Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva attended the opening ceremony of the 74th International Astronautical Congress

02 October 2023, 10:05
Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva attended the opening ceremony of the 74th International Astronautical Congress

The opening ceremony of the 74th International Astronautical Congress has been held at the Baku Convention Center.

President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva and their son Heydar Aliyev attended the event.

First, the Congress participants posed together for photographs.

The opening ceremony saw a musical show as well as videos about Azerbaijan and the 24th International Astronautical Congress held in Baku in 1973.

Then, a video presenting the International Astronautical Federation was screened.

The opening ceremony was addressed by the President of the International Astronautical Federation, Clay Mowry.

A video message of the China Space Station astronauts was demonstrated.

President of the International Astronautical Federation Clay Mowry presented to President Ilham Aliyev a keepsake including a photograph depicting National Leader Heydar Aliyev and President Ilham Aliyev together with astronauts at the 24th International Astronautical Congress, held in Baku in 1973, which was demonstrated in the space and then brought back, and other attributes.

Then, a video message from the International Space Station astronauts was shown.

The head of state addressed the opening ceremony of the Congress.

Speech by President Ilham Aliyev

Dear Mr. President of the International Astronautical Federation,

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

Dear guests.

Welcome to Azerbaijan, welcome to Baku. After 50 years, the congress is back. First of all, I would like to express deep gratitude to the International Astronautical Federation for the honor of hosting the Congress in Azerbaijan. Also, I would like to express gratitude to the International Academy of Astronautics and the International Institute of Space Law for their constant support.

For us, it is a big honor to host such an important global event. We have more than 5,000 participants from more than 100 countries. I am sure that our guests will have a chance, apart from their duties here at the Congress, to get to know more about Azerbaijan, its history, its culture, and its people.

Azerbaijan became a member of a global space club more than a decade ago. And now, with two telecommunication satellites and one Earth observation satellite, we continue our efforts to develop the space industry in Azerbaijan. Also, I would like to inform you that these three satellites are operated by Azerbaijani specialists, and they provide services not only to us but to 45 countries.

The Congress here in Baku will definitely give a new impetus to the development of the space industry, the development of the high-tech and innovation sector of our country, and its modernization. Now, modernization is a word that characterizes our vision for the future, our agenda and our plans.

During the times of independence, Azerbaijan transformed into an active member of the international community. Our policy is always clear, transparent, and straightforward and aims to win friends and enhance cooperation. Azerbaijan participates as an active member of the international community in numerous political, economic and regional development projects. We, for the fourth year, are chairing the second largest international institution after the United Nations – the Non-Aligned Movement, and we have been entrusted the honor to chair this institution by unanimous decision of 120 countries. So, this really reflects the broad international support for Azerbaijan.

At the same time, our cooperation with the European institutions also developed successfully. With nine members of the EU, Azerbaijan signed declarations on strategic partnership. So, that actually demonstrates our foreign policy agenda, which is absolutely open and, as I already said, aimed at cooperation and broader regional involvement and inclusivity.

Azerbaijan is a member of two important international institutions – the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Council of Europe - and is one of the very few countries that is a member of both. More than 100 countries are participants in these two international organizations. So, this actually is a reflection of not only our geography and our culture but also our political intentions. Because being situated just between Europe and Asia, being a kind of natural transportation, cultural, and now also economic bridge, which connects two continents, surely gives us this basic opportunity to create a broad international cooperation in our region.

I think geography means a lot for perhaps all the countries of the world. For us, geography means opportunity. So, we managed to transform our geographical location into a positive scenario, having good relations with our neighbors, with whom we share centuries of cohabitation and partnership. Today, we broaden our horizons. And entrusting us with hosting this important international event, we consider it a sign of respect, a sign of support for our endeavors.

Being a natural bridge between the continents, of course, played an important role in the development of our society. Throughout the centuries, Azerbaijan had a multicultural and multi-confessional society. Now, during more than 30 years of independence, we have strengthened this factor of our life. We consider it an important factor of stability, predictability, and the peaceful coexistence between representatives of all ethnic groups and representatives of all confessions in Azerbaijan. We really live like one family, and it is also noted and reflected in decisions of international organizations like the United Nations, which fully support Azerbaijan's efforts to promote multiculturalism. By the way, the regular World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, which is held by our initiative in our country, is a unique platform for making interactions between different civilizations more results-oriented.

Azerbaijan was the initiator of the Baku Process more than a decade ago, which, for the first time in history, united the Council of Europe and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in one platform addressing important issues of global politics, intercultural dialogue and peaceful development.

Azerbaijan is also known as a country where the first oil in the world was produced in the middle of the 19th century. At that time, we were producing more than half of the world's oil production, and also, maybe not many people know that the first offshore oil was also produced in Azerbaijan in the Caspian by Azerbaijani oil workers in the middle of the 20th century.

And now, when we are independent, our natural resources serve the benefit of our people. The rapid transformation during the years of independence is actually a demonstration of the proper use of our natural wealth. For some countries that are rich in oil resources, oil is a curse. For us, it was the way to develop, to strengthen our independence, to protect our identity, and to build a strong economy.

If you look at today's map of energy and transportation routes, including pipelines, you will see the touch of Azerbaijan. The projects, which we initiated and successfully completed together with our neighbors and partners, actually are a big contribution to energy security, not only for our region. And today, as we all know, energy security is an integral part of the national security of every country. Today, Azerbaijan is a reliable supplier of energy resources to international markets and is considered by the European Union as a pan-European supplier. But among our partners, there are dozens of countries on different continents, and all that serve the international cooperation, predictability, and, at the same time, successful economic development of our country.

Three years ago, we completed the primary task of our lifetime. We restored our territorial integrity, which was violated for almost 30 years. We suffered from aggression, occupation, and ethnic cleansing, which was an immense tragedy for our nation and a vast humanitarian catastrophe. When our lands became occupied at the beginning of the ‘90s, more than 1 million Azerbaijanis - at that time, our population was 8 million - became refugees and internally displaced persons. That was probably the highest per capita ratio of refugees in any country. And at that time, we were very poor. We had not yet started to develop our natural resources. We were landlocked and disorganized, and the prospects for the future were not very clear.

But our people demonstrated strong political will. We tried for many years to find a peaceful solution to the conflict and to put an end to the occupation by peaceful means. For 28 years, we were strongly committed to the negotiation process, but unfortunately, we clearly realized that it was not possible to do this by peaceful means. So, we used our right to self-defense. We used the right which is given to every country by the UN Charter – the right to self-defense - and liberated our territories three years ago and put an end to the occupation. Less than a month ago, we fully restored our sovereignty all over the country.

Unfortunately, international organizations which were obliged to put an end to the occupation did not produce any results. The United Nations Security Council adopted four resolutions demanding immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from our territories. However, these resolutions were not implemented for 27 years. We implemented those resolutions ourselves, sacrificing the lives of our people. Other international institutions like the OSCE had a mandate for negotiation facilitation, but it produced zero results and led to total frustration and disappointment in Azerbaijan`s society.

So, our experience of the restoration of territorial integrity and sovereignty in a certain way is unique. We put an end to a conflict which was imposed on us. We protected our dignity. We restored justice and international law. And now, it is time for peace in the Caucasus. This is our agenda. Our agenda is peace in the Caucasus, peace in the region, cooperation and shared benefits.

Today, we demonstrate that, of course, in order to become a really independent country, we had to have a strong economy. We clearly realize that. Therefore, all our main efforts were aimed at creating such an economy that will be self-sufficient and will not lead us to a kind of dependence on any global center of power or on any financial institution. We managed to do it.

I would like to inform you of some figures. Taking into account that most of our guests are visiting Azerbaijan for the first time, I think these figures clearly demonstrate what has been achieved in Azerbaijan recently. So, in the last 20 years, our GDP grew four times, our budget revenues grew more than 30 times, and foreign trade turnover more than 10 times, gross. We managed to reduce our direct foreign debt, and now it is around 10% of GDP. According to our plans, by the end of 2024, it will be around 7-7.5% of GDP. Foreign exchange reserves in Azerbaijan exceed our direct foreign debt 10 times. In other words, if we would like, we can repay all our debts within a couple of months. We created a very positive investment climate, not only for energy but also for other sectors. Total investments in the last 20 years were more than 300 billion USD, with 190 billion USD invested in the non-energy sector.

One of the big challenges at the beginning of our independence was poverty, which was endemic. 20 years ago, the percentage of people living in poverty was close to 50. Now it is 5.5%, which demonstrates that the natural resources we accumulated and brought to the international market were properly managed. And the fair distribution of national wealth today is seen by international experts and, most important, by the people of Azerbaijan. So, all these actually demonstrate that the country is well-established. Political, economic and social stability is an important factor in our development because it is clear that if a situation is not stable and is not predictable, you cannot expect investors to come and risk their capital.

I hope that our guests will have the opportunity to see what I have just said with their own eyes, meet with people, and learn more about Azerbaijan. Yes, we have an ancient history, part of which was demonstrated in the video presentation, and the ancient culture. But as an independent country, we are still very young, only 32 years old.

And in conclusion, I would like to say once again that we really are very proud that we are hosting the Congress for the second time. As it was already said and demonstrated, the 24th Congress was held in Baku in 1973. I am very grateful to all our guests and especially to our brave Chinese astronauts, who have that very dear photo of me photo in space. So, in a certain way, I am also there. I am part of your community.

Of course, hosting for the second time this important event is a big honor for us. Once again, I would like to express gratitude to all those who participated in that decision. So, for the second time, the Congress is held in Baku, in the same city, but not in the same country. Today, it is independent Azerbaijan that hosts such a global event. So, once again, thank you for being with us. I wish the Congress success.