Ilham Aliyev and first lady Mehriban Aliyeva met with a group of culture and art figures

01 march 2019, 13:00

President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and first lady Mehriban Aliyeva have today met with a group of culture and art figures.

The head of state made a speech at the event.

Speech of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev

- Dear friends, my warm greetings! I would like to talk about the development of Azerbaijani culture today. I have had numerous meetings with prominent cultural figures of our country, both individually and at various events, ceremonies and openings of cultural institutions. Today we are meeting in a broader format. I think this is necessary because our country is entering a new stage of development. Very serious reforms are under way in all areas. A new stage of reforms was declared after the presidential election last year. In the second half of last year, extensive work was done to prepare serious reforms and large-scale reforms kicked off at the beginning of this year. These reforms will cover all areas. There is a need for that. Even developed countries always carry out reforms. Reforms mean innovation, a new approach and solution to existing problems. From this point of view, 2019 will be a very serious year, a year that will be different from previous years.

The reforms we are implementing in the economic sphere are producing excellent results. The figures for the first month of this year give reason to say this. It is possible to say that our economy is fully restored. I am confident that there will be very serious results in terms of economic development this year. You are well aware that the deep financial and economic crisis that has affected the world did not bypass our country either, and almost all countries experienced an economic recession after 2015. This decline was particularly pronounced in countries linked to the oil and gas sector. Just imagine the country's revenues reduce about fourfold that in a short period of time. What does this mean? This means that we had to reduce our expenses fourfold and take very serious steps in the shortest possible time. No country was ready for that, including us. We recognize this. Of course, this crisis has dealt a big blow to our country. At that time, our main goal was to strengthen the social protection of the population and come out of this economic crisis with smallest possible losses. I think that we succeeded in doing that. Year 2017 was one of economic stabilization. Last year we already embarked on a period of economic development, while this year development already manifests itself in even greater volumes.

The economic reforms have enabled us to take very serious steps in the social sphere. At the beginning of this year, we started the implementation of social projects prepared during the last year. The people of Azerbaijan know this very well. The 40-percent increase of the minimum wage and minimum pension covers up to 830,000 people. The increase in the amount of social benefits by an average of 100 percent covers about 600,000 people. The process of documenting apartment buildings covers approximately 350,000-400,000 people. The solution of problems of martyr families, increase of their benefits and provision of allowances cover thousands of people. Student scholarships have been significantly increased, which improves the financial situation of more than 100,000 students. Other social steps – the Decree I signed yesterday covers 800,000 people – I can say that this decree is unparalleled in the world. This can be confirmed by everyone who has read and analyzed the decree. This is a very serious social initiative. The government shows again that it stands by its citizens. As soon as economic opportunities presented themselves, we first of all decided to resolve the issue of problem loans and we did. I should also note that a fairly large number of countries have suffered at the hands of serious depreciation. There are countries that are faced with even deeper devaluation of their national currencies. But none of these countries have taken such social steps to uphold the interests of their citizens. This entire social package covers up to 3 million people and demonstrates our intentions once again.

Reforms are and should be carried out in other areas too. Reforms are underway in the field of education, and I can say that the number of people choosing the profession of a teacher has dramatically increased. In other words, traditional respect for the teaching profession is returning to society, and this has been possible as a result of reforms. Of course, the strengthening of the material and technical infrastructure of education and the construction of more than 3,200 schools have led to great changes.

Very serious healthcare reforms are also underway. The decision has been made, and I hope that next year we will move to the system of compulsory medical insurance. We have implemented pilot projects in several cities, and these projects have produced very positive results. Both citizens are satisfied and the medical care is provided at a high level. I can say that there is full transparency in the healthcare sector in these cities. The international financial structures, first of all the World Bank - I have recently met with their representatives – speak very highly of that. I do believe that every citizen of Azerbaijan will see the benefits of that. This is a very serious reform, a difficult issue. Some countries have been striving for these reforms for years, but have failed to achieve anything. Meanwhile, we have prepared all the necessary documents in a relatively short time and a very serious turnaround will be achieved in the healthcare sector. Over these years, we have built modern hospitals and diagnostic centers in all our cities, i.e. the infrastructure exists.

There is a serious need for reforms in other areas, for example, in the judicial sphere, and relevant instructions have been given. To the field of town planning. The process of chaotic construction in the city of Baku is now being stopped. The Committee for Town Planning and Architecture has received very serious instructions to put an end to this. Of course, we cannot allow a stagnation to creep in on the construction sector either. Construction is one of the sectors giving an impetus to the economy, a sector that creates tens of thousands of jobs. However, further town planning rules in Baku should be based on the master plan, and the already beautiful appearance of our great city should become even more beautiful. Reforms are also underway in the field of urban transport and urban economy. I believe that we will succeed in carrying out these reforms.

As for the sphere of culture, I would like to exchange views on these issues with you today and talk about the work ahead. A lot of work was done in previous years. As President, I have always tried to pay attention to this area. I believe that the work done should be evaluated. Our main theaters – the National Drama Theater, the Russian Drama Theater, the Theater of Young Spectators and the Music Theater – have been refurbished. We have built or overhauled theaters in the regions and set up new theaters. It is possible to say that our museums, the museums of Baku have been overhauled – the Museum of History, the Museum of Nizami, the Museum Center. Two buildings of the Art Museum and the Carpet Museum have been built. The Museum of Contemporary Art and other museums have begun to operate – I cannot remember everything now. Local history museums have started to operate in every city.

Religious sites have been renovated. Hundreds of mosques have been restored in Baku and the regions. Among them are those of great spiritual significance – the mosques of Tazapir, Bibiheybat, Ajdarbay, the Imamzadeh Historical and Religious Complex in Ganja, the oldest mosque in Azerbaijan – the Juma Mosque in Shamakhi built in 743. The Heydar Mosque has been built. So this is our national heritage.

To other areas now. I remember that one of my first decisions was to publish the works of our classics in the Latin script. There was a somewhat unclear situation. We completely switched to the Latin script and education was conducted in Latin script. However, the books of all our classics were once published in Cyrillic. Therefore, pupils and students could not read them. At that time, we did not have great material possibilities. We made this decision in 2004. Despite the fact that our financial opportunities were quite limited, we did that in a short time. Not only the works of Azerbaijani classics, but also those of world literature were published in Latin script.

The establishment of cinemas and the launch of private cinemas are a welcome phenomenon. The Nizami cinema center has been overhauled. Monuments to outstanding cultural figures have been erected – Gara Garayev, Fikrat Amirov, Bulbul, Niyazi and our other eminent cultural figures were perpetuated. It is difficult to remember all the work done. One of our two conservatories has been overhauled and the other rebuilt.

Such is the work we have done in this area to date. You should now tell me what more needs to be done because I want work in the field of culture to be carried out in a systematic manner. We should pursue a consistent policy on these issues. Of course, the construction and renovation of cultural facilities cannot fully reflect our goals. We need to look at these issues in a wider context. In general, the future development of our culture, the mood of our society, the upbringing of the young generation – all these issues are closely related to each other. A country may develop economically, have a strong international position in the political sphere, but if we disregard the main and fundamental principles of our people, then the successful development of our country cannot be sustainable.

Exactly a month ago, at a meeting with young people, I said that our young generation should be brought up in the national spirit. Only in this case can Azerbaijan walk the path of independence forever. Of course, the main factor for achieving this is our culture, art, literature and national thinking. Therefore, I would like to discuss these and any other issues with you today. I believe I should finish my opening remarks in order to create more opportunities for you to speak.

Thank you.

Culture and art figures then addressed the event.

Giving relevant instructions to address the important issues raised, President Ilham Aliyev made a closing speech at the event.

Closing speech of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev

- Dear friends, I know that there are many more people who would like to speak. I suggest that we hold such meetings on a regular basis, so that we could cover all the issues.

Today’s meeting shows again that such meetings are of great benefit. The questions raised here are very important indeed. I believe that their solution can clarify many issues. I have already instructed the Minister of Culture and am now instructing the Presidential Administration to analyze all the proposals made here and include them in a program, so that we could consistently address these issues.

On some questions, I want to express my opinion already now – in a chronological order. The process of restoration of the Center of Writers has been launched. Mr. Anar has expressed his opinion about this and noted that this issue had been resolved in a meeting. The IDPs settled there are being provided with new houses and apartments. The building will be refurbished and handed over to writers. At the same time, a Center for Contemporary Art is being created in Shabran District.

Other proposals, including those related to monuments, will definitely be examined. I accept and support the proposals concerning the monument to Jalil Mammadguluzadeh. Appropriate instructions have been given related to the construction of an apartment building for writers. A land plot has been allocated and this apartment building will be constructed. At the same time, I believe that the government should build a new residential building for prominent cultural figures and young talents. The Baku City Executive Authority, the State Committee for Town Planning and Architecture and the State Committee for Property Issues will receive relevant instructions. They are hearing my instructions as we speak: to allocate a plot of land in a short period of time so that we could build a beautiful apartment building for prominent figures and provide them with apartments.

I also accept the suggestions made by the Union of Composers. Today, the Baku City Executive Authority will be instructed to solve the housing problem of Yashar Imanov. If I had known about this before, the issue would have been resolved long ago. You are well aware that the government has provided apartments to hundreds of prominent cultural figures in recent years. I can say that the absolute majority of requests I have received in this regard have been resolved. We will continue to do so, as I believe that the state should take this responsibility. I do not know how this issue is addressed in other countries, but as far as I know, Azerbaijan is showing an example of leadership in this area. The cultural workers who have made great contributions to the nation and state and who have won the love of the people must be supported by the state. One of the goals of this meeting is to hear your suggestions and make the right decision in the end.

The establishment of artistic councils on television channels is an issue that has long been on the agenda, but unfortunately remains unresolved. I believe that the Azerbaijani state television, AzTV, should be the first in this regard. Other TV channels are also encouraged to set up artistic councils. But Mrs. Alizadeh is absolutely right that everything will depend on who will be represented on these artistic councils. Therefore, we should probably take into account the proposals of creative people. The Ministry of Culture, the Presidential Administration and unions should make proposals. There are different opinions and different approaches in connection with television programs - some like them, others don't. Quite often, private television channels compete for advertising. Therefore, they try to show more spectacular shows, which slightly reduces their quality at times. We must address this issue in a comprehensive manner but this area needs a unified approach.

As for the festivals, let me say this: I believe that there should be no problem with state support of the Shaki festival. Again, this is an issue that can be easily resolved. The Minister of Culture is saying this too – we can resolve this.

As Mr. Babayev has said, the establishment of mugham centers has gained momentum. The latest center was established in the city of Agdam. We celebrated its opening together. Prior to that, centers had been opened in other cities too. Mugham contests are very important. Mugham is our national asset. Our musical culture has a special role in educating young people in the spirit of patriotism. It is no coincidence that live mugham contests attract a large audience. We watch them and we know that the absolute majority of our people watch them too. I want to highlight the role of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva in the development of mugham both in the country and abroad. The inclusion of Azerbaijani mugham in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage is a historic achievement. We have also held international contests and mugham festivals. This art lives in several countries, but UNESCO’s recognition of Azerbaijani mugham as an asset of Intangible Cultural Heritage of mankind is, of course, a great achievement.

I should also note you that 13 samples of intangible cultural heritage of the Azerbaijani people are included in various UNESCO lists.

As always, I welcome the brilliant remarks of Mrs. Zeynab Khanlarova. Zeynab Khanlarova is the role model of our people, an outstanding personality, a great master and a prominent public figure. There is no-one in Azerbaijan who would not love her. Our family is closely associated with Zeynab Khanlarova. I remember the difficult days for my father when he left his post, retired, had health problems, was in isolation in some sense. Zeynab Khanlarova visited us – I was there too. She cheered him up and provided with moral support. At that time, it had a special meaning for my father. Of course, Zeynab Khanlarova also understood at the time that Heydar Aliyev was perceived as an undesirable person in the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the then leaders of Azerbaijan also allowed for this injustice. These courageous and honest steps by Zeynab Khanlarova will always remain in our hearts, in our memory.

A few suggestions have been made here regarding theaters. I mentioned the leading theaters in my opening remarks and said that, first of all, we dealt with the refurbishment of theaters – the Academic State Drama Theater, the Russian Drama Theater, the Music Theater, the Theater of Young Spectators, the Puppet Theater. Therefore, of course, I believe that we should not draw any distinctions here. It is necessary to prepare proposals on the wages of theater workers and significantly increase them. We must do that. Of course, Mr. Haji Ismayilov, thank you for the invitation. I will come with great pleasure and will be glad to see the beautiful performances together with you.

An idea related to taxes was also mentioned here. It is necessary to study it and see what can be done. In parallel with this, I believe that the state should also provide support for our leading theaters. An instruction will be issued. I believe that the private sector should also sponsor theaters. I want to encourage the private sector to support theaters in this, but the state will take on this issue in the first place. This should be addressed in the decisions to be made at the end of our meeting.

I also support the ideas about musical instruments. In recent years, we have done some work on the acquisition of musical instruments, including those on the proposals from Farhad Badalbayli. At the same time, we must definitely consider buying the musical instruments of great value, including the works of famous masters. Investment in this sphere will remain as investment, but at the same time, it will play an important role in the development of our musical art.

I also approve of the suggestions about architecture. I believe that the Baku City Executive Authority and the Union of Architects need to analyze the proposal of Mr. Elbay Gasimzadeh because you are absolutely right. The center of Baku seems to be concentrated in several districts. I don’t know why this happened – this was historically the case. There is a lot of logic in this. If the boundaries of the city center are precisely set, then, of course, you can create a unified management system. For example, by my decision we have created the Boulevard and Icherisheher as separate administrative units. This is exactly why both the Boulevard and Icherisheher are so clean, in order and have a wonderful atmosphere now. Therefore, in principle, I support the proposal to create a central district of Baku. We need to analyze this in detail in order to know what steps need to be taken. Therefore, such an instruction is being given.

Of course, we should be very sensitive about the restoration of historical buildings in Baku. I have always said that it is necessary to preserve the historical appearance of buildings during repairs. This should be the main principle. In recent years, the main historical buildings of our city have been overhauled with preservation of their historical appearance.

You also need to consider, together with the Ministry of Culture, the issue of erecting monuments in honor of outstanding architects and make suggestions. Mrs. Afag Bashirgizi has mentioned the issue of salaries of actors and the division of theaters into categories. I have also expressed my opinion on this matter.

Suggestions have been made related to the shooting of films. I believe that in the last year or two, this issue was not given due attention. We have to fill this gap. In other words, it is necessary to restore the process of shooting films on state order. The state budget does not envisage that for this year. I know that Abulfas Garayev tried very hard to incorporate this, but for some reason this was not done. Therefore, there is one way to go about that: to allocate sufficient funds from the President’s contingency fund for the current year. Now you need to make suggestions. The state budget for the next and subsequent years should definitely envisage funds for the restoration of film production.

As for the building of the Union of Cinematographers, Abulfas Garayev tells me that you have a building.

Abulfas Garayev: It is rented.

President Ilham Aliyev: Then the suggestion is to choose a beautiful building in the center of Baku. The Baku City Executive Authority, the Committee on Property Issues and the Ministry of Culture are now being instructed. Mrs. Shafiga Mammadova, please make suggestions on this issue. Of course, we must do this because the Union of Cinematographers should have its own building with good conditions.

I do not see any problems with the transformation of the Russian Drama Theater into an academic theater. I am instructing to resolve this issue today. Steps must be taken to raise the level of other theaters as well. In principle, both salaries and status will be raised. I said that the issue of raising the salaries of theater workers should soon be resolved. You mentioned that although 11 years have passed, it seems to have happened just recently. There is probably a need for repairs. If this is necessary, do let me know. In principle, repairs of our theaters were carried out 10 years ago. If there is a need for repairs, let me know so that we can resolve this issue.

I would also like to comment on the words of Tahir Imanov. I do not know. I have asked Abulfas Garayev – who imposed this ban on you? No-one can impose any bans on you. If someone did, let me know and we will eliminate it.

Tahir Imanov: Private TV channels.

President Ilham Aliyev: Private TV channels? I think they made a mistake. I advise and recommend that they completely lift this ban if it does at all exist. I believe that all television channels should be open to such talented people as you.

Tahir Imanov: Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: I am glad that you raised this question because apparently there is some misunderstanding here. In other words, there can be no prohibitions by the state. I have known you for over 20 years. In previous years, we had good contacts. I still watch your activities today. I am regularly informed about your work. I am pleased that you are expanding the scope of your activities. You are very talented people and the Azerbaijani people love you.

Tahir Imanov: Thank you very much.

President Ilham Aliyev: As regards the perpetuation of Suleyman Alasgarov, I am instructing the Baku City Executive Authority to name one of the streets after Suleyman Alasgarov. You should contact the head of the Executive Authority because your family should definitely be involved in choosing the street.

Tahir Imanov: Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: I approve of Bahram’s proposal as well. Haji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev was a great man, a great patron. He was a person who did a lot for the people of Azerbaijan. About 20 years ago, the Pir Hasan sanctuary was landscaped on my instruction. Our family also benefited from Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev’s humane activities. At that time, my grandfather Aziz Aliyev wrote him a letter asking for money to study the profession of a doctor. Haji Zeynalabdin, of course, did not know and could not know him. In response to that letter only, he sent him money. With this money, Aziz Aliyev entered the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg, became a doctor and entered a new period in his life. Haji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev helped thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people, and one of my steps as President was to overhaul his house. It currently houses the Museum of History but I perceived this building as his house, and we did that. To erect a monument to him would be the right decision. It would be good if you, Bahram, also took an active part in this. Do prepare suggestions. In general, I watch your activities. You are doing a lot of hard and dedicated work to develop our city and protect our historical heritage. I see and approve of that, and wish you continued success.

I also support the proposals of Tahir Salahov both to establish the post of the main artist and to hold a biennale in Baku. I am told that a biennale will be held here this year. This is also a great suggestions.

I am pleased to accept the invitation of Mrs. Khuraman Gasimova. It is possible to say that I have expressed my attitude to all the key issues raised here.

Dear friends, I want to say again that such a warm and frank conversation creates excellent opportunities for addressing many issues. I suggest holding such meetings on a regular basis in one format or another, so that our work in this area is more correct and systematic, so that all the problems that concern our creative public are resolved. Thank you. I wish you continued success and a happy upcoming. Thank you!