Ilham Aliyev chaired Cabinet meeting on results of socio-economic development in first quarter of 2020 and future tasks

15 july 2020, 15:35

President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has chaired a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers dedicated to the results of socio-economic development in the first quarter of 2020 and future objectives.

The head of state made a speech at the meeting.

Speech of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev

- As is the case every year, this year we will also discuss the socioeconomic results of six months according to the plan. This tradition bears fruit, because the meetings analyze the work done, the mistakes made, and determine the specific steps for our future activities. Of course, a decision is made at the beginning of each year on the work to be done during the year and an action plan is approved. But life does not stand still. It changes and new challenges appear. In this case, of course, we must adjust and update our plans. The main purpose of these adjustments is to speed up and ensure the successful development of our country. Therefore, we will traditionally discuss these issues today.

But first of all, I would like to inform the public about the events that have taken place in the Tovuz direction of the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border in recent days. As you know, on 12 July, the Armenian armed forces opened artillery fire on Azerbaijani positions. As a result of this sudden strike, our servicemen were killed and injured. Following this, Armenia, as always, tried to portray Azerbaijan as the instigator of this provocation, although this does not fit into any logic. We do not have any military targets on the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border. As you know, several years ago, on my instructions, protection of a part of the border was entrusted to border troops. This suggests that we have no military plans in this direction; in principle, this does not represent any value from the point of view of military goals. In addition, in an attempt to justify the “act of Azerbaijani sabotage”, Armenia tried to provide a completely ridiculous reason, which I think fully corresponds to their level. Allegedly, two Azerbaijani servicemen violated the Armenian border in a UAZ vehicle and tried to commit military sabotage. The question is what country's army would organize an attack in a UAZ vehicle using only two officers and soldiers? Does the Armenian army prepare such “brilliant” military operations? But neither the Azerbaijani nor any other army of the world would take such an unwise step. In other words, the main reason for Armenia to provide this ludicrous theory is to put the blame on us, as has always been the case. But this time no-one believed that. You don't need to be a military expert to trash this absurd theory. The actual situation was that, I want to say again, an artillery strike was dealt on our military post, and as a result of this sudden dirty action, our servicemen were killed. I immediately gave all the relevant instructions. I gave an instruction to the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan to avenge our servicemen. Their blood should not remain unavenged, the enemy should receive a blow it will remember for years. At the same time, the Presidential Administration, the Cabinet of Ministers and relevant bodies were instructed to inform all international organizations about this act of sabotage on the part of Armenia and provide full information about what happened. I immediately called a meeting of the Security Council, where I noted that as soon as the operational situation allows, we will invite military attaches from the missions of foreign countries in Azerbaijan, journalists, if there is such a desire, and other representatives of the embassies operating in the region. We will acquaint them with the situation and they will see on the spot who committed this provocation and soldiers of which army died as a result of this provocation.

I want to say again: as a result of the operational measures taken, the Armenian army received a fitting rebuff. I have already said at the meeting of the Security Council that the blood of Azerbaijani soldiers and officers should not remain unavenged. They received crushing blows, which I am sure became a good lesson for them. Despite this, yesterday and the day before yesterday they resorted to dirty actions again, committed a military provocation once again, as a result of which several of our servicemen, including General Polad Hashimov and Colonel Ilgar Mirzayev, were killed.

This morning I spoke with General Polad Hashimov’s mother, Samaya khanum, on the phone, expressed my condolences and wished her patience and endurance. I assured her that the blood of her son, our hero, was avenged, we avenged him and this will be the case in the future. Glory to these mothers for raising such brave sons for our people and state.

I must note that General Polad Hashimov was someone who enjoyed great respect in the army. He showed courage in the April fighting. I have twice awarded him a high state order. I awarded him the rank of general. Today, during a conversation with Colonel Ilgar Mirzayev's son Elvin, I spoke about the heroism of his father. I said that he should be like his father. All our youth should be like our heroes. Their life, courage, heroism shown in the name of the land, the Motherland, should become an example for every young individual. We are proud that the Azerbaijani people, the Azerbaijani land have raised such sons. I once again express my condolences to their family members and relatives. At the same time, I express my condolences to the families and friends of all those who died in recent days. May Allah rest the souls of our martyrs in peace, may Allah grant healing to our wounded soldiers.

I propose to honor the memory of our servicemen who heroically died in the last days in the name of our native land with a minute of silence.

May Allah rest them in peace!

I must note that after this dirty deed, the second phase of the retaliation operation began on my instruction. In the past two days, crushing blows were dealt to the enemy again. According to the information we have, dozens of Armenian servicemen have been killed, a significant part of their border strongholds have been completely destroyed, including the entire infrastructure of the notorious post they cited as a pretext. This post no longer exists. The Azerbaijani army with precise and aimed fire destroyed the hardware, warehouses of weapons and ammunition, enemy strongholds, cars, tanks and places of deployment of troops. I would not like to say anything else about the operation because it is a military secret, this information is of secret nature. However, we have circulated some video footage. This is only a small part of the operations carried out by the Azerbaijani army. We showed everything we could. I think that at this stage it would be wrong to give any more information. However, these videos clearly demonstrate the accuracy with which the infrastructure, manpower, trenches, posts and strongholds of the enemy are being destroyed.

I must say that in recent days the Azerbaijani army has once again demonstrated its advantage. I believe that this operation will take its place in the glorious history of the Azerbaijani army. Just as in 2016, during the April battles, we taught the enemy a lesson and liberated a part of the Agderin, Fizuli, and Jebrail regions from it. Two years ago, in 2018, as a result of a successful Nakhchivan operation, the Azerbaijani army liberated an area of more than ten thousand hectares, the occupiers were expelled from these regions. The strategic heights taken by the Azerbaijani army allow us to control several settlements in Armenia. We control the road leading from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. At one time - in the early 1990s - the Armenian forces that occupied part of the territory of Nakhchivan were expelled, expelled from these territories, the flag of Azerbaijan was raised on these lands.

I must say that the Azerbaijani army once again demonstrated its advantage in recent days. I believe that this operation will take its place in the glorious history of the Azerbaijani army. Just like in 2016, during the April battles, we taught the enemy a lesson and liberated a part of the Aghdara, Fuzuli and Jabrayil districts. Two years ago, in 2018, as a result of a successful Nakhchivan operation, the Azerbaijani army liberated an area of more than 10,000 hectares and occupiers were expelled from these regions. The strategic heights taken over by the Azerbaijani army allow us the opportunity to control several settlements in Armenia. We exercise control over a road leading from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. At one time, in the early 1990s, the Armenian forces that occupied part of the territory of Nakhchivan were expelled from these territories and the flag of Azerbaijan was raised on these lands.

This operation, the military confrontation of recent days, is yet another glorious victory for us. The people of Azerbaijan know this. These days I have been receiving letters from thousands of citizens, and they all express support. International military experts are of the same opinion, as evidenced by the real situation in the region. The Armenian forces failed to invade the Azerbaijani lands by a single centimeter and they will never succeed. On the contrary, if we wanted to, we could have taken control of a significant part of the lands on that territory of Armenia. But this is not our goal.

Information about the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border has already been shared and we are quite satisfied with the operational situation. At any time, at the right time, we will take advantage of the additional capabilities created over these days, including the new deployment of combat posts, and we will have our say. As was the case during the April fighting, the notorious neighbors resorted to the dirtiest of actions this time as well. What are they? They fired at our villages, resulting in the death of 76-year-old elder Aziz Azizov. This shows once again that Armenia is a fascist state.

Armenia has never been able and will never be able to win in an open battle. The loss of lands, I want to say this again, was due to betrayal of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan, which was claiming power at that time and the people who headed it. At that time, they committed treason in the Karabakh region in order to sow confusion and chaos in Azerbaijan and overthrow the government. The battalions of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan and some of their commanders operating in this region at that time committed treason – despite the fact that there were brave and loyal people who fought in their ranks and sacrificed their lives. However, those who were at the head of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan at that time sold our lands in order to come to power at any cost, and they managed to overthrow the then government. The loss of our lands at that time is directly related to the treacherous activities of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan. Therefore, Armenia has always used these opportunities. Even today they do not conceal the fact that there were chaos and anarchy in Azerbaijan at the time and, taking advantage of this, they seized our lands. At that time, the Popular Front of Azerbaijan bombed Ganja and took Azerbaijani soldiers prisoner. The enemy was occupying our land there, while they were fighting for power here and, unfortunately, achieved their dirty goals. They came to power, lost even more land and then disgracefully fled and hid, deserted. All this is our history.

Armenia has always fought only against unarmed people, committed genocide against old people and children. The Khojaly genocide was committed by the political leadership of Armenia, the former government, the two former presidents are war criminals. During the Khojaly genocide, these executioners killed 106 women and 63 children. Aziz Azizov also died as a result of the acts of these very Armenian fascists. I must say that the blood of elder Aziz Azizov did not remain unavenged either, the opposite side was and will be given an adequate answer. Let no-one doubt that.

I believe that the clashes and bloody battles that have taken place in recent days have once again demonstrated the power of the Azerbaijani state and its army, the unity between the people and the government.

As for the reasons for the Armenian military provocation, of course, we cannot know them for sure, life will tell. But there are many logical assumptions, and I would like to share my thoughts on this with the citizens of Azerbaijan. I believe that the first reason is the current political and economic crisis in Armenia. This is no secret to anyone. Two years ago, a group funded from abroad, receiving salaries and instructions from foreign funds and using their coup technologies, seized power by illegal means and made many promises. They promised that there would be prosperity and paradise in Armenia. They stated that investments of tens of billions of dollars would be made in Armenia in a short time, the population of Armenia would soon reach 5 million although it is less than 2 million people now, life in Armenia would be rebuilt, there would be justice, democracy would develop, human rights would be protected – they made other promises. The Armenian people are so disgusted with Sargsyan's regime that they would have believed anyone. If someone else had organized that coup, the Armenian people would have voted for him as well because the hatred for Sargsyan's regime was enormous. The group that took advantage of this and seized power by force had to fulfill these promises to the end. But how can they do it if there is no experience, competence, domestic resources or foreign investment? On the contrary, today they treat foreign investors with contempt and drag them into litigation. Strategic investors who are helping Armenia stand on its feet are being prosecuted and accused of corruption. They are committing dirty deeds even against companies of the country they are attached to, so to speak. Of course, all of this will scare any potential investor away. If this is how you treat the closest companies that invest in your country, create infrastructure there and provide your people with jobs, then what should investors from other countries think?

Therefore, it is natural that the collapse of these promises has already led to the emergence of a crisis in Armenia. How did the authorities react to this? Instead of uniting society, it actually creates political prisoners, political opponents are detained, prosecuted and deprived of immunity, the constitution is flagrantly violated, illegal amendments that are possible only through a referendum are made to it. They know perfectly well that these amendments will not pass in a referendum. Power has been usurped and there is no division of powers. Power is concentrated in the hands of one person, there is no democracy at all and never has been. What kind of democracy, human rights can we talk about in a fascist state? But the current situation is even more deplorable, because the promises made for the economic sphere were never fulfilled, while from a political point of view Armenia has driven itself into isolation. This was once again confirmed by their silly actions related to the convocation of a special session of the UN General Assembly on the initiative of Azerbaijan. The whole world supported us, only Armenia opposed.

Democratic principles are completely violated, recommendations of the Venice Commission are rejected, political opponents are prosecuted and there is a dictatorship. Therefore, the Armenian leadership today needs some kind of a crisis to divert thoughts from these fundamental issues, and it deliberately resorted to this provocation. Why 12 July? This is also no coincidence. This is being linked to certain events in Armenia now. I do not want to touch on this issue, because I have never touched on family matters and do not advise anyone to do this. But I believe that the main reason for this was the special session of the UN General Assembly, which was officially declared open on 10 July. Because this is yet another huge success, another great victory for our country, as we received the support of 130 countries. Azerbaijan is a country that has drawn attention to the COVID-19 problem that occupies the entire agenda, has held two major summits and after that a special session of the UN General Assembly. This is the reason. There may be many reasons. I just want to share my thoughts. The fact is that it is no coincidence that Armenia committed this military provocation at this particular time. But they have received a fitting response. I want to say again that the Azerbaijani army is in full control of the situation. I should also note that although our villages were shelled and an elderly person was killed, none of the inhabitants of our villages budged, not a single person left anywhere. At the same time, according to the operational data we have, people from some villages and cities of Armenia are being evacuated. There is panic there now. This is the difference. The citizens of Azerbaijan live on their land with dignity. The Azerbaijani state and the Azerbaijani army protect and will continue to protect them.

I would like to draw the attention of the Azerbaijani public to one more issue. It lies in the fact that, as you know, after committing these dirty acts and receiving a worthy response from the Azerbaijani army, Armenia immediately turned to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and asked it for help, immediately raised a hue and cry, asking it not to let us strangle them, destroy them. What does the CSTO have to do with this? First, I want to say again that Azerbaijan did not violate the state border of Armenia, did not commit provocations and did not invade the territory of Armenia. In this case, what does the CSTO have to do with this? This is first. Secondly, this step demonstrates their helplessness and cowardice. It shows that they cannot resist Azerbaijan on their own and they know that. We know this too. Their appeal to the CSTO is another manifestation of their cowardice. They have once again demonstrated their cowardice, the cowardice of their leadership. Okay, you have committed a provocation, a crime – then answer for it. Answer! And they did answer in full! Now they are hiding the death toll but we have operational data. It was us who gave information about some of the killed Armenian servicemen, they were hiding it. They recognized it only after we revealed this. Just as they did during the April battles. This once again shows their helplessness, but on the other hand demonstrates their hypocritical policy. After all, how is it possible that you recently arrested the CSTO Secretary General without asking any of the participating countries? Is that even possible? This was a step that completely violated all the rules of international conduct. A person holding the post of the head of the CSTO was arrested. After pressure was put on them, he was released, but the criminal case has not yet been closed and still continues. The highest representative of an international organization was arrested. After that, they blocked this position for one year, vetoed the candidacy of the person who was supposed to become the next head of the CSTO, as this happens in alphabetical order. After Armenia, a representative of Belarus was supposed to become chairman and his candidacy was nominated. But he was not given the opportunity to start his activities for a whole year. Is this your attitude to the CSTO? Well, you have committed a provocation and got your head caved in, but why did you run to the CSTO for help! All CSTO members except for Armenia are our friends.

What should be the attitude of the CSTO countries to a state financed from foreign funds in which practically all representatives of the government are the scum of the Soros Foundation and similar funds? I ask the question and I think it is rhetorical. Why are you now running to the CSTO for help? Answer for your dirty actions. You have answered and will continue to answer.

I must also say that in a recent interview with Azerbaijani TV channels, I once again stated my position, our principled position in connection with the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. I said that the Azerbaijani people are fed up with these meaningless negotiations. Therefore, let those who are dealing with this issue and putting forward their mediation proposals these days think about it, the patience of the Azerbaijani people is not limitless. We have created a powerful army. The unity between the people and government is the main condition for the development and stability in Azerbaijan. Therefore, we will not take a step back in connection with the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be restored, and our opinion on this issue is categorical.

As for our actions, we are taking and will take the necessary steps at the right time. I do not want to say more than what I said and do not want to get ahead of the events. I do not advise anyone to be ahead of the events in Azerbaijan. It is not necessary. It can be harmful. We know what, when and how to do something. I believe that recent history has repeatedly shown this, both in the political and diplomatic plane and on the battlefield. We do everything with precision. Over the past four years, there have been three operations and three clashes. We have won all three. In all three, we hoisted our flag where we wanted. In all three, we dealt a crushing blow to the enemy. It would be wrong to say anything more than this.

I would like to touch upon one more issue. It is about the reaction of the international community to these events. The Azerbaijani public is monitoring this. Immediately after the provocation, on the afternoon of 12 July, I gave the Presidential Administration appropriate instructions, and all our representatives in international organizations, including those in inter-parliamentary organizations, received instructions and conveyed detailed information on this issue to the leadership of the organization they are represented on.

However, I believe that our diplomatic activity could be more effective. I have repeatedly said that our diplomacy should be offensive, not passive and defensive. It shouldn't be a diplomacy that refrains from speaking out in order to please someone. I have said this many times, at various events, both at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and at meetings with the ambassadors of Azerbaijan to foreign countries. I showed the way things need to be done and what steps should be taken in connection with the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, how to work with the media in foreign countries, how to defend the economic interests of Azerbaijan, how to protect the rights of Azerbaijani citizens, how to carry out effective work in connection with diaspora organizations, how to respond to unfounded accusations that are sometimes voiced against Azerbaijan in international organizations, and how to silence the enemy. I have said this and shown the way on each issue. But do we see these instructions in life? In many cases, we don’t. Unfortunately, our diplomacy has not been consistent with the successful development of our country lately. In some cases, it has been engaged in meaningless affairs and negotiations. What negotiations can we conduct with the enemy, a country that is in conflict with us, in connection with COVID? This is absurd! Have we started to cooperate with Armenia?

I have said this before and all international organizations, including the Minsk Group co-chairs, know this. Although over the past almost 17 years I have repeatedly received proposals to start cooperation with Armenia in one form or another – humanitarian, in matters of confidence building measures, etc. I said that we can be ready for this, but we must see progress in the negotiations, see that we are moving closer to a peace agreement, step by step. If this is not the case, then what is the point of cooperation? This cooperation can only be harmful to us. I adhere to this position today. Go put pressure on the occupying state, bring it to its senses and finally tell them that they must leave our lands. If this happens and such a prospect seems realistic, then, yes, after that we can take certain steps. But under the current conditions when the prime minister of Armenia says, “Karabakh is Armenia, period”, I give an answer to this. Did the Ministry of Foreign Affairs respond to this at any level? I have not heard that, and neither have the Azerbaijani people. Who should do this in the first place? The Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is silent. I said that as long as there is no progress in the negotiations, there can be no talk of any cooperation with Armenia. It turns out that COVID is being discussed. So should we help the Armenian occupiers in connection with COVID?

I share all important issues with the Azerbaijani people, I consult and state my thoughts and policies, but at the same time I deeply analyze the problems that worry our people. No wonder there is a saying: people have an eagle eye. Therefore, our government is the government of the people, the government based on the will of our people. So I present the bare bones of all these issues to the public. In the past few days, all actions were taken only on my instructions. I probably speak to my assistant Hikmat Hajiyev 10 times every day - do this and do that, say this to someone and give this instruction to someone else.

What was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs doing? Where was it? On 12 July, as soon as the events occurred, we were at our workplaces. The prime minister was at work, I was at work until morning. The Minister of Defense, the Chief of the General Staff, as well as the Chief of the State Security Service, the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service and the Secretary of the Security Council were at their workplaces until morning. I couldn't find the foreign minister. I asked Ali Asadov: Where is he? What did he answer you? Say this.

Prime Minister Ali Asadov: Mr. President, I asked him and he said that he was working from home.

President Ilham Aliyev: What does working from home mean?

Prime Minister Ali Asadov: Yes, he said that he was working from home. I called Elmar Mammadyarov. I conveyed your words to him and asked when he had heard about this event and where he was at the time. He replied that he was working from home. I asked him to report where exactly was every hour. He replied again that he was working from home. He heard this at 3 pm. Then he said that at about 6-7 o'clock he spoke on the phone with Hikmat Hajiyev. As you said, after Hikmat Hajiyev communicated your instructions to him, he said that he had spoken to our UN representative Yashar Aliyev. It was like this. I conveyed your instructions to him and said that this was unacceptable. We are all in our workplaces. Mr. President manages all the processes. As foreign minister, you must do this, this and this – as instructed by you. I asked why he was working from home. Come to your workplace, to your office, etc. This was the instruction. Subsequent events are known.

President Ilham Aliyev: I see. I don't want to go any deeper. I can say a lot but I think this is enough. But all of us – leaders and the public – should know what the real picture is in order to take the right steps. We must defend the interests of our country every day, every minute.

I would like to note one more issue, which is related to the reaction of international organizations. First of all, I want to express my deep gratitude to fraternal Turkey and its President, my brother Recep Tayyip Erdogan. We saw a fraternal and friendly attitude on the part of Turkey yet again these days. From the very first hours, the official bodies of Turkey supported the fair position of Azerbaijan and made statements on this issue. The President made a very important statement yesterday. His statement followed those of the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, representatives of the Presidential Administration, MPs and public activists. The whole world, the peoples of both Turkey and Azerbaijan were further convinced that we are real brothers. We are next to each other both on happy and difficult days. Citizens of Turkey and Azerbaijan probably remember the words I said many times and see how right I was when I said that on a global scale there are no two countries as close to each other as Turkey and Azerbaijan. The current situation shows this once again. Therefore, once again, on behalf of the Azerbaijani people and on my own behalf, I want to express my deep gratitude to the people of Turkey and its President.

Another friendly and brotherly country for us, Pakistan, expressed an unambiguous position and supported the just cause of Azerbaijan. Officials from other countries also supported Azerbaijan. The Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States issued a statement. Taking this opportunity, I would like to express my gratitude to the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the leaders of the countries of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, of course, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. At the same time – the people of Azerbaijan probably know this – the Organization of Islamic Cooperation issued a statement in support of Azerbaijan. This organization includes 57 states. This is the kind of international support we received. As I have already noted, other countries, some European states have also expressed support for Azerbaijan through their official representatives. Now let’s see who supported Armenia. I have not seen any. It is in a state of isolation here too, because everyone knows that Azerbaijan is right. Thanks to our activity, many have learned that Armenia committed this dirty provocation.

I would like to touch upon another issue. The successful operation of our army, the results we achieved and the military victory have naturally inspired the Azerbaijani public, inspired our public. As I said, the letters addressed to me express full support for our work. Yesterday, a group of patriotic people went to Martyrs Alley to express their attitude to this, their support for the Azerbaijani army and for me as Commander-in-Chief. I welcome this patriotic step. I was informed that these people covered a long distance on foot and on the way to Martyrs Alley chanted patriotic slogans – about me, about our army, our people, about Karabakh. This shows once again that on difficult days the Azerbaijani people can be together. It was yet another picture demonstrating the unity between the people and government. Unfortunately, after these people came to Martyrs Alley, some provocative groups apparently also blended with them, having learned about it from somewhere. Their identities are being established now. These provocative groups committed hooliganism there, attempted to disrupt public order and resisted the police. I instructed bodies of internal affairs to ensure that people reach Martyrs Alley, to protect their safety, regulate traffic because in many cases people moved along the road. Yesterday evening, I gave all these instructions to Minister of Internal Affairs Vilayat Eyvazov. At the same time, I said: be vigilant because it is possible that some provocative forces and those who do not like us, representatives of the “fifth column”, traitors may commit some kind of provocation there. Because unpleasant incidents sometime do occur at such mass events, including those not organized in advance. Therefore, along the way to Martyrs Alley, police officers performed their official duty with dignity. When people gathered in Martyrs Alley, order was also fully ensured. But I want to say again, a group of provocateurs tried to cast a shadow on this wonderful and noble deed, to commit illegal actions. Naturally, internal affairs bodies very quickly put an end to their actions. Currently, their identities are being established. All of them will be held accountable, not a single person – I said it this morning – will be able to evade responsibility. Of course, they will receive the punishment they deserve within the framework of the law if they are sentenced to this punishment by court. We ask the public for assistance in identifying these people. In order to fully establish these provocateurs, I also ask the patriotic people who gathered there yesterday to inform us if they know someone who got into the video footage, tried to organize riots, so that we could find them all and punish.

Armenia, which has dragged the Azerbaijani people into this provocation, got its head smashed in. Our valiant army, all our soldiers, officers and military commanders are on a round-the-clock duty these days. Whenever I call the Minister of Defense and the Chief of the General Staff, they are at work – at night, at 7 am, at 10 pm, at 2 am. We have won a great victory and the people supported us. The people came to Martyrs Alley to celebrate the victory and honor the memory of our martyrs. And some shameless elements will cause riots there? This will not happen! It is not the beginning of the 1990s. The problem of the then government of Azerbaijan was that it fled from such filthy, contemptible, cowardly and corrupt deserters as the Popular Front. The deserters who abandoned power a year later and fled. They sat in this building. And turned into a sordid place. Every day in the office of the president, they ate sausage and drank vodka – every day, from night to morning. After that, the then president woke up at 12 o'clock and at 5 o'clock sausage and vodka again. The former minister of defense, the former minister of the interior, the former secretary of state, the former president desecrated this building. Such an ugly group came and obstreperously removed the then government. Let them not think that this is possible now. We have taught and will teach them a lesson. No-one can shirk responsibility.

I was informed that some opposition structures, including representatives of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan, infiltrated the masses and tried to induce people to take illegal actions yesterday. They were also among the lawbreakers and have already been identified. I am warning you again – don't play with fire. This is a national issue. We will not pay attention to anything – who said what, which council, the Council of Europe or another organization. The position we have been demonstrating in recent days – a position against those waging a dirty campaign against us in international organizations – is already yielding results. We will block anti-Azerbaijani forces wherever possible. We will not allow their candidates to challenge us and try to slander Azerbaijan. Nobody can tell us what to do. Yesterday's event should be a signal for all of us. Remember the times when land was being seized but rallies were organized in front of the parliament. Thousands of people gathered and expressed their outrage. But what is the result? The lands were lost. Is this the time for rallies now? We have martyrs, we are losing heroes and generals. And these dirty elements are trying to exacerbate the situation here. I appeal to all relevant agencies. If they had a hand in yesterday's events, they will see our determination. They are worse than the Armenians. Armenians are overt enemies. They are sitting there on our lands because of these people. They are there in those lands today because of the deserters of the Popular Front. But these people are among us. They receive money and instructions from abroad, poison the environment, pollute our fresh air with a stench and are next to the enemy, not to the state at such moments.

I have told law enforcement agencies to analyze their social media actions these days. If there is corpus delicti in their actions, all of them must be prosecuted. While fighting is going on, they slander our army and spread lies. They say that we have allegedly lost this place, that we shouldn't have gone here or there. Who are you to give instructions or advice to our army? A half-witted traitor! They tried to destroy Azerbaijani statehood. And are we supposed to bear with them? They will be given a lesson that will be their last.

I want to say again that law enforcement agencies will deal with this matter. All their anti-state speeches and appeals will be analyzed. If there is corpus delicti, then they should be immediately prosecuted. We need to finish with the “fifth column”, it cannot continue this way any longer. In other words, tolerance is completely unacceptable here. On ordinary days, we sometimes turn a blind eye to them and say that they are not worthy of our attention. But in such a situation, this is hostility. Today, this hostility is headed by the Popular Front of Azerbaijan, its dirty and corrupt leaders, cowards and deserters who consider themselves leaders. The people of Azerbaijan have repeatedly shown and will show them their place.

I would like to touch upon another issue. These provocateurs chanted many slogans yesterday. They incited people to do certain things. I want to say: the Azerbaijani army is fully staffed and equipped with modern weapons today. The Azerbaijani army honorably fulfills all the orders of the Commander-in-Chief. Ever since I became president, it has never happened that a task was not carried out. They all have been carried out. In the April battles of 2016, it responded to the Armenian provocation in such a way and liberated our lands from such an unfavorable position that some military experts are still amazed at this to this day. The events of recent days have shown this once again. Therefore, we are doing and will continue to do everything necessary for our army. If someone, some patriot wants to serve in the army, then I only welcome this, because the number of extended servicemen is increasing, and this was also my instruction. They are well paid. These are people who have already completed training and served in the army. We involve them, and if there is such an initiative, we will only welcome it. But it is necessary to put an end to the words “I will go to fight in Karabakh” that were expressed in the square today, perhaps out of good intentions. This is not the time for populism. How will you fight? What will you fight with? To do this, you must undergo training. You must serve in the regular army. You must be prepared and trained.

This morning I spoke with the head of the State Service for Mobilization and Conscription, and I asked him. Tell me how many people who want to fight have turned these days to your regional departments. I will provide this figure – let everyone hear it and analyze it. He answered: about 150 people. How many people gathered in front of Martyrs Alley yesterday? Thousands. And there were only 150 applicants. I asked where the people mostly come from. He said that 60 are from Tovuz, and there is fighting there now. The rest are from various places in Azerbaijan. Therefore, let me say to all those who said “I want to fight in Karabakh” yesterday: send your personal data to the State Service for Mobilization and Conscription, provide your address, express a desire to serve in the army and we will attract them at the right time. Otherwise, someone will shout and incite people to illegal actions, earn political capital under the sacred slogan of Karabakh, and what will happen next? So that the same things happen – is this what they want? This is the real situation. I want to say again that there is no need for this today, there is no need for mobilization. If necessary, we have a structure, a state service, the Ministry of Defense. We know what and when to do and how much manpower we need to resolve certain issues. If anyone wants to portray themselves as a street hero here, then this is a bad way. I say again: the absolute majority of those who gathered in Martyrs Alley yesterday are patriots. But these elements – the scum of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan – infiltrated their ranks. What was their goal? To plunge Azerbaijan into darkness and aggravate the situation again? For the Armenians to take advantage of this again? This is their goal. This is the goal of the Popular Front, this filthy anti-national council. You saw how happy they were when the oil price dropped to $14. Who is happy about this? The Armenians and them! They congratulated each other and celebrated. The one who sits in America says: wait a little longer, it will gradually slide to zero. Do you even know what you are saying? How can the price of oil be zero? He says: don't rush to rejoice yet, let's rejoice in the future when oil will cost less than $14. So what next? Ask him, he has been in America for two years now. First, what money are you spending there, who supports you, who pays and instructs you? Tell us, the Azerbaijani people want to know. Now he is sitting there and wants to muddy the waters with foreign money. This will be stopped. Let no-one doubt that. We are defending and will continue to defend our state. The people of Azerbaijan have repeatedly shown patriotism. This is yet another glorious victory for us. Concluding this topic, I want to say again: we know what, when and how to do something. So far, all our actions have been successful – on the battlefield, in the political plane, in connection with the domestic situation, in the economic and other spheres.

Now let's move on to the issues on our agenda. The meeting participants will now provide information in connection with the economic situation. First of all, I must say that no-one should forget that we are still living during the pandemic and the quarantine regime has not been canceled. Take a look at the statistics, see when we went for mitigation – in early May. Why? Because the trend was positive. There were more recovering people than those getting infected. What did we see then? Some people became irresponsible, the infection spread widely and the trend was disrupted. What did we do? We tightened the restrictions again. We shouldn't forget that this is a deadly virus! It does not look at the age and health of people. At the initial stage, it was believed that older people were more susceptible to it and that it was particularly dangerous for them. But look how many young people are suffering today. Everything is happening before our eyes. They also said that the virus was dangerous only for sick people. But what about the infected healthy people and athletes? This is a deadly virus, let no-one forget about it. Therefore, additional measures have been taken recently. I would like the Chairman of the Task Force, the Prime Minister, to inform us about this issue. What is the overall situation? On my instructions, there were plans to purchase ambulances and deliver new modular hospitals. Please report on these and other issues.

Prime Minister Ali Asadov said in his speech:

- Thank you!

Dear Mr. President, as you know, for the first time a group of Azerbaijani citizens was evacuated from China in February in connection with the coronavirus epidemic that swept the entire world and was taken to a specially designated Gobustan hospital for quarantine. Since that time, the border checkpoints of Azerbaijan switched to a tightened regime of operation. The decision was made on a mandatory medical examination of all persons arriving from abroad, especially from countries affected by the coronavirus. Mr. President, in order to prevent the threat of the spread of the disease in the territory of Azerbaijan and carry out preventive measures promptly, in accordance with your Order dated 27 February, a Task Force was established under the Cabinet of Ministers. In line with your first order to the Task Force, important work was carried out to bring hospitals into a state of emergency readiness to fight the disease, expand the bed capacity and provide all the necessary medical equipment and drugs.

Mr. President, coronavirus patients today are receiving treatment in 50 hospitals located in 35 cities and districts of the country. A total of 36 of these hospitals have been built recently according to your orders. In a short period of time, modular hospitals were commissioned. Mr. President, in recent days, outpatient facilities have been additionally involved in the fight against coronavirus. Forty of them have been allocated to provide services to asymptomatic infected people at home. At present, the total number of beds allocated for the treatment of patients exceeds 10,000 and work in this direction is ongoing. In a short period of time, over 300 artificial lung ventilation devices were delivered to the country and made available to hospitals. The number of the most modern ECMO devices has been increased. Mr. President, due to the increase in the number of requests for emergency medical services, the need for additional vehicles increased. On your instructions, the ordered 84 vehicles have been delivered to the country from abroad and handed over to medical institutions. An additional 100 ambulances will be delivered in July and August. In February, there were only six specialized laboratories to detect the coronavirus infection in the country, and they could conduct up to a thousand tests a day. Currently, the number of laboratories has been increased to 30 and the capacity of daily tests exceeds 10,000. In the near future, the number of laboratories will be increased and the number of tests will exceed 12,000-13,000.

As you know, according to the unanimous conclusion of the WHO and epidemiologists, medical masks are necessary means of protection from this disease. Over 50 million masks have been imported to Azerbaijan in a short time. As a result of the operational work carried out on your instructions, local production was organized and up to 10 million masks were produced. Today there are 14 million masks in Azerbaijan and local production continues.

Mr. President, as you noted, on 14 March, due to the quarantine regime, the Task Force began to take some isolation measures. On 24 March, on the basis of the Law “On Sanitary and Epidemiological Health”, a special regime was introduced and has been tightened in a phased manner. Of course, the work carried out in connection with the quarantine regime and the restrictions applied had a negative impact on the country's economy.

The tasks you set for the Task Force were to channel all the capabilities and resources of the state into fight against the disease, mobilize and take measures to protect the health of our citizens. As a confirmation of this, according to your Order dated 19 March, an action plan worth 1.5 billion manats was prepared to provide assistance to the unemployed, low-income people and businesses affected by the pandemic, create public jobs, expand the self-employment program and strengthen the healthcare system.

In general, at the expense of all sources, a package of social and economic assistance in the amount of 3.5 billion manats was invested in the economy during this period. Restrictive measures during the special quarantine regime yielded positive results and therefore, as you noted, in mid-May, the Task Force launched a mitigation process. However, unfortunately, after some time, due to non-compliance with sanitary and epidemiological rules, the number of infected people started increasing. To prevent such cases, the headquarters began to apply restrictive measures again and a special quarantine regime was introduced in 16 cities and districts. In recent days, there has been a positive trend, which is evidence of correct measures being taken in the fight against the pandemic.

Mr. President, according to your and esteemed Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva’s instructions, the arrival of experienced medical specialists from Turkey, Russia and Cuba to our country has been organized. They are working in hospitals together with our doctors. Also, according to negotiations with the Government of the People's Republic of China and our request, doctors and experts from China specializing in this area will be involved in combating the pandemic in our country and sharing their experience with our doctors.

Based on your order, which is the embodiment of your high appreciation for the work and dedication of our doctors, and in order to improve the well-being of people working in state medical institutions in coronavirus conditions, an urgent addition of three to five monthly salaries was provided to their salaries. In March and April, the salaries of people who participated in these activities were provided from the state budget allocated for this purpose. In general, over 250 million manats have been allocated to the healthcare sector to prevent and combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Dear Mr. President, on behalf of all members of the Task Force, we declare that we fully understand the importance and responsibility of your instructions and promise that we will continue to strive to fulfill them.

I would like to note one more matter related to the issue of coronavirus. The support of 130 countries of the world, with the exception of one country, of your initiative once again testifies to the great respect for your humanism, leadership, our country and your personality. And this is not the first time leaders and countries of the world have supported you.

Thank you!

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. One of the key questions we are facing in relation to COVID now is the number of doctors. I have already said this once. We are now opening new clinics, modular hospitals, including the plan to open a hospital through the Ministry of Emergency Situations with over 2,100 beds. One is already open. However, the number of doctors in our country, of course, cannot increase, in which case we will need foreign doctors. As you said, doctors from three countries have already arrived – Turkey, Russia and Cuba. Of course, suitable conditions have been created for them. What steps are envisaged in this direction after that, and if some of these doctors have already left, did other doctors come to their place or not? Please briefly report on this.

Prime Minister Ali Asadov: Mr. President, as you noted, 10 modular hospitals have been quickly established in Azerbaijan to date – five in Baku, others in the regions. Additionally, six more modular hospitals have been ordered, one for the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, others for Baku and the regions. Along with this, you and Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva took part in the opening of a 800-bed hospital of the Medical Center of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. Besides, ...

President Ilham Aliyev: I know that. My question is related to doctors.

Prime Minister Ali Asadov: Up to 200 doctors from foreign countries are here today. Most of the contracts have been signed with people from Cuba – for three months. A delegation from Turkey comprising 47 people is based at the “Yeni klinika”. They will work for two months. In addition, more than 20 doctors and specialists from Russia work in Baku and Sumgayit. Mr. President, at the level of a contract for negotiations with the Chinese government, it has been determined that after the departure of the groups that have arrived on your instructions, they will be consistently replaced by Chinese doctors. Mr. President, our doctors, students studying abroad, doctors from the Medical University, have been involved in this process on your instructions and on the initiative of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation since the very first days. These processes will be continued.

President Ilham Aliyev: I see, thank you.

Another important problem now is the drought. It created major problems for us both last and this year. You know that last year's drought caused us severe damage. This year too, even though agriculture grew by 2.2 percent in six months, it could have grown even more. Due to the lack of water resulting from the drought, we were unable to use as much land as we would like. Some time ago, taking into account all this, I set up a special commission to introduce a unified management mechanism in this area. Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev is the head of this commission. Heads of relevant bodies are represented in the commission and, according to preliminary information provided to me, the preparation of a specific action plan is already in the final stages. I have already been updated about a part of this plan. In the near future, we will approve and begin to implement a very broad action plan. It is possible that a similar climatic picture will be continued in the coming years because, as you know, climate change is a major problem in the world. According to some experts, if the necessary steps are not taken in Azerbaijan today, a process of desertification may occur in some territories by 2030. This should never be allowed. Therefore, the first issue was to introduce a unified management mechanism. We never had one before. We have, so to speak, several state bodies dealing with water issues but there is no proper coordination between them.

Therefore, some economic and infrastructure facilities were left unattended. For example, Shahin Mustafayev informs me that there are illegal connections to the pipelines coming from some reservoirs or along those entering water reservoirs from other reservoirs. This has just been revealed because nobody cared and nobody was responsible. These illegal connections, of course, damage the fair distribution of water. It is clear that farm owners are using this water. However, the water does not reach others and waste is still allowed. Some croplands are irrigated very abundantly although this is not necessary. Therefore, a unified management mechanism should be developed here, I will be provided with proposals. At the same time, issues of coordination, reduction of losses and rational use of water – if we achieve this, we will be able to resolve the issue even with the water resources we have.

Shahin Mustafayev informed me that the water balance in Azerbaijan has never been prepared before. This is also unacceptable. If we do not define our water balance, how will we use this water? Just as we annually approve our energy balance, the water balance must be approved as well. Over the past years, we have ensured the energy security of our country, and today Azerbaijan is one of a handful of countries on a global scale that exports oil and gas, and hence fuel and electricity. So these are the achievements of recent years. In previous years, we only exported fuel oil. We did not export oil, gas or electricity.

In 2006, as a result of the launch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and shortly before that of the Baku-Supsa and Baku-Novorossiysk pipelines, we began to export oil, then gas and then electricity. So we have fully achieved what we wanted in this area, and the recent re-opening of the Mingachevir thermal power plant after reconstruction has further reinforced our strength. This is a station with a capacity of 2,400 megawatts, and in recent years we have restored the lost capacity in the amount of 800 megawatts, and this process will be continued.

Transport security has been ensured. Azerbaijan has become one of the important transport and logistical centers of Eurasia, and the East-West and North-South transport corridors operate with our active participation. I can say that there are already two branches in the East-West transport corridor. One is China-Kazakhstan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey-Europe and the other is Pakistan-Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey-Europe. Both pass through Azerbaijan and, naturally, our capabilities are expanding even more. If we take into account the North-South transport corridor, it also covers the countries of Northern Europe-Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran-India. So it is not too difficult to see that we have ensured our transport security in this area as well.

Important steps are being taken to ensure food security and an instructions has been given on this issue as well. Food security does not mean that we must fully produce all food or agricultural produce in Azerbaijan. We must, as they say, have a prudent approach to food security. Naturally, most of this food security should come from in Azerbaijan, and if we exclude wheat production, we are largely self-sufficient in all other basic foodstuffs. But at the same time, this should not hinder our export opportunities. You should also pay attention to the goods that can be delivered to the markets. Therefore, the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as the Ministry of Economy and other agencies, are dealing with this issue.

In other words, I want to say that we have achieved significant success in these three areas. We have not yet resolved the issue of water security. It is no secret that most of our water resources are formed outside our borders. Therefore, a new format of cooperation with neighboring countries, reduction of losses and cooperation of relevant departments should be organized.

So let Shahin Mustafayev inform us about the work done now. What stage is the work now at and what additional steps are to be taken?

X X X

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. After this presentation, I will, of course, consider these issues again. I believe that we will approve a very extensive and detailed program in the near future. I do hope that some of the work can be completed before the sowing season of next year. The key thing here is to take short-term measures. As you know, I am receiving many requests from the ground. I am sending these requests to both Shahin Mustafayev and the Presidential Administration, and issues that can be resolved promptly, issues related to water supply are being resolved. But there are issues that require more time and a lot of funds. Therefore, we must divide this program into three parts: issues that can be promptly resolved, medium-term and strategic long-term issues. I believe that we will achieve a very serious breakthrough in this area as well. The early signs of this are already visible.

Now I will give the floor to the Minister of Finance. Please provide information about budget execution. What work has been done in connection with the budget for the coming year? I have asked you to pay special attention to the social sphere in the next year’s budget. Every year we allocate major funds for this and social benefits are growing. However, it is also necessary to consider the pandemic. No-one can say exactly when the pandemic will end. Therefore, financial support for the areas affected by the pandemic, at the same time, social protection of people, social protection of those who have lost their jobs, all these issues, of course, must be resolved. I have given instructions to continue to pursue a conservative policy in connection with the external public debt. However, we can attract foreign loans to areas of strategic importance. This will create an opportunity for us to keep the external public debt at the required level. Please report on that.

Finance Minister Samir Sharifov said:

- Dear Mr. President, dear meeting participants!

According to operational data, in the first six months of this year, the execution of the state budget exceeded our expectations. Despite other external shocks we faced in this regard during the coronavirus pandemic – this first of all applies to the decrease in consumer demand and the resulting drop in prices on oil and oil products – and their negative consequences for the country's economy in the current year, the forecast for budget revenues has been exceeded.

Revenues of the state budget amounted to 12 billion 23 million manats, exceeding the forecast by 2.9 percent, or 338 million manats. The State Tax Service of the Ministry of Economy exceeded the forecast by 327 million manats, or 8.9 percent, and the State Customs Committee by 98 million manats, or 5.1 percent. Revenues from transfers of the State Oil Fund into the state budget were executed by 100 percent and the forecast for other revenues was exceeded by 15.2 million manats. Despite the fact that the forecast on extra-budgetary revenues of budget organizations was under-fulfilled by 102 million manats and state budget expenditures exceeded the plan by 105 million manats, or 100.9 percent, the state budget surplus by 1 July 2020 amounted to 292 million manats, or 233 million manats more than forecast. During the reporting period, all state tasks, social programs and projects financed from the state budget were fully implemented. The share of social expenditures in budget expenditures of 11 billion 734.1 million manats was 42.5 percent, or 4 billion 984 million manats in six months. Compared to the same period of 2019, in the first six months of this year, 75.8 percent, or 287 million manats more, was spent on healthcare, 53.5 percent, or 517 million manats more, on education, 13.2 percent, or 196 million manats more, on social protection and social security, 85.3 percent, or 260 million manats more, on agriculture and environmental protection.

The financing of 44.3 percent, or 1 billion 835 million manats of the funds allocated for the implementation of investment projects within the state investment program, was ensured. Expenditures on servicing the public debt amounted to 881 million manats.

It is still impossible to fully predict when the recession in the world economy will end and be replaced by economic growth. In June, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgraded its April forecast for a 3 percent contraction of the global economy to 4.9 percent. At the same time, the fund has replaced the forecast of rapid recovery of the world economy in 2021 with a more moderate recovery.

The average monthly crude price of $38 in the first six months of this year, the reduction in oil sales under the OPEC+ agreement and the negative impact associated with the inevitable application of quarantine and other restrictive measures on the economy will cause a reduction of both oil revenues and revenues of the non-oil sector by the end of this year.

The Minister of Finance noted the expediency of revising the 2020 state budget in order to optimize the prioritization and focused nature of the approved state and consolidated budget expenditures for the current year, finance new needs in accordance with the current situation and ensure a balance between state budget revenues and expenditures.

President Ilham Aliyev: Today, regardless of the oil price, the budget must be executed in full, of course. I think we have sufficient opportunities to do that. As for adjustments, in principle, I do not mind that. We made adjustments in previous years too, but this has to be justified. Therefore, under the leadership of the Prime Minister and together with members of the government, please analyze these issues and submit specific proposals to me. To what extent should we increase budget expenditures and what will we spend them on?

I must also say that the increase in budget revenues took place in the first months of the year. I have said this before but I want to say it again that we started the year very well – with great success and great plans. There were additional increases in both taxes and customs. But in these first months, starting in April-May, the growth slowed down, so to speak. We are still in surplus. But as you mentioned, this surplus may not be sufficient for us for the rest of the year. There were additional costs. The oil price was set at $55. Now, in six months, it is less than $40. Therefore, all these issues, of course, must be taken into account. I am sure that there will be no problems with this year's budget.

As for next year's budget, first of all, the oil price must be set correctly. There is still some time left. We will look at the situation in the oil markets and determine it. We must ensure the implementation of other strategic infrastructure projects in addition to key social issues. I want to say again that among them, first of all, water supply is in the foreground – both drinking water and irrigation water. That is why projects are being prepared now. Their feasibility study and cost estimates will be prepared. This issue must be taken into account.

X X X

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. I believe that the measures taken and the issues you reported on will have and are already having a positive impact on the recovery process in the banking sector. Of course, our banking sector must be more competitive and maintain its role in economic development. I am glad that our banks have already joined the self-employment program. This is a very positive fact. As you know, we have started this program only through the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population. Now the World Bank has joined it – in the amount of $100 million. At the same time, our banks have joined it. Of course, this is not just a distribution of money or funds for the business, there must be very serious business plans. Therefore, when banks issue it in the form of loans, they, of course, also look at the business plan.

The figures for electronic payments are also quite encouraging. I believe that we will further improve the situation in this area in the near future and should approach the level of developed countries. Because here, too, the reserves are still quite large.

The information you provided about business loans is also very encouraging. As you know, I always pay attention to this issue. According to the information I have, more than 60 percent of loans are already loans aimed at business development. This, of course, will lead to better conditions for our economic development, including employment in the current situation and in a period of somewhat reduced investment.

And now the floor is given to the Minister of Economy. I must say that, as I expected, after the fifth or sixth months, the economy slides into a decline. The country experienced economic growth for four months. However, in May-June there was a decline and the gross domestic product fell by 2.7 percent in six months of this year. The reasons for this are known. Suffice it to say that our tourism sector fell by 48 percent and the construction sector by 14.5 percent. The share of these sectors in the gross domestic product had been growing in recent years. Of course, as a result of the fall in the oil price and the additional obligations within the framework of OPEC+ and the decline in production, naturally, our gross domestic product had to decrease. We were ready for this. This is not a huge tragedy. This is a temporary issue. I am confident that as soon as the world economy begins to recover from the pandemic, the situation in this area will recover. I want to say once again that our situation can be considered satisfactory in comparison with other countries. As I said, despite the drought, our agriculture grew by 2.2 percent. By the end of the year we will see what growth there is now. Industrial production in the non-oil sector increased by more than 11 percent. This is encouraging and shows that our industrialization policy is bearing fruit.

Therefore, the Minister of Economy should provide information on the overall economic situation. At the same time, the Minister of Economy has proposed very important reforms in the fight against the shadow economy and the development of entrepreneurship over the past period. Please inform us about this and other issues.

X X X

President Ilham Aliyev: Of course, the implementation of social projects will be continued in the future. This is the main priority of our policy. The period of the pandemic has once again shown that we do not deviate from this policy even in this difficult time and, despite the decline in our revenues, we are implementing all our social projects ahead of schedule, and I can say with full confidence that this year is a record year from this point of view.

You have noted that we will cover a record number of people with the self-employment program – 12,000. There has never been so many before. There were always 7,000 or 8,000, so this is a record figure. Paid public jobs are also being created in record numbers. Several years ago, we started with about 30,000, this year the figure was up to 40,000. You noted that we have reached 90,000. At the same time, there are plans to provide martyrs families with a record number of homes – 1,500. If we continue at this pace, then we will probably provide housing to all martyr families who are still in the line and have not received an apartment in one or two years, in three at the latest. You mentioned that 300 apartments have been provided to date. This is 20 percent of the total. However, half a year is already in the past. You probably plan to provide all 1,500, then why was it only 20 percent in the first half of the year? What is the reason for this?

Sahil Babayev: Dear Mr. President, in fact, up to 200 apartments and up to 100 additional private houses are ready. Due to the fact that a tightened quarantine regime has been declared in these territories, we do not provide them now in order not to hold public events. Inshallah, as soon as the quarantine ends, we will start providing them.

President Ilham Aliyev: Well, of course, the rising wages and average pensions show how successful our social policy is. You noted the average pension. I must add that the age-based pension has been significantly increased, by 25 percent, and is now about 330 manats. The average salary in six months was increased by 25 percent. So this is a fairly high increase, and I am sure that, as I said in my opening speech, all these issues will be resolved in the budget for next year.

I said this earlier but I want to repeat that food security issues should always be in the spotlight. At the same time, our export opportunities should also expand. We must never forget that the population of our country is growing, the number of foreign visitors arriving in our country, with the exception of 2020, is growing. This being the case, domestic needs will also grow. Our domestic needs will grow to the same extent as our export opportunities will decrease if agricultural production remains at the current level. Therefore, the development of agriculture in enhanced ways should be a priority for us. Along with all other measures, of course, the correct identification of water sources, reducing the level of water losses and delivering water to the crop areas are issues that should be at the forefront. I know that the commission comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Agriculture and other relevant bodies is working hard to ensure that these issues are resolved in a comprehensive manner and additional measures are taken to introduce modern irrigation systems in Azerbaijan. If necessary, of course, state support can be provided because this is an infrastructure project. At the same time, we should consider providing entrepreneurs with low-interest loans for these purposes.

I think the initial experience with re-sowing has been positive. The state has allocated additional funds to stimulate re-sowing and encourage farmers. Of course, sowing corn on an area of 50,000 hectares will largely form our feed base and, therefore, reduce our dependence on imports. You should analyze this initial practice very carefully. This year, if I may say so, you made this proposal at the last moment. We must already prepare for next year and pinpoint the exact locations. This can be seen as a pilot project, and I am sure that the sowing of corn on 50,000 hectares and its results may be of interest to other farmers.

At the same time, some of our large farms have achieved excellent results. As you have said, 60 quintals have been achieved in some pilot areas of agriculture. When I was on a trip to the regions recently, I was informed that the agricultural estate operating in Tovuz and Samukh districts, the one on the territory of Samukh receives more than 60 quintals per hectare and in the territory of Tovuz district more than 70 quintals of wheat.

Therefore, I believe that the experience of these advanced farms should be studied. It is necessary to familiarize other farmers with this practice. It is possible that not only one agricultural estate, but several large farms are achieving excellent results. Representatives of these farms can take part in training courses in regional centers. At the same time, interested farmers can be invited to these farms. You can organize their participation so that there is an exchange of experience. Of course, it might be wrong to expect such great results from smaller farms. However, if we generally raise productivity to a higher level, then, considering only the existing crop areas, we can provide ourselves with a higher yield.

Together with the Ministry of Economy, consider establishing vocational schools for agriculture. This could be done on the basis of Ganja State Agrarian University. They have recently opened a new building. It is imperative to create similar vocational schools in different regions for different types of agricultural produce. If necessary, involve leading foreign specialists in this work.

Summing up the results of the meeting, President Ilham Aliyev said:

- I am sure that thanks to the measures to be taken by the end of the year, both customs and tax authorities will achieve good results. I would like to mention another figure. You have cited it and I believe that it is necessary to draw public attention to it. In 2015 and in six months of this year, the volume of imports was about the same. However, in 2015 customs authorities collected 700 million manats and this year more than 2 billion manats, or about three times more. Due to what? Due to transparency, anti-smuggling measures and the right approach. If serious reforms had not been carried out in this area and in the area of taxation, we would have lost these funds. How could we provide our budget then? Therefore, the reforms carried out in this area and their tangible results allow us the opportunity to implement our budget plans in full. I have repeatedly said that full transparency should be ensured in the area of government revenues. It is necessary to create conditions for entrepreneurs so that they could fully switch to a transparent economy. A grace period is also provided for them too. Both customs and tax authorities have held consultations and meetings with them, explained to them not to deceive the state, live and sleep quietly. Therefore, I appreciate the work done in these areas.

I think that in general, the work done in six months can be assessed positively. This year has been extremely difficult not only for us but also for the whole world. It is no coincidence that, according to leading international financial institutions, a significant part of 150 countries of the world have turned to international financial institutions for help. Azerbaijan is not on this list. Azerbaijan ensures its development at its own expense.

I would like to cite another figure. The latest UN report on the Sustainable Development Index was recently published. Azerbaijan, having advanced in comparison with last year, is in 54th place. I think this is an excellent indicator. I should also note that, according to this indicator, Azerbaijan is the leader of the region even though our gross domestic product has slightly decreased, which happened for natural reasons. In general, six months of the year can be assessed positively. By the end of the year, all the tasks facing us must be completed. I believe that the investment program will be fully implemented. According to the information I have, the investment program has been completed by 40 percent in six months. This is primarily due to the fact that there is transparency in this area, procurement-related reforms are under way and tender procedures are followed. I have given this instruction. At the same time, we all understand that the investment program serves to create the necessary infrastructure for the country and is an important factor for employment. Therefore, try to make sure that the investment program is fully implemented by the end of the year.

Taking into account the processes taking place in the region and the recent events, we need to review our military spending as well. It is not ruled out that Armenia, following the powerful blow inflicted on them and the situation they have found themselves in, may resort to another provocation under this pretext. I must also say that according to the operational data I have, there is some activity from the Armenian side in the Karabakh region, on the line of contact between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops. The Azerbaijani army is in full control and will continue to keep the situation under control. It is not ruled out that new provocations may be committed. Therefore, we need to revise our military expenditures, in particular, the expenditures envisaged for the army in next year’s budget should provide our army in full. I have said that as much funds will be allocated as is necessary for the development of our army.

So today's meeting has come to a close. All these instructions must be fulfilled. I am sure that by the end of the year we will achieve our goal and successfully complete this year as well. Thank you!