Opening speech by Ilham Aliyev at the meeting in a video format on results of 2020
07 January 2021, 16:30
We will discuss the results of last year today and discuss the work to be done in 2021. The primary outcome of the previous year and not only the last year but the past 30 years has the liberation of our lands from occupation. Azerbaijan won its historic Victory in 44 days, liberated its lands, dealt crushing blows to the enemy, and defeated Armenia. As a result of this defeat, Armenia was forced to sign capitulation and surrender. We returned our three districts by political means without a single shot fired and losing any more martyrs. Thus, Armenia's 30-year policy of aggression has come to an end. We have resolved the issue by military means. However, international mediators, almost all leading international organizations, told us that there was no military solution to the conflict for many years. We said if that was the case, then the conflict should be resolved peacefully, and we were also in favor of that.
During the war, I repeatedly appealed to the people of Azerbaijan and gave interviews to foreign media, saying that the Armenian side should provide us with a timetable of when they would withdraw their armed forces from our lands we would stop. Otherwise, we will go to the end, as we did. Thus, our glorious Victory demonstrated our people's unwavering resolve and strong determination to the whole world. It demonstrated the strength of the Azerbaijani state and showed that our words and actions concur. I have repeatedly stated that if this issue were not settled peacefully, we would resolve it militarily, and that is precisely what happened – militarily. Afterward, political means ensued, and historical justice was restored.
Talking about our country's comprehensive development in recent years, I said that the independent Azerbaijani state experienced its most magnificent era because Azerbaijan had never been so strong in its entire history. Today, it has political strength, economic power, a unity of the people and the government, military prowess, and the positive role we play in the region. Capitalizing on this strength, we have fulfilled our primary objective with dignity. The Armenian army had been smashed to smithereens in 44 days. There is almost no Armenian army anymore. The post-war situation shows that the Armenian armed forces are destroyed today. Armenia has been defeated, and we have managed to achieve what we wanted in 44 days. We liberated Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli districts, Hadrut, the former Hadrut district, most of Khojavand district, Sugovushan settlement, the Murovdag range, and Shusha city by military means. In total, more than 300 settlements were liberated by military means. In the aftermath, Armenia virtually fell to its knees and was forced to sign an act of capitulation on November 10. Thus, Aghdam, Lachin and Kalbajar districts returned to us without a single shot fired and without a sole martyr.
This Victory will go down in history forever. This Victory proved to the whole world – I want to emphasize this again – that there is no inconsistency between our words and our actions. I said that a second Armenian state would never be created on Azerbaijan's historical lands. I said that Nagorno-Karabakh would never be granted independence. I said that the Azerbaijani people would never put up with this situation. I said that we would resolve this issue in any way, and we did despite all the pressure and threats, and regardless of the strong Armenian lobby presence in the world. Many leading countries of the world support Armenia and we clearly saw that during the war. Some countries could not conceal that. What did Armenia gain from this support? Nothing! In the face of our strength and resolve, this support was equal to zero. Everyone saw that no one and nothing could stop us. I said we would go to the end, and I kept my word. We stopped when Armenia acknowledged its humiliating defeat, fell to its knees, threw in the towel and surrendered.
I think this was a historic lesson for Armenia. They once again saw the greatness of the Azerbaijani people. However, they committed vandalism in all the occupied lands, destroyed and desecrated all our historical sites and mosques, and demolished all our residential buildings. There are no cities of Aghdam and Fuzuli, there are no villages, there are only a few buildings left in Jabrayil, Gubadli and Zangilan, and that is where troops were stationed. The illegal settlement was extensive in Kalbajar and Lachin districts. However, when Armenia was allowed to vacate those districts, they devastated them and showed their savagery to the whole world yet again. Right before the eyes of the entire world, they set fire to houses, cut down trees and burned forests, committed acts of vandalism. The whole world could see what evil forces we were able to erase from the conflict map of the Caucasus. The world saw whom we were facing. This savagery and cruelty are perhaps unmatched in history. The occupying forces did not commit such atrocities even during World War II. They thought we would not return to these places, but we have, and we are as we speak. We will talk about the "Great Return" today.
We have restored historical justice. We have shown our strength to the whole world. We have shown that no one can confront our resolve. At the same time, we showed responsibility. We showed fairness. We did not cross into Armenia's territory even though dozens of civilians were killed in the wake of war crimes committed against us from Armenia's territory, as our cities were bombed. We did not cross into Armenia. We showed respect for international law. The despised enemy recognizes no moral boundaries. They have no moral values. And yet I said that we should not be likened to them; we are Azerbaijanis, we are a self-respecting people. We have defeated the enemy on the battlefield. We have taught the enemy a lesson on the battlefield, and they are still struggling to recover from it. The crisis that has engulfed Armenia today is the outcome of their policy of aggression. They should have vacated our lands peacefully. We gave them a chance. They should have left our lands of their own free will. However, we saw the exact opposite – illegal settlement, our cities being renamed, and Azerbaijan's historical, cultural and religious heritage being annihilated. Regrettably, some countries, some international organizations, and companies have helped them in that. Illegal business activity was carried out on our lands. We will address that today and relevant instructions have already been issued. Those companies will be prosecuted. Let them know this and expect that day. Members of different countries' parliaments used to go there, but let's see how they will go there now. A delegation went there from France, members of their Parliament. Unfortunately, the peacekeepers allowed them to pass through. However, we had told the peacekeeping forces that no foreign citizens could go to Nagorno-Karabakh without our permission. As a result, the French Ambassador was invited to our Foreign Ministry, and he was handed a note. We will not remain silent.
I have just been informed that the Armenian foreign minister has gone to Khankandi. What in the world are you doing there? Let them not forget the war. Let them remember that the Iron Fist is still here. These visits must stop. We warn them that if such provocative steps continue, Armenia will regret it even more. Efforts are now being taken to normalize relations. Russia has offered its mediation to the parties. A delegation of Russian government officials recently visited Armenia and Azerbaijan and mainly discussed these issues.
Therefore, if relations were to be normalized, then why make such provocative "visits"? What are they trying to show? Are they trying to irritate us again? They should not forget that such actions cost them dearly. Therefore, all visits must stop. No foreign national can enter that area without our permission. No international organization except for the Red Cross can go there. This is our territory. The whole world recognizes this territory as Azerbaijan's integral part. Armenian foreign minister, whom do you think you are to go there? I warn you. If anything similar happens, our retaliation will be severe. We first warned them through our Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Further measures will be different. Their visits there must stop. Let them stay in their own country and thank God that they even have one. No-one should have any business in our territory.
Now to the peacekeeping forces; they have specific functions there. Those functions were designated on November 10. Although they are currently engaged in humanitarian work there, something not defined by the November 10 statement, we turn a blind eye to that, so to speak. Why? Because we understand that people live there, we realize that winter has come and the weather is cold. Work needs to be done there so that this winter does not create problems for the Armenians living there. That is why we have offered this opportunity. Most of the cargo goes there through Azerbaijan now. We gave them this opportunity. Cargo travels to Barda by rail and then taken to Nagorno-Karabakh by automobiles. Of course, we could have denied them this opportunity.
Armenia cut off our water for 30 years. It left hundreds of thousands of hectares of land without water even though both the Sarsang and the Sugovushan Reservoirs were built on the initiative of great leader Heydar Aliyev back then. Armenia cut off our water. But let me repeat that we must never sink to their level. The people living in Nagorno-Karabakh today are our citizens. As I have said, they will realize that they are better off under Azerbaijan's leadership. That is why we have created these opportunities for them. Otherwise, it is not easy to transport cargo there via the Lachin corridor. We have taken other steps to carry out humanitarian work there. Let me reiterate that although the document signed on November 10 does not stipulate this, we have created these opportunities. It shows our generosity. I believe that November 10 statement should be the basis for future activities. No other document has been signed apart from that statement.
Simultaneously, we have allowed Armenian citizens to use the roads passing through our territory and the liberated lands – the roads passing through Gubadli and Zangilan districts. They should appreciate that. It is our land. We understand that the route passes through there. In Soviet times, borders were not very relevant, and the Armenian population living there probably did not know that this is Azerbaijan's territory. Who could have told them that this is the territory of Azerbaijan? They always thought that this was Armenia. And now, when they realized that this is Azerbaijan's territory and that Azerbaijani border guards have arrived and been deployed there, they have experienced some stress, of course. But again, I ordered that no one should be hurt. Explain to them that this is our land and they should leave. We gave them time. The Armenian side asked us to give them time until January 2. And we did. We could have refused. I could have sent a military unit there and stand aside and watch what would happen to them. Did we do that? No! But they would have done that. When they occupied Kalbajar, they did not give us any time at all. Our citizens had to cross the Murov and Omar gorges barefooted. Many froze to death there. Did they give us time?
They committed acts of genocide against the civilian population, the Khojaly genocide and other war crimes. We have captured those who were engaged in sabotage activities in our liberated territories. We did not kill them. I ordered to take them as prisoners. The war is over, and there is no need to shed more blood. That again shows our humane side. These are forces found in our territory that refuse to leave. They have committed provocations against us, military provocations that led to the deaths of our military servicemen. We have shown humanism again. We have captured them, but they cannot be considered prisoners of war because the war is over. They are terrorists and saboteurs. They arrived in Khojavend district from Armenia, from its Shirak region after November 26. Let everyone know this. Why did they come? Who sent them? The war ended on October 10, and a statement was signed. Who is sending them there? If the Armenian leadership cannot control these illegal armed groups, it is their problem. Therefore, no one can accuse us in this situation.
I want to repeat that we have shown humanism in many cases, and the Armenian side must appreciate that. In return, the visit of the Armenian foreign minister to our lands is unacceptable. I have already said this, and I hope they will draw the right conclusions. If they don't, they will have significant problems and will regret it again.
So the war has ended. We have achieved what we wanted. An era of development begins now. We will talk about that today. But before we do that, I would like to mention other events that took place in 2020. Parliamentary elections were held in our country in February 2020. The parliamentary elections were another major step towards democracy. Parliament leaders were renewed, new people came to the leadership. For the first time, a representative of an opposition party was elected deputy speaker of the Parliament. In the meantime, the opposition members were, for the first time, elected chairmen and deputy chairmen of parliamentary committees. This is a manifestation of a new political culture. It is an essential step towards cooperation between all political forces. Of course, this is crucial for the democratic development of our country. We have a multi-party parliament, and this should be viewed as critical in strengthening our political system.
At the same time, the vast majority of parties last year embraced our initiative and joined the political dialogue. I can say that all political forces are currently involved in this dialogue. I cannot describe those not participating in the conversation as a political force because the group that refused to be a part of the dialogue is made of treacherous and perfidious elements. The political discourse began before the war and grew more active during the war. Throughout the war, except for one anti-national group – I mean the anti-national council – all political parties and unions unequivocally supported our cause. The anti-national council carried out its treacherous mission during the war, played into the enemy's hands, and launched a hideous campaign against our army. They made provocative statements and took steps to tarnish our military and belittle our Victory.
What else can one expect from them? The leaders of this anti-national's council once touted Pashinyan as a role model, saying -"Pashinyan is a democrat, Pashinyan is an innovator, Pashinyan is a clean man". Those are their words. Ask the Armenian people what they think about this innovative democrat now. One thing they have in common, of course, is that the loss of lands happened on their watch. The Popular Front of Azerbaijan and its remains, concentrated in the anti-national council today, actually deserted during the first Karabakh War. We have not forgotten this history. The younger generation should know this. As the war progressed, the President resigned and retreated to a village in the mountains. With ravaging war, people dying, lands being lost, the country's President, its commander-in-chief, flees to a mountain village in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. What is this if not desertion? Those leading this anti-national council, where were you during the war? They fled and went into hiding. They are hiding even now. One of them is sitting in America, lecturing us and playing into the enemy's hands. Clearly, what else can you expect from someone who has been in America for over a year now? Who finances him? Who gives him instructions? We know that. Who gives instructions to those here? Yes, the same circles. Pro-Armenian forces, those who undertook sordid deeds against us during the war, those who want to steal our Victory, those who endorse the Armenians are the supporters of the anti-national council. They are fugitives, traitors, and enemies. Our people must know that. The younger generation must know this.
In some cases, the younger generation lacks sufficient information about this shameful page of our history. It should be included in high school and university textbooks. This black page should be included in textbooks. The young generation must know those who sold Shusha, Lachin, Khojaly and Kalbajar, fled and allowed for the loss of our lands. To this day, the traitor who sold Shusha is hanging around idly. We must not forget this to prevent the recurrence of that! Such useless people should not come to power. They brought about trouble, brought about tragedy, caused the deaths of the innocent, and failed to protect our people. The Popular Front – Musavat government went into hiding, surrendered and put to shame. Thirty years on, it seems as though it was not them who sold those lands. It appears as though it was not them who escaped from the battlefield; it was not them who bombed Ganja during the first war. It was not them who took Azerbaijani soldiers, prisoner. They are the ones, and the Azerbaijani people must never forget that.
Therefore, there is a very serious and active political dialogue underway in our country except for these. I want to mention one more issue. I was informed a few months ago that some parties were not registered. Frankly speaking, this was something new to me. I was not aware of that. Nobody told me that there were such cases. Therefore, I immediately instructed that this issue be resolved. The political parties' registration is being handled now. I want to repeat that a new political climate had emerged in our country before the war, a positive environment because all of us, all patriotic forces, had one goal – to liberate our lands from occupation. We, the government of Azerbaijan, have achieved this. Today, we have the task of solidifying this Victory politically, preventing the rise of Armenian fascism, informing the international community about the past conflict and the current realities, including our destroyed territories. Some of our parties are members of international political party associations. This information must be disseminated within those organizations. In other words, this should be the primary direction of their future performance. Indeed, we want to positively impact the country's democratization process, strengthen the inter-party dialogue, address the shortcomings, and have a healthy and solid competition. We have stated our intention, and I am delighted that all political forces have embraced this initiative.
Human resources reforms continued last year. I have already mentioned the Parliament. The leadership of the Cabinet of Ministers has changed. The leadership of the Presidential Administration, ministries, and local executive authorities has changed. The public has also welcomed this development. We see a positive outcome of these new appointments.
The fight against corruption and bribery has become fiercer. I believe this is also associated with personnel reforms. Unfortunately, my instructions were not always followed in many cases in previous years. Unpleasant situations were covered up by bureaucracy, and in some cases, I was not given accurate information. Relevant agencies did not fight corruption and bribery seriously enough and sometimes turned a blind eye to such crimes. All this is true. Personnel reforms have already put an end to this. Today, no one can evade responsibility regardless of the public position held by the perpetrator. No one is above the law. There is no special status and no privileges for anyone. Everyone should know this. I think the events of 2020 demonstrated that everyone is already aware of that.
The coronavirus, of course, has put the whole world to a big test. I think that Azerbaijan is passing this test with dignity. The situation is under full control. Thanks to prompt action taken, new hospitals were built, and laboratories were acquired. We mobilized our doctors. The salaries of doctors looking after coronavirus patients have been increased; they receive three to five times more now. An extensive social package has been introduced. The social package worth several billion manats was released to help people affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including those working informally and the unemployed. We are expecting the vaccine now. We hope that the vaccine will be delivered to Azerbaijan this month. All contracts have been signed, and it is beyond our control that the vaccine is arriving with a slight delay. After it comes, people will be vaccinated, and we will leave this disease behind.
Although 2020 was a challenging year for all countries economically, Azerbaijan came out of this situation with fewer losses than other countries. Our economy shrunk by just over 4 percent. I think this is a good indicator. At the same time, I must say that our non-oil industry has grown by more than 11 percent. Thanks to what? Indeed, due to diversification. Our policy of industrialization was carried out appropriately. Oil production in our country is declining naturally. In the meantime, we have also honored our commitments under the OPEC+ agreement. Oil prices have fallen. Were it not for the oil factor; our economy would probably have shrunk less. But the growth of the non-oil industry by more than 11 percent shows the development of the real economy, the non-oil economy.
Agriculture has grown by 2 percent and will continue to grow. I have instructed the government that autumn sowing be carried out across the liberated lands. We will speak of that. The average salaries and pensions have increased by around 13-14 percent. The State Oil Fund's resources have remained intact and increased. This may come as a surprise to many. Not much, but it has increased by about 0.5 percent. So we have been able to save our foreign exchange reserves. Although, we have spent billions on the fight against coronavirus, waged war, and paid other costs, benefits and social packages. Based on recent decisions, the allowance for martyrs' families increased from 300 to 500 manats. So all this is a substantial financial burden. But thanks to the overall stability of our state and the country's successful policy, we have achieved this.
On December 31, we received another excellent news at the end of the year: the Southern Gas Corridor became fully operational. Its last segment, TAP, has been commissioned. For the first time in history, Azerbaijan's gas made it to Europe. This is our historic achievement. After all, we initiated the Southern Gas Corridor project. We have also borne the main financial burden. This project, which links many countries, lays the foundation for a new cooperation format among the countries involved and other Eurasian countries in the future. Such cooperation format is already manifesting itself in the transportation sector, trade and other areas. We have redrawn Eurasia's energy map. We have built three interconnected gas pipelines of 3,500 kilometers in length. We have launched the Shah Deniz-2 project, and European consumers are already buying Azerbaijan's gas. It is a win-win. At the same time, successful work was done on other projects last year. I am confident that these projects' development will bring us additional dividends – both economic and political.
I do not want us to get ahead of ourselves, but we will witness new wonderful events in the energy field in the coming days. That will be announced in due course. The new project will significantly strengthen our potential.
In concluding my opening remarks, I want to touch upon the assessment of the work carried out in Azerbaijan by the international organizations. As people may remember, the World Bank's Doing Business report was inaccurate about several countries. A few months ago, the World Bank said that these countries' ratings would be revisited, including Azerbaijan, which was on the list. Thus, they reconsidered it, and our rating was increased, as the previous assessment was incorrect. I do not know why that happened, but that is another subject.
Nevertheless, according to the new ranking, Azerbaijan ranks 28th out of 190 countries in the World Bank's Doing Business program. This is for those frowning upon our work, those who have no idea about the economy. The World Bank says this. The World Bank acknowledges the business climate, the investment climate, the reforms. Besides, Azerbaijan is among the top 10 most reformist countries. So the so-called economists, the fake economists "crowing" abroad and here, open your eyes, have a look, and shut your mouths. Some random people were trying to lecture us: "the economy is not run properly, this and that". Go and read, if you can read at all.
I would like to highlight some parameters of the Davos World Economic Forum report. Access to electricity – Azerbaijan ranks second in the world. With the government's commitment to change, i.e., Azerbaijan ranks fifth in the world for the reform ratio. Government's long-term strategy – Azerbaijan is in 10th place, government's political stability agenda – Azerbaijan ranks 11th in the world. As far as infrastructure projects are concerned, railway services' efficiency – Azerbaijan is in 11th place. The efficiency of airline services – we rank 12th. The quality of roads – we are in 24-27th places. This assessment covers 74 developing countries. Azerbaijan ranks third for the Inclusive Development Index. These are the reports by the World Bank, the world's leading and, I would say, the most influential international body, and the World Economic Forum, the world's number one forum.
Therefore, I want to repeat that we are on the right path. We have achieved this despite all the challenges, regardless of the occupation and presence of a million refugees. Now the lands have been liberated, and the "Great Return" must begin. Significant development processes must commence. Therefore, we must be more actively engaged and in a more focused manner, expand Azerbaijan's capabilities, and boost our country's development dynamics.