Opening speech by Ilham Aliyev at the meeting of Cabinet meeting on results of socio-economic development in first half of 2017 and future objectives

12 july 2017, 11:31

Opening speech of President Ilham Aliyev

- The first half of the year is now in the past. Today we will sum up the work done in six months and, at the same time, talk about objectives for the future. In general, Azerbaijan successfully developed in the first half of 2017. All our tasks have been met, our country has become even stronger and our international ties have deepened further.

Unfortunately, very dangerous trends in the world have kept intensifying in 2017. Both in our region and in the world, there are many issues of concern. Wars, conflicts, bloody clashes, crises – unfortunately, these are part of today's international panorama. Azerbaijan, for its part, is successfully developing. Stability in Azerbaijan is strengthening. The Azerbaijani people and the unity between the people and the government are the source of this stability.

All socioeconomic issues are successfully addressed in Azerbaijan. Security in our country is at a high level. Azerbaijan is recognized in this region and in the world as a place of stability. Of course, under such circumstances there is an interest in investment. At the same time, our people live in comfort and the well-being of our population improves. The Azerbaijani people build their future in the conditions of security and tranquility.

In the first six months of this year, our international relations have further expanded. Azerbaijan today is known in the international arena as a country worthy of great respect. The number of our friends is growing, and our activity in international organizations is very positive. In six months of the year, I have paid 10 foreign visits – five to European and five to Muslim countries. Azerbaijan was adequately represented at the leading global conferences on economics, politics and security held in Davos and Munich. At the same time, I had a very successful visit to the European Commission and paid official visits to France and Poland. As for Muslim countries, I have visited Iran, Qatar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Azerbaijan is expanding and strengthening its ties with all the countries I have paid visits to. In fact, the geography of these visits once again confirms how correct our foreign policy is and that it serves national interests. Along with this, in the first half of this year, the heads of state and government of nine foreign countries have visited Azerbaijan. This is also an excellent indicator.

This year, Azerbaijan has hosted several high-profile international events. Of course, the hosting of prestigious international events is important for any country. In essence, such events reflect the attitude and respect for the country. The representational events held in Azerbaijan are top-level events. I would like to mention the main ones. This year Baku hosted the Fifth Global Forum. This is already a very important and prestigious event on a global scale. Whereas Davos focuses more on economic issues and Munich on security issues, the Baku Global Forum discusses political and all other issues. The forum was joined by heads of state and government of several countries, famous politicians and public figures. The Global Forum has already earned itself a worthy place on the world map.

The Fourth Forum on Intercultural Dialogue took place this year. This event was also first held on our initiative several years ago. The organizers of this year’s event, along with Azerbaijan, included six leading international organizations of the world. The discussions held and decisions made at the Forum, of course, serve to strengthen multicultural values. Within the framework of the Forum, Azerbaijan once again asserted itself as one of the centers of multiculturalism. Of course, the fact that such events are held in our country enhances our international authority. At the same time, these events contribute to the positive processes in the world.

The Fourth Games of Islamic Solidarity were held in Baku this year. This is also a global event. We have held both the European Games and the Games of Islamic Solidarity at the highest level. Thousands of athletes and visitors got acquainted with our beautiful Baku and were fascinated by our city and country. Our capacity to organize major events is also at the highest level. The most important thing is that the national team of Azerbaijan managed to finish first at these Games. This shows again that Azerbaijan is a strong sporting nation. Azerbaijan finished in second place at the European games and in first place in the Games of Islamic Solidarity. As for the Olympic Games, Azerbaijan finished in 14th place on a global scale in terms of the number of medals won in the last Olympic Games.

The 24th Caspian Oil and Gas Exhibition and Conference was held this year. This exhibition and conference is one of the high-profile events in the energy sector on a global scale. An excellent indicator of this is that the President of the United States of America, Mr. Trump, sent a message to this event. The message addressed to me, of course, enhances the importance of the "Caspian Oil and Gas" exhibition and conference and, at the same time, represents further of the United States of America for the successful energy projects being implemented by Azerbaijan. Of course, such a kind attitude creates a new basis for the successful development of US-Azerbaijani relations. My meeting with the US Secretary of State in Istanbul a few days ago once again confirmed our strategic ties. Today, US-Azerbaijani relations are entering a new stage.

The events held in our country – and I mentioned only the key ones – actually demonstrate the role Azerbaijan is playing in the world, our development and respect and sympathy for our country on the part of the international community and leading states.

The main issue of our foreign policy is the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Unfortunately, no progress was achieved in this direction, in the direction of talks, in the first half of this year. At the same time, I believe that important events related to the settlement of the conflict took place in 2017, and Azerbaijan's fair position became even more valuable.

I would like to bring some facts to the attention of the Azerbaijani public. First of all, the self-proclaimed separatist regime incited by the political leadership of Armenia held another contrived and illegal "referendum" in Nagorno-Karabakh this year. As a matter of fact, this "referendum" is their big mistake, or rather their stupidity. If they were a little smart, they would never have gone for it. It was always clear that the world community would not recognize this far-fetched event. And so it happened. The Minsk Group issued a statement. Its co-chairs – America, France and Russia – did not recognize the "referendum". The European Union did not recognize the "referendum". Neighboring countries Iran and Georgia did not recognize the "referendum". Other countries also made similar statements. The non-recognition of this contrived "referendum" once again confirms that Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan. The whole world and countries directly involved in the settlement of the conflict have demonstrated by this attitude again that Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan. This is true, this is historical truth and, of course, this truth was emphasized again. This was another disgrace for Armenia.

As you know, after the April events Armenia put forward several conditions for the resumption of the talks and openly declared this. I then saw again, I knew back then that this was another folly because sooner or later they would return to the negotiating table and once again lose the respect they never had. And so it happened. The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia met yesterday. The negotiation process has been resumed. Azerbaijan has not accepted any conditions and the negotiations have resumed without any preconditions.

This is our position. We have always said that this should be the case. This is also the position of the Minsk Group co-chair countries. Therefore, the invader was forced to return to the negotiating table. The question now is about resuming substantive, meaningful and concrete negotiations soon. As a result of the negotiations, our lands should be liberated from occupation and the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan should be restored. This is our position. There is no other solution possible.

Armenia has always tried to disrupt the negotiations and, as pressure on them mounted, to resort to provocations. We know this well from recent history. Back in the late 1990s, a terrorist act was committed in the Armenian parliament, which served as a pretext for the then leaders of Armenia to disrupt the talks. So it happened. Immediately after the talks held in France in 2014, Armenia resorted to another military provocation, organized military exercises in Agdam District. Our positions were attacked by helicopters and the Azerbaijani army shot down one of them.

At the end of March 2016, the President of Armenia and I participated in the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. Then the Armenian president came under pressured to resolve the issue as soon as possible. To disrupt the talks, the April events occurred and yet another provocation was committed against us. The Azerbaijani army gave the enemy a fitting response, as a result of which our flag today flies on the territories liberated from occupation in Agdara, Fizuli and Jabrayil Districts.

No negotiations had been conducted since that time, and pressure on Armenia kept growing. In order not to start negotiations, they committed another provocation last month. Our soldier was killed. The Azerbaijani army punished them again. As a result of a strike on the part of the Azerbaijani army, many invaders were killed. Another provocation occurred in the village of Alkhanli of Fizuli District on 4 July. This is a war crime. This is a manifestation of Armenian fascism, and Armenia received a response for this crime. This is unprecedented atrocity. The murder of small Zahra and her grandmother demonstrated to the whole world the ugly face of Armenian fascism.

This crime did not remain unanswered. The Azerbaijani public is aware of this although Armenia always tries to conceal its losses. However, it can’t hide all of its losses. The Azerbaijani army inflicted crushing blows on the enemy. As a result of these attacks, many invaders were killed. The blood of small Zahra and her grandmother did not remain unavenged. This will always be the case. What was this crime calculated for? First of all, this characterizes the nature of the political leadership of Armenia. It is impossible to expect anything else from the killer of the people of Khojaly, the killer of children and women. This is Armenian fascism, and the whole world should take it this way. This is in the first place.

Secondly, a meeting of foreign ministers was scheduled for 11 July. This date was known, but it was announced only in recent days. By committing this provocation, they were hoping that Azerbaijan would refuse to negotiate. We could have refused if we hadn’t given them a fitting rebuff. We answered them, killed the invaders, punished them, and then went to negotiations.

These are the key issues related to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This is why I am saying that the positions of Azerbaijan have become even stronger this year. The war crime committed in the village of Alkhanli reverberated extensively in the world. Armenia saw that Azerbaijan has tremendous international support. All our bodies have worked very hard and promptly to communicate this information to the world community. State agencies, embassies, Diaspora organizations, public associations and our friends abroad raised their voices, and the hatred for Armenia and the fascist nature of its political leadership in the world increased even more.

As for the prospects for the talks, I want to say again that the negotiations are resuming, which is a positive development. The main goal is to resolve the issue as soon as possible, so that the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan could be restored. I am sure that it will be so. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan has never been and never will be a topic of negotiations.

This year, as always, we have paid great attention to strengthening our military capacity. New weaponry and latest technology have been bought. In fact, we are buy hardware, weaponry and the latest equipment from various countries. Some have already been delivered, while the rest will be delivered in the future. This will further enhance our military potential. We can now destroy any target on occupied territories, but we must further strengthen our military potential. This is necessary and we have enough capacity to do that. Unlike poor Armenia, we are buying our military equipment at our own expense and also produce it in Azerbaijan. This year, two new military plants started operating in Azerbaijan. Today Azerbaijan largely provides itself with arms and ammunition, and also exports them to foreign countries.

As always, the problems of internally displaced persons were also the focus of attention this year. About 100 settlements were built in recent years. However, a special place among them is occupied by the village of Jojug Marjanli, which we opened this year. This is a historic event. This event is inscribed in our glorious history in gold letters. We have restored the village of Jojug Marjanli which was liberated from occupation. We have built 50 houses, a school and a mosque similar to the Shusha mosque, laid a road and established the entire infrastructure. Families are returning there. After the opening, I signed another executive order. Funds were allocated for the construction of another 100 houses, a medical station and other necessary facilities. I am sure that the village of Jojug Marjanli will be fully restored in the coming months, and life will fully return to this village.

Other projects are being implemented as well. A large settlement is being established in Tartar District. New settlements are being set up in the cities of Sumgayit and Baku. Apartments are being purchased for refugees and provided to them. Such initiatives are being put forward in Masazir, Sumgayit and Garadagh district. Among them, I would like to highlight the Garadagh project because it is innovation, a new initiative. It is a large settlement being built by the private sector. It will accommodate a thousand refugee families, and this is a perfect example.

Today, thanks to the conditions we have created in Azerbaijan, hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs are expanding their activities. Our entrepreneurs have great opportunities. The social responsibility of entrepreneurs should also be at a high level. We have created these conditions for them. After all, if there were no stability and rapid development in Azerbaijan now, our entrepreneurs could not develop so well. At the same time, the state provides them with concessional loans and resolves their issues. I have repeatedly met with entrepreneurs. I meet with them several times a year, and they get full support. They, in turn, should be aware of their social responsibility. Therefore, the construction of a settlement of 1,000 apartments by entrepreneurs in Garadagh district is a very good initiative. I approve and welcome it. This should be an example for all entrepreneurs. I will continue to evaluate the activities of entrepreneurs, using, among other things, this indicator.

Of course, the solution of all these issues demonstrates the policy and intentions of our state again. Our policy is centered on citizens of Azerbaijan. Therefore, the solution of social issues is always in the spotlight. Serious steps have been taken over these issues this year. More than five million people underwent free medical examination this year. I do not know of another country that would implement the initiative to enable its people, the majority of the population, to undergo free medical checkup during a year.

The construction of social infrastructure facilities has been in progress. In the first six months of the year, we have built and repaired 26 medical institutions. More than twenty schools of modular type have been built. By the end of the year, their number must be brought to 100. Therefore, the solution of social infrastructure issues is always in the spotlight.

Of course, to achieve all these successes we must have a strong economic potential. I am very pleased with the performance in the first six months. Our non-oil economy grew by 1.7 per cent in six months. This is a very good indicator. I am underlining the non-oil economy because the overall economic indicator, i.e. the gross domestic product, is more associated with oil production and the price of oil. And that is changing. Therefore, this cannot be treated as the main factor for evaluating the work we are doing.

The 1.7 per cent growth in our non-oil economy is the result of our economic reforms. I think that this is a very good indicator in the current conditions. The greatest growth was achieved in the non-oil industry where growth constitutes 4.4 per cent. I believe that this is the best possible indicator demonstrating that the reforms and the policy we are conducting are producing results.

In six months of this year, $5 billion was invested in the country's economy. Today, investment is declining practically in all countries due to financial difficulties and problems. In Azerbaijan, however, investments continue to be made, and most of them are foreign. In other words, Azerbaijan is a very attractive country for foreign investors. Why? Not only because we have a good investment climate but also because Azerbaijan today is a place of stability, and investors put their money only in places where there is stability. The number of stable countries is sharply reducing. Therefore, I am sure that more foreign investors will come to Azerbaijan in the future.

Our foreign reserves have grown and now amount to $40.6 billion. This is also an excellent indicator because our foreign exchange reserves have grown by about $3 billion since the beginning of the year. The oil price has fallen sharply. Then it grew to a certain extent. There is a possibility that it will fall again. However, our foreign exchange reserves are growing. Why? Thanks to a thoughtful policy. We have never engaged in populism. We have always dealt with the long-term development of our country. We both economized and carried out reforms. We allocated funds only for projects of strategic importance. Of course, we have reduced imports and increased exports. There are no problems with the budget. Therefore, transfers from the Oil Fund into the state budget have dropped. Therefore, an increase of foreign exchange reserves by $3 billion in six months of the year is an excellent result.

This year, 122,000 jobs were opened, of which 101,000 are permanent. I should also note that 24,000 jobs were closed. This has both objective and subjective reasons. In fact, this is an ongoing process. However, when we look at the figures – 122,000 jobs opening and 24,000 closing – then, of course, we see that the process of job creation is going well. Therefore, our unemployment is at a low level.

Foreign trade indicators are also positive. In six months of this year, exports have increased by 36 per cent, and the most important factor here is non-oil export. Non-oil exports have grown by 27 per cent in six months. This is the result of our work. Along with this, imports have decreased by 15 per cent. The surplus is $1.9 billion. I think this is the most desirable result for any country. Agriculture also grew by 2.2 per cent.

These indicators – there is no need for any comments here – are the best on a global scale. This was achieved by a country that still depends on the energy factor, a country whose incomes in the past two years have declined three to four times. This is our policy, our work and the results achieved.