Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the Summit of UN Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia – SPECA
24 November 2023, 13:34
- Dear heads of state and government,
Dear representatives of the international organizations,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I extend my sincere greetings to you and welcome our guests.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA). Currently, Azerbaijan holds the Chairmanship of SPECA. Multifaceted relations between our countries have developed successfully in the past 25 years, yet it is the first-ever Summit of the SPECA Member States. I express my gratitude to the heads of the Central Asian states for supporting Azerbaijan’s initiative on holding the Summit. Today, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan cooperate successfully across a number of multilateral platforms. Upon my invitation, the prime ministers of Georgia and Hungary and the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council are attending the Summit as the guests of honor. I am confident that the Summit with such a composition will pave the way to a broader format of economic cooperation.
At the time of SPECA’s inception, the Member States were taking their first steps as independent countries. We were facing a multitude of problems and challenges. In the last 25 years, we have overcome the major challenges, strengthened our state sovereignty, become valuable members of the international community and achieved rapid economic development. Another factor uniting our countries is the political stability. Without stability, no economic growth can be achieved. Today, wars, conflicts and bloody clashes are raging in various regions across the globe, whereas, our countries enjoy peace, stability and security, with successful growth and development processes underway. This is a significant accomplishment and success of our states and peoples.
There are quite a few failed and dependent states worldwide trying to sit on two or more chairs, aiming to serve several patrons and eager to turn their countries into an arena of a standoff between bigger states. One of them is Azerbaijan’s neighbor, Armenia. Such countries cannot be viewed as truly independent. The foreign policy of these countries is not based on their people’s will, and their fate lies in the hands of foreign sponsors. Meanwhile, SPECA Member States are truly independent because they pursue independent foreign and domestic policies.
We welcome the recent adoption of the UN General Assembly resolution on the 25th anniversary of SPECA. The SPECA Trust Fund was established under the auspices of the UN. Azerbaijan will allocate 3.5 million US dollars to the Trust Fund.
The economic forum, held on the sidelines of the SPECA Week in Baku, will contribute to fostering business ties between our countries. The exhibition in the Baku Expo Center vividly portrays the development in our countries.
Azerbaijan and the countries of Central Asia are bound by centuries-long historical and cultural ties. Azerbaijan and Central Asia represent a single historical, cultural and geopolitical space, with increasing strategic significance. This September, I was invited for the first time to the Summit of the Heads of Central Asian States in Dushanbe, as the guest of honor. Once again, I express my gratitude for the invitation. I consider today’s Summit as a logical follow-up to the Dushanbe meeting.
Azerbaijan’s robust economy enables the pursuit of an independent foreign policy. In the last 20 years, Azerbaijan’s GDP has grown by four times. Budget revenues have increased by 30 times and foreign trade turnover by more than 10 times.
Azerbaijan’s direct foreign debt currently accounts for 10 percent of its GDP. Foreign exchange reserves exceed our direct foreign debt by 10 times. The poverty level has dropped from 50 to 5.5. percent.
We have succeeded in creating a favorable investment climate in our country. 310 billion USD have been invested in Azerbaijan in the last 20 years, nearly 200 billion USD of which being invested in the non-oil sector of our economy.
In recent years, Azerbaijan has invested billions of dollars in its transportation infrastructure, becoming one of Eurasia’s transportation and logistics hubs located along the East-West and North-South transportation corridors.
In the early years of our independence, nearly 20 percent of our internationally recognized territory was occupied by Armenia. As a result of Armenia’s policy of ethnic cleansing, over one million Azerbaijanis were expelled from their ancestral lands.
Almost 30-year-long negotiations yielded no results, as Armenia aimed to perpetuate the occupation. The statement by Armenia’s prime minister in the then-occupied city of Khankendi “Karabakh is Armenia, full stop” completely ruined the negotiations.
In November 2020, the Azerbaijani people gained the brightest victory of our history. Azerbaijan defeated Armenia in the 44-day Patriotic War and put an end to occupation. We ourselves enforced the four UN Security Council resolutions of 1993 that had remained on paper for 27 years.
Regrettably, even after that, Armenia failed to comply with its obligations. Around 15-thousand-strong military contingent of Armenia’s armed forces were left stationed in Azerbaijan’s sovereign territories. Our military servicemen fell victim to their military provocations.
To counter these threats and to eliminate the grey zone, we conducted an anti-terror operation in Karabakh on 19-20 September. In just one day, we fully restored sovereignty over our entire territory, including the town of Khojaly, where a genocide against our people had been committed in 1992. Azerbaijan eradicated aggressive separatism in its territory. I express my gratitude to all countries who have congratulated Azerbaijan on this historic victory.
Currently, the large-scale restoration and reconstruction works are being carried out across the liberated territories. We are building new cities and villages from scratch. As an initial step, we are planning to restore 100 residential settlements, including nine cities and eight settlements. Former internally displaced persons are returning to their ancestral lands under the Great Return Program. 140 thousand IDPs will return to their homes by the end of 2026.
A school for 960 students named after Mirzo Ulugbek which is Uzbekistan’s present to Azerbaijan, was inaugurated this August in the city of Fuzuli. A gift by Kazakhstan, a creativity center named after Kurmangazy, is under construction and will be unveiled next year in Fuzuli. Once again, I thank President Shavkat Miromonovich Mirziyoyev and President Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich Tokayev for this brotherly support.
In conclusion, I am grateful to the heads of state and government for accepting my invitation and attending the Summit. I express my confidence that this Summit will give a new impetus to our relations.