Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the nationwide festivities on the occasion of Novruz holiday19 march 2016, 13:00
Dear friends, let me congratulate you and all the people of Azerbaijani on the upcoming Novruz holidays. I wish all Azerbaijani people happiness and new successes.
The Azerbaijani people have always been committed to their national and spiritual values. Today, the state of Azerbaijan pursues a consistent policy to protect our national values.
The Novruz holiday is our national treasure. The independent state of Azerbaijan was built also on national and spiritual values. This year we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the restoration of our independence. Over these years, Azerbaijan has developed rapidly.
The processes taking place in our country in the early years of independence were causing great concern of the Azerbaijani people. As a result of the civil war compounded by economic and political crises and the occupation of our lands, Azerbaijan's future was in jeopardy. After great leader Heydar Aliyev came to power at people's request, the situation changed. Stability and public order were restored and Azerbaijan embarked on a path of development. From that day onwards, we have not deviated from this path of development.
Recent years have been a period of rapid development. Azerbaijan has made great strides in all spheres, and today we are a country pursuing a truly independent policy.
Security in Azerbaijan is ensured at a high level. The Azerbaijani people today are well aware that the situation in various regions is exacerbating and new hotbeds of conflict and war are emerging. Last year, when I was addressing the celebrations of Novruz, we, of course, could not even imagine that there would be such a profound change in a matter of one year. These changes have not been for the better - new hotbeds of conflict and confrontation, new wars and a migration crisis. Azerbaijan is a space of stability and security. We are trying to protect our country against all possible risks, provide a peaceful and secure life for our people and lead our country forward along the path of development.
Today, security issues for many countries of the world have come to the fore. Azerbaijan is an exemplary country in this sense. The Azerbaijani people live in comfort, peace and security. The crime situation in Azerbaijan is very good. According to this indicator, we are among world leaders. In short, public and political stability, economic development and security are the main conditions for the development of any country. We can proudly say that in the years of independence, especially in recent years, security in Azerbaijan has been provided at the highest level. We do not interfere in the internal affairs of any other country, do not to get involved in any adventures, mind our own business, develop our country and ensure the well-being of our people. Of course, we have never allowed and never will allow anyone to interfere in our internal affairs either, because the Azerbaijani people are the master of their own destiny. We are doing our best for the development and prosperity of our country. The entire Azerbaijani society is united around a single idea. Our goal is to strengthen our country, develop the economy and raise the well-being of our people even higher.
Azerbaijan is a country enjoying great respect worldwide. The first months of this year are further evidence of that. We have a principled stand on all international issues, and no outside force can affect this position. We support justice, international law and cooperation. We have never allowed and never will allow Azerbaijan to become a space of confrontation in the interests of other states. On the contrary, Azerbaijan is a place cooperation. We are playing a stabilizing and conciliatory role in the region. Respect for us is gradually increasing, because our words are consistent with our deeds. We demonstrate a principled position. Some countries may not be happy with this position, but it is not our problem. Under such circumstances, of course, there will be pressure and attempts are made to pull us in different directions. At the same time, respect for us will continue to grow. Our policy has earned us a lot of respect on a global scale, and this respect is gradually increasing.
In the past two months, from the end of November to this day, eight heads of state and government have visited Azerbaijan. Over the past two months, I have taken part in many international events, including the Davos World Economic Forum. This is the top economic and political forum in the world. Azerbaijan actively participates in this forum and expresses its position. Interest in Azerbaijan is gradually growing. The Munich Security Conference, I believe, is the second most important international event to Davos. Azerbaijan annually participates in it and expresses its position. In particular, we set out our position on the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenia's aggressive policy, and tear down Armenian propaganda with our arguments.
This year I attended the London conference. This conference was also very important. Participation in this conference demonstrates the importance of Azerbaijan, its role in the world and, of course, the sympathy for us.
I have paid official and working visits to the United Arab Emirates, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey. In other words, since the end of January to the present, Azerbaijan has conducted a proactive foreign policy. These are only the activities I have participated in personally. There have been other major events too. The Fourth Global Forum has been held in Baku. This forum brought together more than 50 current and former heads of state and government. All these factors indicate that Azerbaijan plays an important role on a global scale, and this role, especially at the present time, keeps increasing. The world community sees that there are not many stable countries in our region pursuing a principled policy.
Our international relations will expand further. During the year, we are expected to conduct many other activities. In particular, the Seventh Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations will be held in Baku next month. The fact that this forum will be held in Baku is an indication of respect for Azerbaijan.
With regard to international issues, the main issue for us is the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Unfortunately, there is no progress in this area. The main reason for that is Armenia's unconstructive position and indifference, and in some cases the provocations on the part of those directly involved with the matter. I have to say this openly. The Azerbaijani people know and should know that. The Azerbaijani people were not particularly optimistic of the activity of the Minsk Group anyway. However, their actions in January this year completely undermined any signs of confidence. As you know, two resolutions were tabled at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. These resolutions were drawn up on the basis of in-depth analysis. A lot of work was done, and one resolution was adopted by a majority of votes. It condemned the Armenian occupation and European MPs stated the atrocities committed by Armenian nationalists against the Azerbaijani people. Unfortunately, the other resolution was not adopted. We were only four votes short. Our analysis showed that both resolutions would be freely adopted – we had sufficient information about that. This confidence was based on feedback of deputies of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of many countries. However, the gross interference of the Minsk Group in the Council of Europe's work led to this unpleasant situation.
They visited the Council of Europe. Once there, they put pressure on the leadership of the Council of Europe to ensure that this resolution is not adopted, as it would supposedly complicate settlement of the conflict. We take it as a provocation. It should also be noted that they sent similar signals and messages not only to Strasbourg, but also to the ministries of foreign affairs of many European countries, so that the resolution is not adopted. As a result, as I said, we were just four votes short. Of course, it would be better if this resolution was adopted. If we consider that the first resolution, which reflects all the provisions necessary for us, has been adopted, the failure of the second resolution is not a huge tragedy. I am saying this for the people of Azerbaijan to learn once again that the unresolved status of the conflict is connected not only with Armenia's position. The co-chairs of the Minsk Group have received a mandate to engage directly in this issue, but are serving the freezing of the conflict by their destructive activities. They interfere with the work of international organizations, thereby exceeding their powers. Instead of putting pressure on Armenia, they patronize the Armenians and protect them. Instead of resolving the conflict, they put forward strange proposals on strengthening security measures on the line of contact. What does that mean? This means that the aggressor is allowed the opportunity to feel comfortable, further consolidate the occupation and maintain the status quo. Here, of course, we are seeing an unfriendly and insincere attitude towards Azerbaijan, as well as hypocrisy. And we openly declare that, say this in their faces. I am saying this already to the public. On the one hand, their heads of state have repeatedly stated that the status quo is unacceptable and must be changed. On the other hand, the destructive activities of the OSCE Minsk Group serves to strengthen the status quo. This is the main reason for delaying the conflict, and I believe that the Azerbaijani people have long known what factors are behind this policy. This is an injustice. This is a policy of double standards. We are rejecting this policy, and from now on, we will be saying our word from all platforms. However, I would like the Azerbaijani public to know that this is a reality, real politics. No matter how bitter it might be to admit that, this is real politics and we do not accept it. The policies of the Azerbaijani state are based on international law, justice and cooperation. However, such provocative steps against us, of course, do not and will not go unanswered.
To resolve the conflict, in the first place it is necessary for our country and army to become stronger still. A lot is being done in this direction. Today, we have full advantage of the contact line. The enemy received crushing blows. The opposite side panics and realizes that without the political, economic and military support from the outside, it can't retain our lands under occupation for a single week. We are becoming stronger in the meantime. And we should become even stronger. The Azerbaijani people will resolve this issue. I am sure of that.
In 2016, political and economic reforms will be further deepened. Azerbaijan is on the path of democracy. All freedoms are guaranteed in Azerbaijan. Human rights are protected at a high level. I can say sincerely that in terms of democratic development Azerbaijan can serve as an example for many countries today.
I am sure that the profound reforms carried out in the economic sphere will completely eliminate our dependence on the oil factor. This is our goal. We are moving towards it. The policy of reforms which was launched late last year and has continued this year is already yielding excellent results.
Changes have been introduced to the legislation. I have signed corresponding orders. Concrete steps are being taken to ensure long-term and sustainable economic development of Azerbaijan. I am sure that the key reforms that will be continued until the end of this year, i.e. the decision to be made, will create conditions whereby the economy of Azerbaijan will reduce and, as I said, completely eliminate the dependence on the oil factor.
Sustainable development is our goal. I would also like to note that we rely only on our own resources. However, some media have reported that Azerbaijan has asked for foreign assistance, foreign financial assistance. This is an absolute lie and provocation that does not suit influential media outlets. We have lived and will continue to live at our own expense. We will provide for our economic development to the best of our capabilities. At the same time, I should note that influential international organizations, in particular the International Monetary Fund, support our economic reforms and policies. It should also be noted that despite a sharp drop in the oil price, the Davos World Economic Forum has put Azerbaijan in 40th place globally in terms of competitiveness. This is also a very high indicator. The reforms will be deepened. Transparency will be ensured in all areas. We will carry our further economic activities, a policy based on a new economic model, and I am sure that we will soon achieve even more impressive results.
I would also like to note that as a result of the urgent measures taken by the state, about 30,000 jobs were created in the public sector in the first quarter of the year alone – and the quarter is not even over yet. These are the measures taken on my instructions. Of course, we understand that each country should try to create private-sector jobs. Work in this direction is ongoing. Business entities have received appropriate recommendations. They will also be provided with financial support. In particular, the volume of projects envisaged for this year is about 1.5-2 billion manats. So this will lead to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs. It was also necessary to take urgent measures. Let me repeat that state-owned companies and government agencies have created about 30,000 jobs in the public sector. This is our social policy. Our policy is centered on Azerbaijani citizens.
Although our revenues have declined and the oil prices has fallen sharply, we decided to increase the salaries and pensions. They have been raised by 10 per cent. So far our capabilities are enough to do that. However, I also want to note that if we look around, we can see that this is a rare situation, especially in the conditions of a global crisis when wages are not rising, but are being cut or not paid at all. We are demonstrating our social policy once again. We are showing that Azerbaijan will be developing steadily. There is such confidence. No crisis or decline in the oil price will affect our policy. We have enough resources and foreign exchange reserves. Our economic indicators are very positive. Of course, our reforms will strengthen us even more.
We are deploying new industries that will bring our country great political and economic dividends. I want to emphasize the transport sector. We are currently working on the creation of East-West and North-South corridors. There are initial results. Our policy and initiatives are yielding fruit. In order to improve the attractiveness of the East-West transport corridor, we have put forward the initiative to apply a uniform tariff policy with the neighboring Georgia and Turkey. This initiative went down very well. Work is already under way. These issues were discussed within the framework of my visits to Georgia and China at the end of last year and my recent visit to Turkey. We are creating a new corridor. The shortest route from Asia to Europe will pass through the territory of Azerbaijan. To achieve this, we have created and are still creating the necessary infrastructure. At the same time, we need to apply a common tariff policy with neighboring countries, so that the costs reduce even more.
The recent acceleration of the North-South transport corridor is also due to our initiative. Talks are under way with both Iran and Russia, and Azerbaijan is playing an important role once again. I am sure that we will create this corridor too. Therefore, after the establishment of these corridors, Azerbaijan will receive great political and economic benefits for decades to come. Unlike oil, transport sector revenues are an inexhaustible wealth.
Regarding the oil and gas sector, the second meeting of the Advisory Council of the Southern Gas Corridor was held in Baku in February this year. It was a great success. Azerbaijan demonstrated its leadership again. A joint declaration was signed at the end of the meeting of the Advisory Council. It was signed by 11 countries – Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Commission. In other words, the declaration was signed by 12 parties. The essence of the declaration lies in the fact that coordination work will be continued. The document notes the leading and strategic role of Azerbaijan. The entire international community already knows and acknowledges that if we hadn't taken the initiative and allocated the funds, the Southern Gas Corridor would still be a great idea which we would be discussing for decades. We are turning this idea into reality now. The Southern Gas Corridor is a project of great importance to us, as it will allow us the opportunity to export our ample resources of natural gas. Without this project, these resources would remain at the bottom of the sea. We are extracting them and creating thousands, tens of thousands of jobs. The export potential of Azerbaijan will increase. Our value will increase even more. Azerbaijan is becoming an indispensable country for Europe. Our interests will be provided and our strength will grow further.
As you know, this year has been declared a "Year of multiculturalism" in Azerbaijan. Not only because Azerbaijan will host the Seventh Global Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations this year, but also because the standoffs experienced in the world today, including those on ethnic or religious grounds, are causing a great concern. We are showing the way, leading by example. We show that multiculturalism lives on. Those arguing that multiculturalism has crashed are trying to destroy it. They probably don't even realize what a big mistake they are committing. We are showing that it is possible. We are showing the way. We are showing that all nationalities, representatives of all religions live and will live like one family. The Azerbaijani state protects them, their interests, national sentiments and dignity. They are our brothers. Our strength is in unity. Azerbaijan is a multiethnic and multi-confessional country. This is our heritage. We must and we will take care of it. I want to say again that we are showing the way to the world. We are showing the way in many directions – development, independence, dignity, principled policy, international and ethnic relations, the relationship between religion and the state, the energy policy, the transport policy. These are the realities of the present-day Azerbaijan.
I am confident that we will successfully complete 2016. The successful development of Azerbaijan will be ensured.
I congratulate you and all the people of Azerbaijan on this great holiday again. Thank you