Opening speech by Ilham Aliyev at the meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers dedicated to the results of socioeconomic development of 2015 and objectives for the future
10 January 2016, 12:35
Today we will discuss the results of 2015. At the same time, we will talk about what needs to be done in 2016.
In 2015, the global economic crisis deepened further. Along with the economic downturn, there is a political and military crisis in our region. Unfortunately, the existing conflicts were not resolved in 2015. On the contrary, new sources of threat emerged in the world, especially in our region. These developments, of course, have had a negative impact on the overall development of our region. Conflicts and bloody clashes and wars are ongoing in the Middle East - in Iraq, Syria, Libya, etc.
We, of course, are seriously concerned about that because we live in this region too, and the events taking place here inevitably affect us. As a result of external intervention, hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East who have found themselves in the situation of refugees and displaced persons are seeking refuge in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people have died. Millions of people are living as refugees and displaced persons.
Of course, we are worried about the fate of these people, because we were faced with a huge humanitarian disaster, too. As a result of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, more than a million Azerbaijanis became refugees and IDPs. We know very well what this means. At the time, Azerbaijan was left face to face with this humanitarian catastrophe. As you know, the highest number of refugees and displaced persons per capita was registered in Azerbaijan. Despite this, we took the necessary measures and, relying on our domestic resources, managed to get out of this situation. We managed to significantly improve the standards of living of refugees and displaced persons.
This is described as a migration crisis in Europe today. I have repeatedly said that this, above all, is a crisis for the people who have lost their homeland, property and families. Today they are seeking asylum and refuge in Europe. We all know that what is in store for them there. Along with this, this situation inevitably leads to a strengthening of radical forces and Islamophobic trends in Europe. This is a very dangerous trend.
Azerbaijan is an integral part of the Muslim world. At the same time, we have strong ties with European countries. We successfully cooperate in political, economic, energy and other areas. We constantly strive to further strengthen the inter-religious and inter-civilizational dialogue. We have made a contribution to this cause and set an example. Therefore, the inter-civilizational misunderstandings experienced in the world today can’t but disturb us. This is a very dangerous trend. Azerbaijan, for its part, will try to make every effort to mitigate these trends and put them on a positive track.
Turkish-Russian relations got strained last year. Of course, we are very concerned about that because both countries are our neighbors and friends. Of course, the situation is undesirable both for us and, I am sure, for Turkey and Russia.
Along with this, the relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia went sour very recently. Diplomatic ties have been disrupted. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are close and friendly countries for us. We share a common history and culture with Iran, and are jointly implementing many projects. Saudi Arabia is a very important partner for us. You know very well that my official visit to Saudi Arabia last year was paid at a high level. The Azerbaijani state, the Azerbaijani people and myself were treated with tremendous hospitality. The gates of the sacred Kaaba were opened to us. In addition, Saudi Arabia has always unequivocally supported the position of Azerbaijan in the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Not only does it support us, but also does not establish diplomatic relations with Armenia because of this conflict and occupation. In other words, we are certainly worried about the tension that has emerged in the relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia because we have close ties with both countries. At the same time, this situation inevitably affects the events taking place in the Muslim world.
We have always tried and made effort to further unite the Muslim world. We are still committed to this. The various events held in Azerbaijan, including the Islamic Solidarity Games upcoming next year, aim to further strengthen the ties, end conflicts and create a better framework for cooperation in the Muslim world.
So such is the picture that was observed last year. I am not talking about the economic and political developments that took place in the CIS. The price of oil on world markets has fallen sharply three- to fourfold. This had a negative impact on our revenues. In other words, the geopolitical and geo-economic picture in 2015 was very worrying and difficult. This is a reality. We live in a real world and have to reckon with this reality. Of course, we will continue our policy this year and in subsequent years given this reality.
With regard to the development of our country, Azerbaijan successfully developed in 2015. All the goals have been met. The international authority of our country has further enhanced. Last year, I paid 20 official and working visits to foreign countries. The heads of state and government of foreign countries visited Azerbaijan – 15 heads of state and government paid visits to Azerbaijan. Our activities in international organizations were successful. Azerbaijan takes a principled position on all issues. Our position is based on justice and international law.
While expressing my thoughts on the processes occurring in the region today, I would also like to inform the public that Azerbaijan will continue to try to play a stabilizing role in the region. We will try to reduce the risks and to further deepen cooperation.
Unfortunately, there was no progress in connection with the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2015. I can say that there was stagnation in the talks. At the end of the year there was a meeting of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, which, I may say, was of a formality nature – a meeting for the sake of a meeting because there were no meetings at the presidential level in 2015. But this meeting was absolutely useless and ineffective. The reason is that Armenia does not want peace, tries to maintain the status quo as much as possible, does not want to vacate the occupied territories, perceives the talks simply as a process, gains time and wants to see the negotiations as a never-ending process.
Our position is completely different. We want to resolve the conflict. The mediators, the OSCE Minsk Group have also repeatedly stated that they want to resolve the conflict. Naturally, this is their task. Unfortunately, no significant pressure is being put on the occupier in this regard. Here, of course, there must be a difference between the occupier and the country under occupation. Our lands are under occupation, and this occupation must end. The heads of state of the OSCE Minsk Group have repeatedly stated the unacceptability of the status quo. We perceive it positively. However, no specific steps are being taken to change the status quo. The change of the status quo would mean an end to the occupation.
Of course, Azerbaijan will continue to defend its position. Our position is based on the norms and principles of international law. The UN Security Council has adopted four resolutions demanding an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian occupying forces from our lands. I should also note that the UN Security Council has not adopted resolutions in relation to similar conflicts in post-Soviet republics. However, in relation to other post-Soviet countries under occupation, unequivocal statements on territorial integrity are made in some cases. Our territorial integrity is just as important. It is no less important than the territorial integrity of any other country, and our territorial integrity must be restored. Azerbaijan will pursue its policy in this direction. Of course, diplomatic efforts will be continued. The Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is and should be on the agenda of all international organizations we are a member of. We raise and will continue to raise this issue through all international platforms. We will step up our diplomatic and political efforts. We will continue to isolate Armenia from all projects implemented in the region and increase our military power.
In 2015, the military potential of Azerbaijan significantly enhanced. We are seeing that on the battlefield, too. In 2015, Azerbaijan secured full advantage of the line of contact and dictated its will. Tens of occupiers were killed. The Armenian government is in panic and hysterically appeals to external forces for protection. But the question is: on whose soil are the Armenian soldiers killed? They are killed on Azerbaijani soil. Let them go away, leave our lands, and then the conflict will come to an end. No-one will be killed and peace can be restored.
We will continue to use all the possibilities available. We will use political, diplomatic and economic leverage. At the same time, we will enhance the combat potential and thus bring a solution to the conflict closer. I want to say again that our principled position is based on justice, including historical justice and international law.
In 2015, Azerbaijan's economy developed. This is a very positive development. Of course, the development which was observed in previous years has not been achieved. That was not possible, because, as I have already noted, the price of oil has fallen 3-4 times. The rate of the manat has undergone devaluation. It was also inevitable, because the drop in the oil price by 3-4 times prevented the rate of the manat from staying at the same level. At the same time, the national currency in our neighboring countries suffered 100 per cent and in some cases even greater devaluation. Under such circumstances the products manufactured in Azerbaijan were losing competitiveness and our producers came under tremendous pressure. It was impossible to keep the manta at the same level. So it was an inevitable step. The reason for this occurred outside of Azerbaijan. I personally can’t link the sharp drop in the oil price with purely economic factors, because the global economy is not going through such a downturn for the price of oil to fall 3-4 times. In my opinion, first of all, a role was played by political factors. Someone is fighting against someone else, and we are suffering from that. Therefore, of course, this had a negative impact on our economic situation. But we will try to work even harder to reduce the negative implications associated with the change of the rate. I will express my thoughts on this a bit later.
Despite this, the Azerbaijani economy has grown. The gross domestic product increased by more than 1 per cent, industrial production by 2.4 per cent and the non-oil industry by 8.4 per cent. This makes me very happy, because it means that the development of the non-oil sector in recent years is a result of our reforms. I believe that the growth of the non-oil industry by 8.4 per cent is our main index.
Last year, the country's economy received investment in the amount of about $20 billion. Half of this is foreign investment. This is also a very positive development. Azerbaijan asserts itself as an attractive country for foreign investors. Other economic indicators are also positive. Therefore, given all of these geopolitical and economic factors, the achievement of economic development in 2015 is in itself a great success.
All social programs were fulfilled last year. There were no cuts. People were provided with targeted social assistance of even greater volumes. In this area we have also conducted reforms and the number of people receiving this assistance has decreased. Thanks to this, the families really in need of this assistance are provided with even more help. Today, 112,000 families, or about 500,000 people, receive monthly aid from the state amounting to an average of 152 manats, and over the course of the year this amount increased by 7 per cent. Social infrastructure projects have been implemented. Although our revenues have declined, we have managed to arrange funds for this sector. We have built and renovated about 60 medical institutions and more than 20 schools. Repairs are currently under way in 23 schools. The construction of kindergartens is under way. In other words, social infrastructure projects were stipulated under the state investment program. They have been implemented and must be implemented this year, too.
Our regions developed fast in 2015. I have repeatedly visited the regions and got familiar with the situation. I saw that there is development and progress everywhere. New industrial enterprises are opening up. More than a hundred thousand new jobs have been created, of which 84,000 are permanent. At the same time, I must also say that 40,000 jobs have closed. Despite this, 84,000 permanent jobs have been created. 40,000 jobs have been closed. We are seeing positive momentum in that. At the same time, additional measures will be taken to create more jobs. We will talk about that today.
There is a positive demographic situation in Azerbaijan. Last year, our population grew by 114,000 people. This is a very positive fact and a manifestation of the overall economic development. At the same time, this should encourage us to work even harder, because population growth of 114,000 people in one year means more jobs in the future and new kindergartens and schools a few years later. We must do that. So our advantage is that the population is growing. At the same time, it is an additional burden on our economy. We must work hard so that the economic development, the new jobs and the social infrastructure being created are ahead of the demographic development. Such is the goal of the government, and we must meet it.
Last year, the construction of the TANAP project began. It is a strategically important project for our country, region and Europe as a whole. This project will enable us to deliver our ample gas resources to world markets. Europe, for its part, will have an alternative source of gas. Transit countries, which are also consumers, will receive great profits from this. Therefore, all the participants of this project will receive major political and economic dividends. This project has been initiated by Azerbaijan. The main economic burden falls upon us, and we have already started to implement this project together with partner countries. Last year, the foundation of the TANAP project was laid in the Turkish city of Kars. Work is well under way. The construction of the pipeline will begin this year.
In 2015, a historic event in the life of our country took place. European Games were held in Azerbaijan for the first time. Azerbaijan managed to conduct these Games at the highest level. Although we had only two and a half years to prepare for the Games, we conducted them at the level of Summer Olympic Games. We have shown the whole of Europe and the world the possibilities of our independent country, the hospitality of our people and the beautiful city of Baku. 6,000 athletes and thousands of visitors were able to see firsthand the realities of Azerbaijan. These realities multiply our credibility and will contribute to an increase in the volume of future investments and the number of visitors to Azerbaijan. In other words, the European Games were not just a presentation of our country to the world. They will have enormous tangible implications. We have created a modern sports, service and transport infrastructure. All of this is the asset of the Azerbaijani people, and these Games, of course, have demonstrated the power of our independent country. The Games have shown that we are capable of conducting the most prestigious international events at the highest level. Of course, we were also delighted by our athletes. In the overall team standings, Azerbaijan finished in second place. Our athletes won 56 medals, including 21 gold ones. We have also shown the world our sporting prowess. As a matter of fact, sport reflects the overall development of any country. Developed countries often succeed in sports. Azerbaijan is a country of sports and a developing state, and we are fulfilling this historic mission with dignity.
In 2015, parliamentary elections were held in Azerbaijan. This, too, was a significant event in the life of our country. Parliamentary elections were held in fair, transparent and democratic conditions. All international observers, including representatives of the Council of Europe, the CIS and other observers, unequivocally evaluated the parliamentary elections, noting that they were held in fair, transparent and democratic conditions. All international opinion polls also confirm the official results. So this is a very important event, because we are on the path of democracy and are building a democratic society. Human rights and democratic development are always our top priorities. Elections, any elections are a test along this journey. We have stood this test with dignity. The will of the Azerbaijani people was fully reflected in the results of parliamentary election. At the same time, our people appreciated the current policy – this is how I perceive the results of the election. On the one hand, the Azerbaijani state has once again demonstrated its commitment to democracy, but on the other, the results of parliamentary elections represent tremendous popular support for our policies. I am grateful to the people of Azerbaijan for their support and wish to state that we will continue to confidently lead our country forward. Despite all the difficulties, the international economic crisis, as well as the military and political crises, Azerbaijan will surely go forward. Azerbaijan has ensured stability and the public and political situation is positive. The unity between the people and the government in Azerbaijan has strengthened further, and these factors contribute to our successful development.