Opening speech by Ilham Aliyev at the meeting with a group of culture and art figures

01 march 2019, 13:30

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.