Speech by Ilham Aliyev at republican conference dedicated to Azerbaijani Youth Day04 february 2019, 13:03
Dear young people, I sincerely congratulate you on the upcoming Day of Youth!
The Day of Youth has been celebrated in Azerbaijan for 22 years. As you know, in 1997, on the initiative of great leader Heydar Aliyev, the Day of Youth was introduced in Azerbaijan. The great leader always treated young people with great care and love. He knew very well that the future of the country was in the hands of young people.
The modern youth policy in Azerbaijan began in 1994. The great leader established the Ministry of Youth and Sports that year. The establishment of this ministry became a significant event. It was in 1994 that the youth policy began to be implemented in Azerbaijan.
Those were very difficult years. Azerbaijan was just emerging from crisis. The economic situation in our country was very difficult. Reforms were only getting underway in the country. Despite all these difficulties, a very correct decision by the great leader opened up new opportunities and created new conditions for young people in Azerbaijan. Following this, relevant decisions were taken and instructions given. In 1999, a decree on state youth policy was signed. In the subsequent period, we have always tried to support young people. From 2005 to the present day, three state programs have been adopted. About 40 youth centers have been established in the regions. There are 44 Olympic centers with predominantly young people in training.
Our international relations are expanding. The city of Ganja was awarded the status of the European youth capital in 2016. We have hosted various international events in Azerbaijan, including the conference of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. All this indicates that the right steps are and will continue to be taken in this direction.
When the state youth policy was launched in Azerbaijan, I was also a young man. I was 32 years old at the time. Taking this opportunity, I want to tell you a little about the years of my youth. After finishing secondary school in Baku, I went to study in Moscow in 1977. I entered Moscow State Institute of International Relations and studied there for five years. Then I spent three years in graduate school and defended my thesis. When I started teaching at the institute, I was 23 years old. I was very pleased with my job. There were no complaints about my work until 1990. In that year, a bloody crime was committed against our people – the bloody January tragedy.
My father Heydar Aliyev was a pensioner at the time. On 21 January, he came to the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan in Moscow and stated his position to the whole world. I was there with him. He held a press conference there and strongly condemned the Soviet Union, the Communist Party and its leadership. He communicated information about this monstrous crime to the whole world. At that time, our words were not reaching the world. It was still a period of the Soviet Union. Its collapse was two years away. The words of such a well-known personality as Heydar Aliyev were immediately circulated in the world. The world community found out about what happened. It was a natural and, at the same time, a very courageous step, because the Azerbaijani people and their interests were above everything else for Heydar Aliyev. I have to say it again that the collapse of the Soviet Union was still two years away and no-one could even think that the Soviet Union would one day fall apart. So Heydar Aliyev, as a person who deeply knew the Soviet system, consciously made this step. He knew that he would come under strong pressure and persecution. And it so happened. According to our information, the Soviet leadership in Moscow was very angered by his speech and ordered to arrest him.
We tried our best to make him come from Moscow to Baku. I do not want to fully disclose this page of history but he managed to return to Baku. However, he wouldn't be left alone in Baku either. In Baku, he came under a lot of pressure too, so he went to Nakhchivan and began to live there. After some time, the people elected him chairman of the Supreme Majlis of Nakhchivan.
The path leading to independence began precisely with Nakhchivan because it was Heydar Aliyev who raised and approved the tricolor flag of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic as the state flag in the Nakhchivan parliament. He petitioned before the Milli Majlis of Azerbaijan – the Supreme Council at the time – to adopt this flag as the state flag.
After that, changes occurred in my fate. I was expelled from the institute where I had studied and taught. There were no claims about my work. When I was being dismissed, the management told me: "We have no claims against you". But Heydar Aliyev was already considered an enemy in the Soviet Union, and the son of an enemy cannot teach at such an institution. For me, a period of unemployment set in. I stayed without work for several months. I was looking for a job and applied to different places but when they found out that I was the son of Heydar Aliyev, of course, no-one wanted to hire me.
At that time, there was a period of certain economic liberalism in the Soviet Union and private business was allowed. I had to take up private business. I quickly made success and re-built my life. I was pleased with my work. I supported the Azerbaijani communities being established in Moscow at the time. I remember the Azerbaijani Civil Assembly being set up in Moscow. I was one of the founders of that assembly. As a businessman, I provided the greatest financial support for the assembly's activities. At that time, an Azerbaijani school was established in Moscow. I was the first Azerbaijani living in Moscow to provide this school with financial support.
I am not saying this to boast. This is simply history, and I would like our young people to know it. I want you to know that even in the most difficult period and in a completely hopeless situation, you should not lose hope. You should always know that your fate is in your own hands. Let me say it again that no-one could even think that the Soviet Union would one day collapse. I knew perfectly well that if Soviet leadership considers my father an enemy, then it would be very difficult for me to find a place in this society. But by some quirk of fate the situation changed, and Azerbaijan is an independent state today. This is our greatest happiness. I want to reiterate that even in the most difficult situation people should not lose hope.
Azerbaijani youth lives in an era of independence now. This is a huge happiness. Every patriotic Azerbaijani today is rightfully proud to be a citizen of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan. Our youth has played a huge role in the comprehensive development of the country. Our young people successfully work in various sectors, making a great contribution to the overall development of the country.
The main direction for young people, of course, is education. Addressing young people, I urge them to pay great attention to education because knowledge and literacy are in the foreground in today's world. The world today is developing so fast and the technology is so rapidly moving forward that it is very difficult to find a worthy place in life without knowledge and literacy. Young people should be professional. Young people should strive to improve their professionalism whatever field they work in. Our young people should be raised in the national spirit, in the spirit of patriotism. Our people have been part of other states and empires for centuries. However, we have preserved our national identity, customs and traditions. Why? Because they have always been attached to our values, and today's young people should always pay great attention to this issue. Azerbaijani values are the most important for us. It is these values, our native language, culture, literature and art that have preserved us as a people, as a nation, and have protected us from assimilation for centuries. Azerbaijani young people must be educated in the national spirit in order to adequately protect state interests and national interests of our people in the future. I believe that these two main factors are very important for every young person.
I want to say again that Azerbaijani youth is an active part of our society these days. We can rightly be proud of our youth. Our youth is fighting for the land, for the Motherland. The vast majority of our martyrs are young people. May Allah rest the souls of all our martyrs in peace! The youth has made our military victories possible. The April battles are our glorious historical victory, and the absolute majority of participants in these operations are young people. As a result of this operation, we have freed the lands that remained under occupation for years. We have raised the flag of Azerbaijan on these lands – in Lalatapa, in the mountains of Fizuli, Jabrayil and Aghdara districts. This is a great and historic victory. It has demonstrated once again that the Azerbaijani people will never put up with occupation, that Azerbaijani soldiers and officers are ready to sacrifice their lives for their land, for their homeland. This victory has dispelled the myth created by Armenians over the years. It has demonstrated that we excel them on the battlefield as well. This victory has shown that by launching a counteroffensive operation from the most unfavorable military positions, we managed to take over strategic positions. The steps being taken in the field of army building today are natural and necessary because we are at war which is not yet over. We must be ready to liberate our lands from the occupiers at any time.
Our youth protects our borders today. The overwhelming majority of our border guards are young people. Our youth protects public order. Azerbaijan today is one of the safest countries on a global scale. Our young people successfully work in various fields.
The movement of volunteers has gained momentum in Azerbaijan. I warmly welcome this. About 20,000 young people worked as volunteers and now work in various positions in different organizations and bring benefit. The movement of volunteers has a special importance. It promotes kindness in society, new rules of behavior, and it is no coincidence that young people play their part in this matter. The movement of volunteers began with "ASAN xidmət". The vast majority of those working in "ASAN xidmət" are young people. "ASAN xidmət" today is our intellectual and innovative product. Several countries have begun using this system with our help. "ASAN xidmət" is a new service, and it is no coincidence that its approval rating is approaching 100 percent.
Our young people are achieving great victories and bringing us fame in sports. Every sporting victory delights and inspires all patriotic citizens. Look at the progress we have made. In the last summer Olympic Games, Azerbaijan finished in 14th place in the world for the number of medals. This is a historic victory. This victory was won by our young people who were born and raised in the era of independence. We could never have imagined that. The youth present here today does not remember the Soviet era, many were not even born then, but Azerbaijani sport was not in leading positions in the Soviet Union. Today we have won such historic victories on a global scale! In the European Games, we finished in second place in the team competition and in the Games of Islamic Solidarity in first place. This shows again that we have professional, strong-willed and patriotic young athletes.
Our young people work in various sectors of the economy and in government organizations today. I recommend that government agencies promote young people because our society needs the potential, the activity of young people and their new vision. I recommended that all government organizations recruit volunteers. Let volunteers undergo practice in state bodies, ministries and other state organizations. I recommend this to the private sector too. We have created excellent conditions for the private sector. Over the past 15 years, the number of private enterprises operating in Azerbaijan has increased from 60,000 to 130,000. This is a manifestation of our reforms in the economic sphere. They, too, should definitely attract young people, so that young people undergo practice and the process of their training goes at a rapid pace.
Young scientists strengthen our scientific potential in various fields. A few years ago, the Science Development Fund and the Youth Fund were established on my initiative. These funds provide grants to talented young people and allocate funds for the implementation of various research programs. In other words, our youth plays a very active role in society today and you will govern our country in the future, of course. Therefore, I want to say again that patriotism should be at a high level. Every young person should know that our main goal is to strengthen and protect our state independence. We are happy that we live in an era of independence. The people of Azerbaijan had cherished the dream of independence for centuries. Generations were replaced, we were part of other countries, but we could not raise our flag or play our national anthem. But there is a great happiness today that we live in the period of independence and pursue a truly independent policy. Therefore, our young people must always remember that the state independence of Azerbaijan is above everything else, the interests of the Azerbaijani people must be above everything else. I want to reiterate: in order to defend independence, knowledge, literacy, patriotism and national thinking are required.
I want to briefly tell young people about some of the challenges facing the country today. The rapid and successful development of our country continues and all the goals facing the country are being achieved. Today, Azerbaijan is known in the world as a rapidly developing country. But we should not be content with the successes achieved, we should always look ahead and, first of all, address the issues that we have not been able to resolve, eliminate errors and problems. Of course, young people can and should become our closest assistant in this area. Therefore, a very important issue is the strengthening of public oversight. In my speeches, I have repeatedly said that there must be public oversight. Where there is public oversight, things go better. Therefore, I urge young people to pay attention to this issue.
The domestic situation in our country is stable. Internal stability is the main condition for the development of any country. We see that when stability is disturbed in various parts of the world, this leads to horrific tragedies and countries face huge problems. We see countries being destroyed, millions dying, becoming refugees and displaced persons. Therefore, protection of internal stability is the key task for all of us, and Azerbaijan is one of the most stable countries on a global scale today.
Social problems should always be in the spotlight. A lot of attention is being paid to this sphere and large funds are allocated. In particular, large funds are being allocated for the solution of problems of internally displaced persons, martyr families and those disabled in the Karabakh war. We build settlements for them, thousands of homes were built and will continue to be built. The problems of those receiving targeted social assistance are also always in the spotlight. They still cannot provide for their own needs. Therefore, of course, the Azerbaijani state supports them. I should also note that Azerbaijan is one of a handful of countries providing targeted social assistance, and this is quite fair. We must try to ensure that those who are still unable to improve their material situation to the proper level receive support from the state. At the same time, a self-employment program will receive a strong impetus in the upcoming period, and the state will provide those still facing financial constraints with various means and assets.
I think that Azerbaijan can be considered an exemplary country in terms of its foreign policy. Our foreign policy is a logical continuation of the domestic policy. By pursuing a successful foreign policy, we protect ourselves from possible external risks and are succeeding in that. Sometimes our foreign policy is described as a balanced policy but I think that our foreign policy is based on national interests. National interests necessitate the establishment of businesslike and equitable relations with all countries on the condition of non-interference in each other's affairs, and we have built them with our neighbors, member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and European countries. That is, we were able to achieve this. At the same time, we are always protecting and will continue to protect our national interests at the proper level. There is an excellent example reflecting our role and the attitude to us in the world. Several years ago, Azerbaijan was elected a member of the UN Security Council with the support of 155 countries. This is also the absolute majority of the international community. This vote showed respect, sympathy and support for Azerbaijan.
Of course, the most important task is to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijan is strengthening its positions in this direction in legal, political and in all other respects. Our territorial integrity is not, never has been and never will be the subject of negotiation. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is recognized by the whole world, and additional steps have been taken in this direction in recent years. The documents I have countersigned together with many of my foreign colleagues express great support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The document on partnership priorities signed with the European Union last year contains a special clause on the territorial integrity, sovereignty and inviolability of the borders of Azerbaijan. International organizations, the UN, its General Assembly and the Security Council have adopted resolutions in our favor, i.e. resolutions reflecting justice. The resolutions adopted by the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the OSCE and other organizations have reinforced our position. All this creates a legal framework, a legal basis for resolving the conflict and strengthens our position. We are doing a lot of propaganda work, i.e. we communicate our realities to the world. Presentations are held in various countries, the process of having the Khojaly genocide recognized is successfully ongoing, we are telling the truth about the war. Thus, we are shaping up the right understanding in the international community. It needs to know the truth. Therefore, all necessary measures have been taken.
In parallel, our economic and military power is growing. The April battles and the successful Nakhchivan operation last year demonstrated our strength and professionalism. We freed up strategic heights and are now in control of strategic communications. All this creates a very important basis for resolving the conflict. Therefore, we will continue our policy on this issue. We have to get stronger and we are getting stronger. One of the tasks facing the country is to increase the economic power, and work in this direction is under way. Work is under way towards diversifying our economy. There are good results in the area of improving the business environment. According to the World Bank's latest Doing Business report, Azerbaijan has moved up 32 places and is now ranked 25th in the world. Just have a look – Azerbaijan is in 25th place worldwide in terms of business conditions. How have we achieved this? Only through reforms. The reforms will be continued. They are giving results. We are not carrying out these reforms only for the sake of reforms. We are taking targeted and thoughtful steps to give a new impetus to the development of our country, solve the outstanding problems, eliminate drawbacks, negative facts and shortcomings, and we are achieving this. Of course, this requires great support from young people. We feel and see this support.
Economic independence is the main prerequisite of political independence. Could we pursue an independent policy if we were not economically independent? Of course not! Many countries in the world are facing difficulties with that. We rely on our own economic power in conducting an independent policy, speaking our principled word and protecting the interests of our people at all events.
Economic independence and sustainability must definitely be ensured in the future too. We are keeping our external debt at a very low level. Our foreign exchange reserves exceed the foreign debt four to five times. Not too many countries can boast of such an indicator. In other words, we do not and should never depend on anyone economically. Addressing young people, I say: you should also know that we should never depend on anyone. We must live as a free people. We are building our own lives. If someone wants to give us advice or help us, of course, we would welcome that as long as this is done without a vested interest. But we know everything ourselves, we are building our own lives. The last 25 years of our independence show that we are on the right track.
Since 1993, we have been following the path of development and progress. Look at what was going on before 1993. Azerbaijan was practically disappearing from the world map. The first years of our independence were difficult and tragic. The country was in an uncontrolled state. The situation particularly exacerbated after the military coup by the PFPA-Musavat tandem in 1992. Chaos, anarchy, arbitrariness and gangs with machine guns walked in the streets. Young people did not see this or may have seen it on TV. We saw it all – arbitrariness, bribery and corruption. Incompetent people came to power, plunged the country into distress, provoked a civil war, and a civil war began in Azerbaijan. It was as a result of that government's treachery that our lands fell into occupation. We saw it all. If the Azerbaijani people had not shown wisdom by inviting Heydar Aliyev to take up power in 1993, no-one knows what could have been in store for us. Therefore, knowing all this, we should value our rapid development even more and make it sustainable.
We are protecting the state interests of Azerbaijan by all means. We have seen pressure, lies, slander and speculation along the way. All this could not make us turn away from the chosen path because we are on the right track. We know that our policy is in the interests of the people. The results achieved, our successes, the changing appearance of our cities serve as the best answer to all ill-wishers, to everyone who wants to harm and envies us. But this process must be permanent, it must be continued. Therefore, you, as young people, should be ready for this and know everything. Your most important task is to protect our independence and national interests, to protect Azerbaijan from outside influence and ensure a peaceful life for our people. I have no doubt that you are ready for this. Azerbaijani youth is active, patriotic, educated and knowledgeable. Young people, I believe in you and rely on you. Once again – I congratulate you on the upcoming Day of Youth and say "Glory to youth!" Thank you!