On February 12, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by head of Real TV Mirshahin Aghayev.
- Mr. President, let me express my gratitude to you for taking the time for this interview and for accepting us. We take this as a sign of your attention to the Azerbaijani press and media. Thank you!
- Thank you. You know that I have always provided the Azerbaijani media with great support. My numerous meetings with representatives of the media are clear evidence of that, and I have always tried to support the development of the media in my work. I am glad that the Azerbaijani media today are playing an important part in the life of our country. I can say that in my work I also refer to the news from the media. Sometimes I learn about many issues from the media and instantly react to them. I have expressed my thoughts about this several times, and I believe that Azerbaijani media will play an even greater role in the life of our country in the future.
I should also note that people sometimes ask the question: why does the President give interviews mostly to foreign media? There are two reasons for that. I would also like to express my opinion on this issue, so that the Azerbaijani media know. First, it is a matter of paramount importance today to communicate the truth about Azerbaijan to the world. There is an information struggle in the world today. In a number of cases, completely unfounded accusations are leveled against Azerbaijan. Biased and falsified information is published. The purpose of this is to deal a blow to the image of our country, make it turn away from the path of development and independence, and portray Azerbaijan as a backward country. Therefore, our presence in foreign media and communication of our position are of particular importance. In other words, we counter all this propaganda against us with our realities. We popularize Azerbaijan as a modern and strong state and communicate the truth about the country. This is the first reason. The second reason is that I regularly and in various formats express my opinion on the work being done in the country. Many of my speeches represent reports. At regular meetings of the Cabinet of Ministers, an assessment of the work being done is given, and most importantly, we talk about work to be done in the future. At events related to the execution of regional development programs, thoughts are set out very clearly on the work to be done during the year. Thus, the people of Azerbaijan hear from me what work has been done, where we have achieved success, where there are still unresolved problems and shortcomings. At the same time, thoughts are expressed about work to be done. I regularly share my thoughts on various topics. Let me say again that these speeches represent reports but, at the same time, they are connected with the upcoming work and future directions. Therefore, there are two factors in connection with this question, and I would like the Azerbaijani media to know them. At the same time, our today's interview shows that I have always been open to the Azerbaijani media, and this will be continued.
- Thank you, Mr. President, we feel and appreciate that. Hope this tradition is continued. 2019 in Azerbaijan began with a new and larger-scale reforms. We see the scope and main objectives of the reforms as being revolutionary in essence. In your opinion, aren’t we mistaken?
- I believe that you have come to this conclusion after conducting a correct analysis. Indeed, 2019 marks the start of our reforms. And this is natural because the Azerbaijani people placed great confidence in me again in last year’s presidential election, and I joined this election with a reform agenda. Of course, starting from the second half of last year, large-scale work has been done related to verification, identification and sequence of reforms, and new reforms were launched at the beginning of this year.
I should also note that reforms are carried out in Azerbaijan on a regular basis. Their foundation was laid by great leader Heydar Aliyev in 1993. It was in that year that Azerbaijan embarked on a period of stability and development. If we recall those years, we can see that the biggest political reforms are associated with the name of Heydar Aliyev. Before he came to power, there was censorship in Azerbaijan. You as a young journalist also worked in the conditions of censorship at the time. The abolition of censorship became a very serious reform undertaken by Heydar Aliyev. Large-scale reforms were carried out to attract investment to Azerbaijan, to attract foreign investment. The “Contract of the Century” – there was nothing in post-Soviet republics that could be compared with that at the time. These reforms were carried out precisely on the initiative of Heydar Aliyev. The land reform is another direction where we are still following the path outlined by Heydar Aliyev – farmers in Azerbaijan do not pay any taxes except for the land tax. I do not know of any other country in the world where anything similar could be the case. Economic reforms have been carried out.
In 2003, a new stage of reforms began. I believe that the biggest reform at the time was the adoption of the State Program on the Socioeconomic Development of the Regions because it allowed us the opportunity to determine the country's development strategy in various directions and achieve tangible results in creating a strong infrastructure in a short period of time. If you remember those years, we were seriously lagging behind in terms of infrastructure at the time. There were major problems with electricity, electricity was supplied with interruptions and the supply was limited. Today, Azerbaijan not only provides for itself, but also exports electricity in large volumes. There was no gas supply in the regions. Gas supply in Baku was at about 50 percent. Today, natural gas is supplied to the most remote areas that were not gasified even in Soviet times – the level of gasification has reached 95 percent. The implementation of drinking water projects is of great importance. It is an important social matter. In 2003, continuous supply of quality drinking water was only at 20 percent. Today this figure has reached 70 percent. True, we can’t be content with 70 percent either. In Baku, it exceeds 80 percent. But it was a major reform. As for other infrastructure projects, for example, we have been providing free medical examination services to 5 million people for several years. How was that possible? Thanks to the fact that modern hospitals and diagnostic centers have been established throughout our country in recent years. In other words, this opportunity was created for us to take advantage of today. The reforms carried out in the economic sphere, the reforms related to the diversification of the country's economy have contributed to the emergence of these new realities.
We first got into the World Bank’s Doing Business report in 2006. We were approximately in the 90th, 95th or 96th place at the time. Today we are in 25th place. This is a serious reform. This is a revolutionary reform aimed at improving the business environment and creating new investment opportunities. Notice that we are ahead of many developed countries. This is a very serious issue. Therefore, the current stage of reforms is the logical result of the reforms carried out in previous years. We are faced with new goals and new challenges today. The world is changing and the processes occurring on the planet are causing concern. As we can see, the principles of international law no longer matter much. Therefore, each country should try to rely on its own resources. In fact, we have been pursuing this policy for many years. The main goal has been not to depend on anyone economically. Having achieved economic independence, we take political steps with greater confidence and defend the interests of our country to a greater extent.
Therefore, the main goal of the reforms launched in 2019 is to turn Azerbaijan into a modern, developing and in the future a developed country, eliminate the shortcomings existing in the country, completely eliminate the problems that worry our citizens, improve people's well-being, and build a stronger and more powerful state. We are pursuing a focused and comprehensive policy in this direction, strengthening our international positions and put forward initiatives in the area of regional cooperation. Today, Azerbaijan has become a transport center of Eurasia – in other words, not just one of several transport centers, but the transport center because the North-South and East-West corridors pass through the territory of our country. We have effectively leveraged our geographical location and created a strong infrastructure. Today, more than 10 countries cooperate in the North-South and East-West transport corridors. And only one country participates in both projects, and this is Azerbaijan.
In other words, the present-day realities, the events unfolding in the world and the region require us to work even more effectively. Transparency should become the main principle. I can say that the reforms that were prepared last year and started this year, in particular, the reforms carried out in economic, social and agricultural spheres, enable us to receive additional financial resources. You know that a very serious step related to increasing the minimum wage has been taken recently. Other socially oriented steps have been taken as well. How have we achieved this? Due to the fact that we received additional revenues in the first month of this year. They were obtained precisely through transparency and the right approach. These revenues enabled us to create additional financial resources. We channeled these financial resources into various areas – increasing the reserves and implementing infrastructure projects. But I decided that the additional financial resources should, first of all, be spent on improving the well-being of our citizens, and we did that. A strong social policy will continue to be on our agenda as one of the most important issues.
- Families of martyrs, pensioners, low-income families – in short, ordinary Azerbaijanis are at the center of reforms. Moreover, I am not talking only about lump-sum allowances paid to the successors of martyrs and the raising of the minimum wage and pensions. This seems to be a deeper and more serious matter. It is about a transition to a new format of relations between citizens and the state.
- Absolutely! Of course, the people of Azerbaijan are at the center of our policy. I have repeatedly expressed my opinion about this, and the steps we have taken confirm that. As our capabilities increase, we try to improve the standard of living, first of all, for those who still live in dire circumstances, in difficult conditions. Tremendous work has been done in this direction in recent years. Please note more than 100 IDP settlements have been built. I do not know of another country where this could be the case. I am aware that international organizations dealing with this issue always cite Azerbaijan as an example. The families of martyrs and those disabled in the Karabakh war have been provided with more than 6,500 apartments. I haven’t heard of another country where people of this category would be provided with such support. Successors of martyrs have been provided with a one-off allowance in the amount of 11,000 manats. This is an approach that has no analogues in world practice either. So all this demonstrates our intention and our policy. It shows that our policies are centered on the people of Azerbaijan, their interests and well-being. At the same time, as you said, this approach is an integral part of a broader approach – the relationship between our state and citizens. I believe that these relations rest a sound footing in Azerbaijan. Today, our citizens know that if the state is strong, then their lives will be safe, risks-free and calm, and their material well-being will grow every year.
At the same time, the people of Azerbaijan are well aware that we are living through the first years of our independence. Our independence is only 27 years old. Therefore, every citizen should strengthen our state independence with hard work and dedication to the state. I believe that Azerbaijan is an exemplary country in this area too, because the feelings of patriotism and attachment to statehood are at a high level in Azerbaijan. Therefore, our citizens are fulfilling and should fulfill their duty to the state. At the same time, the state should always stand by its citizens. In other words, such are our principles, and the state should stand by the citizens who are in the most difficult situation. The examples I have provided are clear evidence of that.
The state stands by its citizens in all difficult situations. When a natural calamity occurs, the state stands by the citizens. There was an earthquake in Shamakhi recently. First of all, state agencies are providing and will continue to provide support on my instructions. There was an even stronger earthquake in the northwestern region before that. There was a flood, which left thousands of people homeless. What happens in such cases in developed countries? After a long process, citizens who have insured their houses receive money from the insurance company – if they can get it, they can build a new house with this money. In other words, people may be unable to resolve their day-to-day problems for months, maybe even for years. What happens in Azerbaijan?! All state bodies are immediately mobilized, the state allocates funds and homes are built by the state for those who have lost their homes. What other country can do this? I am not boasting of this, I just want to tell the truth.
The relations between our state and citizens rest on a sound footing. The people of Azerbaijan know that the Azerbaijani state will be with them at the most difficult moment. The state is absolutely sure that its citizens will always support the state.
- While in Shamakhi, we met with Grandmother Saray, who is 92 years old. I have to say, Mr. President, that she is still very much impressed with the meeting with you.
- Speaking of Grandmother Saray, I think that she embodies the best qualities of an Azerbaijani woman. Grandmothers and mothers like grandmother Saray have preserved our national and spiritual values for centuries. Any Azerbaijani woman wants to be like grandmother Saray. In my opinion, it is the case. Look – she is a 92-year-old woman whose house has been destroyed. There is so much optimism in this woman! Because Grandmother Saray is confident that the state will stand by her. To be honest, during the trip to Shamakhi I did not know that I would meet with grandmother Saray. I was inspecting the houses affected by the earthquake and familiarizing myself with the situation there. When I saw Grandmother Saray, I was further convinced of how great the Azerbaijani people are. We can be proud of our people. She was in a difficult situation and her house was destroyed. To be honest, she probably did not even know that someone would come to her aid. She did not know whether her house would be renovated or whether a new house would be built. But there is so much faith, optimism and kindness in this person. Grandmothers such as Saray personify the unbending spirit of the Azerbaijani people. As a people and nation that has existed for many centuries, as a developing nation, we are indebted to such grandmothers as Grandmother Saray. Therefore, this meeting has made a deep impression on me too, it has left a deep mark. I hope that I will soon meet with Grandmother Saray again and hand her the keys to the new house.
- We already realize that we live in a new-content Azerbaijan. We have got rid of many old habits. We have got accustomed to a new way of life, which was introduced under the influence of “ASAN xidmət”, to living in a modern, fair and transparent state. The new wing of reform requires us to completely change the model of thinking. In other words, the old way of thinking is no longer suitable for the present-day Azerbaijan. What is your ultimate goal?
- Of course, today's Azerbaijan is very different from the old one. The present-day Azerbaijan has already asserted itself as a modern state. The reforms under way in our country reflect our intention and our policy. You mentioned “ASAN xidmət”. In fact, “ASAN xidmət” is a major revolution in the sphere of public services. We may not be fully aware of the importance of “ASAN xidmət” today. It is not just a center of great and comfortable services. It has led to great changes in people.
“ASAN xidmət” was set up on my initiative. But I should also note that the young people working there have significantly developed “ASAN xidmət”, enriched it and turned “ASAN xidmət” into a unique center of public services with their new and creative ideas. When visiting each new center – I have attended the opening of each of the 15 centers – I saw that some innovation in the presentations. This shows that the people working there – the absolute majority of them being young people – do it with great interest and great affection. They are very enthusiastic. They want things in our country to go better and they want to contribute to this work. In other words, “ASAN xidmət” is a manifestation of a broad and positive initiative. The young people working there are our future. There is no corruption, bribery, rudeness and bureaucracy in “ASAN xidmət”. It is possible to stop negative facts. We have done it ourselves. This was not recommended to us by a foreign organization. The decision was made and implemented by citizens of Azerbaijan, by our young people. And citizens of Azerbaijan are seeing the results of that. So this is a revolution in the field of public conduct, public services, in the relations between civil servants and citizens. It is no secret that prior to “ASAN xidmət” our citizens were experiencing great difficulties in obtaining this or that certificate. They spent days, maybe weeks, and faced other negative facts. We have managed to do it now. What I have said is now in the past. The 17,000 volunteers who have been trained at “ASAN xidmət” are people with a completely new mindset. Their goal is to serve our citizens and do that in an unselfish manner. In the future, these volunteers – many of them are already working in various organizations – will demonstrate a completely new position, a new approach in communicating with citizens.
I have already said that every government official serves citizens – from the President to a low-level official. “ASAN Volunteers” act on these very principles. So this is a large movement. This is why five new “ASAN xidmət” centers will be opened this year. The number of services these centers provide is increasing every day, as “ASAN xidmət” currently provides more than 200 services. Of course, this causes a feeling of great pride.
Regarding your question about what our goal is, I must say that our goal is to build a powerful and modern state. Our goal is to continue the policy against negative phenomena. Our struggle has several directions – both administrative and institutional. So these are systemic reforms. Currently, “ASAN xidmət” is designed in such a way that this system already exists in a stand-alone format. Those who will work there will abide by these principles. The main task and the main goal is to build a strong and modern state, so that citizens feel calm and so that government officials selflessly and faithfully serve the citizens.
- Mr. President, in 1992 I said about Abulfaz Elchibey: “A weak President, a commander with empty hands”. Now in front of me is a strong President and a real Commander-in-Chief. I think we can move on to the situation around Nagorno-Karabakh. Also, we witnessed courage and bravery in April 2016 and the Nakhchivan success in 2018. To be honest, many, including myself, expect success in 2019 too. What are the reasons for this?
- You know, I have repeatedly expressed my opinion in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. I want to say once again: I am absolutely convinced that if Heydar Aliyev had been the President of Azerbaijan in the first years of independence, our lands would never have been occupied. I am saying this with full confidence. Unfortunately, the people who led Azerbaijan at the time could not realize their responsibility and protect the interests of our country. In particular, the PFPA-Musavat tandem, which came to power as a result of a coup in 1992, and its treacherous policies became the main factor leading to occupation. There was a struggle for power at the time, and on the eve of the coup Shusha and Lachin were occupied. Less than a year after the coup, in April 1993, Kalbajar was occupied. This created a geographical connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Heydar Aliyev would never have allowed this to happen because his policies, his determination and people's confidence in him would never have allowed our lands to be occupied. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the occupation of our lands, the plight of more than a million refugees and displaced persons – these is the difficult legacy of the PFPA-Musavat tandem. Today, Azerbaijan has an advantage both at the negotiating table and on the battlefield. In recent years, we have created a powerful legal framework for resolving the conflict. Many leading and influential international organizations of the world have adopted decisions and resolutions in connection with the conflict, which reflect the truth and support our position – the UN General Assembly, earlier the Security Council, the OSCE, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and others. The document on partnership priorities signed between the European Union and Azerbaijan expresses support for our territorial integrity, sovereignty and inviolability of borders. So this creates a legal basis for resolving the conflict. It lies in the fact that Nagorno-Karabakh – as we all know very well – is an integral part of Azerbaijan. Conflict resolution is possible only within the framework of the territorial integrity of our country.
At that time, having created a powerful economic potential, we established a strong army. The Azerbaijani army is one of the strongest armies in the world today. Our combat capability and possibilities are growing. We are equipping our army with the most sophisticated hardware. The April fights demonstrated our strength. By launching a counteroffensive operation from the most unfavorable military positions, we took over strategic heights. We freed our lands from invaders. The flag of Azerbaijan flies in Agdara, Fizuli and Jabrayil districts today. The April battles are a glorious and historic victory for us. While visiting Lalatapa and seeing the flag of Azerbaijan there, I feel a sense of pride. Every citizen of Azerbaijan feels proud. Our soldiers and officers have displayed true heroism. The April battles are a historic event. They have dispelled the myth that Armenia had been creating for years. The Armenians tried to form an opinion that their army was allegedly strong and invincible. Azerbaijani soldiers and officers showed whose army is really strong and invincible. This myth has been dispelled to smithereens. The April battles bolstered our national spirit, raised it to heights. Therefore, this event shows once again that the Azerbaijani people and state will never put up with this occupation.
Two years after the April battles, a successful Nakhchivan operation was carried out. This was a special operation from a tactical point of view, but it was very successful and enabled us to take full control over strategic heights, mountains and the enemy’s strategic communications. So all these are important events showing the power and professionalism of our army. All this shows that the conflict must be resolved within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
As you know, at the initial stage the new government of Armenia made contradictory statements that Azerbaijan should conduct talks not with Armenia but with the self-proclaimed “Nagorno-Karabakh republic”. Of course, we immediately rejected these contradictory and incomprehensible statements. The mediators, of course, could not agree with this position either. Sticking to a position of principle, we are committed to negotiations. Today, negotiations are under way between foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Several rounds of negotiations have already been conducted. We hope they will be productive. Therefore, the fact that the negotiations are being conducted can, of course, be regarded as a positive development. It shows again that the principles stated by the new leadership of Armenia at the initial stage are absolutely unacceptable.
On the other hand, I have always said that the force factor is coming to the fore in the world. Look at how international law is flagrantly violated in various parts of the world. Whereas earlier attempts were made to somehow conceal that, today they don’t even see the need for that. Today, the “might is right” principle prevails in the world. This is a new reality. We must be ready for it. The world is changing, and we must be prepared for these changes. Fortunately, we have been building up our economic and military power for many years. We were somewhat preparing ourselves for the current situation and are now ready for it. Therefore, the force factor has always been and will remain on the agenda. We see this in the example of not only our conflict but also in many other conflicts around the world. Therefore, we will use various opportunities, and the restoration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is our main goal. The people of Azerbaijan should know that this is the main task of every citizen and the main task of the state. We will continue our policy in this direction.
- In the 1990s, Azerbaijan actually deserved to be hidden from tourists. Now the situation has changed so much that they should come and see it. From this standpoint, our membership in the space club is quite logical. The holding of Formula-1 events in the streets of Baku is also quite reasonable. When you once said that five- or seven-star hotels should be built in Azerbaijan, this could have been perceived as something incomprehensible or even impossible. But today we see that there is a shortage of such hotels and there should be more of them. Mr. President, what do you intend to undertake for people to keep visiting our country?
- You know, tourism is a very important sphere for any country. There are countries where the bulk of the gross domestic product derives from tourism. We, too, are trying to expand the tourist opportunities of Azerbaijan and are taking various steps in this direction. First of all, of course, it was necessary to create an infrastructure. Without the infrastructure, not a single tourist will come here. Currently, there are six international airports in Azerbaijan. It was necessary to create excellent roads, railways, service infrastructure, hotels and public areas. Of course, issues of security are in the foreground for every tourist, especially at the present time. Azerbaijan is perhaps one of the safest countries in the world. The hospitality of our people, our wonderful climate and excellent conditions. These were the key prerequisites for the development of tourism, and we have created them. The second question was how to attract tourists and to introduce Azerbaijan to the world. International events held in Azerbaijan have played a special role in that. The European Games. After the European Games in 2015 and the first Formula-1 event in 2016, the number of visitors to Azerbaijan increased by 22 percent. But why didn’t their numbers increase before that? We had been making effort to attract tourists before than as well. It was the European Games and Formula-1 events that increased the number of tourists by 22 percent. Following this, the Games of Islamic Solidarity were held in 2017. We saw that the number of tourists from Muslim countries increased dramatically. The number of tourists from some countries increased three to four times. So these Games also had a great impact. In 2017, the number of tourists increased by 20 percent. But this figure comes on top of the earlier 22 percent. Just imagine how much this is. Last year it increased by a further 6 percent. The growth is not particularly large, but the base is already high. In January this year, it increased again. Formula-1 events alone have created the conditions for about $300 million to directly enter our country and into its service sector. These competitions have an audience of half a billion people and, of course, bring huge benefits to Azerbaijan. They are held in 21 cities. If these competitions were useless or led to economic losses, would they have been held in developed cities? Of course not!
In the service sector, we derive great benefits from that. This is of great importance for promoting Azerbaijan in the world. Tourism is an exportable product. Let me give you a comparison. Last year, Azerbaijan received less money from the exports of agricultural products than from tourism. So tourism is a type of exports. Last year, Azerbaijan received $2 billion dollars from tourism. These funds serve our people, the service sector, taxes and overall development. This is why we are studying the experience of advanced countries and trying to make sure that the tourism industry develops even faster in Azerbaijan. A total of 2,800,000 foreign guests visited our country last year. This year there will be even more. This is a very important area of our economic development.
- I want to touch upon your speech at the national meeting dedicated to the Day of Azerbaijani Youth. It was not just a speech, it was a platform announced by the head of state for Azerbaijani youth. In general, the special importance you attach to youth in your personnel policy is in the spotlight. Taking all this into consideration, is it possible to define your course related to youth like this: healthy, creative and strong youth for an independent state?
- Yes, this forum was a grand event. The 3,500 young people gathered there demonstrated their determination and loyalty to the state. The forum made a deep impression on me. In other words, it left a great, a wonderful mark. I was further convinced of how committed the Azerbaijani youth is to the state, to the Motherland, how brave and educated it is. All the conditions for young people to take a worthy place in life in the future are available in Azerbaijan today. Opportunities for young people are opening up, young people are being invited to work in the public sector. I have instructed various organizations and state agencies of Azerbaijan to engage volunteers in their work – not only in ASAN but also in other agencies. An agrarian organization of volunteers has been set up. I believe that volunteers should work in all our state organizations. They should gain experience and prepare themselves for the future.
In my speech, I expressed my wishes for young people. I said that they, of course, should be knowledgeable and competent because the development of any country depends on the intellectual level of its citizens – not on natural resources, not on any other sources, but on the intellectual level. Look at the experience of developed countries. How have they developed? Thanks to technology, innovation, knowledge and competence. Therefore, Azerbaijani youth must also be knowledgeable and competent. At the same time, as I said at the forum, our young people should be raised in the national spirit. We have been part of other countries and empires for centuries, but have preserved our national identity nonetheless. It was not easy. How did we do what? First of all, we have always been committed to our national and spiritual values, have always preserved Azerbaijani values. We have preserved them in the most unfavorable environment for centuries and we must preserve them now. They are cherished by generations – the older generation, the younger generation. We are safeguarding them, the independence of Azerbaijan and the national interests of our people. Today’s youth should take the same steps in the future. To do that, it must have a national mindset, a national conscience and a national spirit. We are trying to put our young people on this path so that it always guards the state independence of Azerbaijan in the future. Therefore, I believe that knowledge, competence, modernity, patriotism and the national spirit should be the basic principles for our youth. I am glad that the Azerbaijani youth meets these criteria.
- I want to bring a quote from your speech at the forum. This seems to be a new way of saying: “Sometimes our foreign policy is portrayed as being balanced. But I think our foreign policy is based on national interests.” Could you please comment on this statement?
- Yes, this statement was not accidental. Let me repeat that some foreign media and expert communities circulate an opinion that Azerbaijan pursues a balanced policy and somewhat seeks a balance in this region. This is not the case. We are not seeking a balance. We simply protect our national interests with our foreign policy and reduce possible risks. Our foreign policy is built precisely on national interests. In our foreign policy, we must do and are doing whatever is dictated by national interests. I can say that we have achieved this.
We live in this geography, in this region. Of course, relations with neighbors are of particular importance for any country. I believe that any country wants to see a friendly country in its vicinity. In recent years, we have further strengthened friendly relations with all our neighbors – of course, with the exception of Armenia. We have raised them to a higher level. There is a bilateral format and, on our initiative, there are already formats of trilateral and even quadrilateral cooperation with our neighbors. I should also note that Azerbaijan is the initiator of this.
If we did not have good relations with our neighbors, could we have implemented energy and transport projects? Of course not! I have already mentioned that Azerbaijan has become a transport center of Eurasia. Could we have achieved this without our neighbors? Of course not! We are already creating a cooperation format covering a wider geography – not only with close neighbors. It is this format of cooperation that allows us the opportunity to successfully and promptly implement giant transnational projects. This is why such an approach is of strategic importance for us. I am glad that our relations with neighbors today are based on friendship, good-neighborliness and cooperation, which has a great future.
At the same time, Azerbaijan is part of the Muslim world. Relations with Muslim countries are of particular importance to us. I should also note that it is Muslim countries that support us in international organizations most of all. Azerbaijan plays a very positive role in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and this role is highly appreciated. You know, some countries in the Muslim world have not yet been able, to put it mildly, to establish good relations with each other. Azerbaijan plays a role in reducing these contradictions, and this role is highly appreciated. It is no coincidence that leaders of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation highly appreciate the role of Azerbaijan. We are making a great contribution to the strengthening of Islamic solidarity. The Games of Islamic Solidarity held in Baku were not just a sporting event. It was a celebration of friendship and solidarity that brought together young people and athletes from all Muslim countries. The fact that these Games were held at a high level certainly further strengthened our role in the Muslim world. Therefore, cooperation with Muslim countries is an important area of our foreign policy.
At the same time, Azerbaijan has established close ties with the European Union. Documents on strategic partnership have been signed with nine countries of the European Union, or a third of the European Union. Last year, a document on partnership priorities was signed between the European Commission and Azerbaijan. This is a very serious document covering many issues. Among other things, this document expresses explicit support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty of Azerbaijan and the inviolability of our country's borders in connection with the conflict. This is our great diplomatic success. These are the main directions of our foreign policy.
We are a member of the Non-Aligned Movement. We joined it a few years ago but the Non-Aligned Movement, which is the second largest organization after the UN, immediately adopted a very fair resolution in connection with the conflict. We will chair the Non-Aligned Movement. In other words, our international authority is enhancing. With the support of 155 countries, we were elected a member of the UN Security Council. Moreover, we did it in very tight competition. We managed to achieve this after 16 rounds. What does that mean? It shows that people believe in us, sympathize with us and support our independent policy. Azerbaijan is known in the world as a reliable partner. Partners know that our words are not at variance with our deeds. Therefore, I believe that our work related to foreign policy deserves approval. Foreign policy is a logical continuation of the domestic policy. I do hope that we will continue to follow the path of success in this direction.
- As a logical continuation, Mr. President, I want to ask about the domestic policy. Not only in the Caucasus but also in the CIS, Europe and elsewhere in the world, I do not know of any other country as stable and calm as Azerbaijan, a country where all religions and languages of the world could coexist normally. How do you make it happen?
- You know, there are probably many reasons for that. The situation in the world, in our region, in the CIS, in the Middle East and in Europe has been deteriorating in recent years. We see this on a daily basis on television and in other media. Conflicts, bloody clashes and wars are breaking out, new waves of millions of immigrants arise. Contradictions between countries intensify and relations between allies are undermined. We are seeing this in different parts of the world. Threats and risks are growing. Against the background of all this negative picture, the situation in Azerbaijan, of course, is of even greater interest. It receives even more approval. In times of stability people can say that stability prevails everywhere. But as you noted, Azerbaijan is a space of stability in this geography today. There are many reasons for that. First of all, I consider that it is about a correct policy. On the other hand, all nations and all religions live like one family in Azerbaijan. There has never been discrimination on religious and national grounds in Azerbaijan. This is our policy, but at the same time it is our intention, initiative, an order that comes from the people, as well as the popular support for the work being done. These I think are the main reasons.
The unity between the people and the government is the main condition for the development of any country. The Azerbaijani people are the guarantor of stability. The great trust placed on me in the last presidential election is a logical confirmation of my words. Where there is no stability, countries fall apart, people suffer and disasters occur. We saw this in our recent history. Therefore, the strengthening of stability in Azerbaijan should be the cause for every citizen, first of all, the state and every citizen. I am very glad that Azerbaijan today is known in the world as an island of stability. This is our big advantage. This allows Azerbaijan the opportunity to successfully follow the path of reforms. It enables us to draw on our economic opportunities and take further steps aimed at improving the well-being of our people. It allows the people of Azerbaijan the opportunity to continue to live in peace and tranquility.
- Thank you, Mr. President. You have generously allocated time to answer our questions. Let me thank you on behalf of all Azerbaijani media.