves exceed the external debt four to five times. Therefore, any country may wish such a situation for itself.
Of course, one of the key issues before us today is the completion of the Southern Gas Corridor. Azerbaijan has also made progress with partners in this direction. The Southern Gas Corridor project is being successfully implemented. To justify my words I can share some figures. As you know, the Southern Gas Corridor consists of four projects. The implementation of the Shah Deniz-2 project has reached 93 per cent. The second project is the South Caucasus Pipeline. The level of implementation there is 85 per cent. The third project is the Trans-Anatolian pipeline, TANAP. It is 72 per cent through. The fourth project is the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, TAP. The level of implementation is 42 per cent there. I would also like to note that according to the plan, the level of implementation of TAP should be 45 per cent. So it is close to this level. I want to make special mention of this, because the people of Azerbaijan are well aware that great efforts are being made to hamper the TAP project. Groups are being set up and environmental issues are being put forward as a pretext. According to the data available to us, there is a lot of money involved in this. In other words, these groups are being organized artificially, without any grounds. But it is understandable what their goal is: to stop the project or delay its implementation. Despite this, the implementation of the TAP project is only 3 per cent behind schedule. So I am sure that there will be no problems with the implementation of this project.
As you know, we are working on major transport projects today. The responsibilities Azerbaijan has in connection with the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars and North-South projects are fully met. Of course, partner countries are accelerating this work today. In the future, we can also participate in this. Under such circumstances, the priority among major transport projects is the completion of the construction of the Alat international seaport. The necessary funds have been allocated. I am sure that within a year, i.e. by the summer of next year, the Alat international seaport will be put into operation. It will become the largest port on the Caspian Sea and significantly increase our transport capabilities.
Of course, the tasks ahead are more ambitious than those I have noted. There are many more of them. I have simply shared our future activities in the main areas. I am sure that we will continue to develop rapidly in all areas. Our success, of course, is underpinned by a careful policy and the fact that the Azerbaijani people live in independence today. The values of independence are also manifested in real life. Independence is the greatest asset and the greatest benefit for us. We are cherishing and will continue to cherish our independence. Thank you.