Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the official reception to mark 25th anniversary of Azerbaijan`s independenc (17 october 2016)
Dear ladies and gentlemen!
Twenty-five years ago, on 18 October 1991, the Supreme Council of Azerbaijan adopted the Constitutional Act on State Independence. Thus, Azerbaijan gained independence for the second time in the 20th century. In 1918, the first democratic republic in the Muslim world was established in Azerbaijan. We are rightly proud to have been the first in the Muslim world. This time, in 1991, Azerbaijan was not among the first Soviet republics to proclaim independence. Azerbaijan was the 13th republic of the Soviet Union to become independent. This is history. We should know and never forget our history. I think that Azerbaijan could have declared independence even earlier. We should not have waited for such a long time. In particular, we should not forget that Russia, which formed the core of the Soviet Union, proclaimed the state independence in August, two months ahead of us.
I should also note that back in 1990 great leader Heydar Aliyev took very important and serious steps towards independence. After the 20 January tragedy, he was the first to denounce the Soviet leadership, reproach the instigators of the January tragedy, accuse them and condemn the Soviet government and its leader. He left the ranks of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and those were the first steps towards independence. Afterwards, as head of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, he changed the name of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in November 1990, getting rid of the words Soviet Socialist. At that time, on the initiative of Heydar Aliyev, the tricolor flag of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was proclaimed the national flag of Nakhchivan and a petition was filed with the Supreme Council for such a step to be taken here as well. Unfortunately, this was not done. In early 1991, while a referendum on the preservation of the Soviet Union was conducted in Azerbaijan, it was not carried out in Nakhchivan on the initiative of Heydar Aliyev. All these were steps taken on the path to independence. On the other hand, these steps show that great leader Heydar Aliyev is the founder of the state independence of Azerbaijan.
Unfortunately, in the first years of independence Heydar Aliyev was not in power. If he had been, we would not have suffered heavy losses. The early years of our independence were tragic. In 1991-1993, Azerbaijan was faced with huge problems and losses. This period can be divided into two stages. The first stage was a period from October 1991 to the summer of 1992. It was a period of lost opportunities. Armenia unleashed aggression against Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijanis were driven out of Nagorno-Karabakh. The occupation of Shusha and Lachin District in May 1992 was a great loss, a great tragedy.
The foundations of statehood were not established in those years. There was no fight against extremist elements, there was no regular army, and there was no national accord and unity in society. Taking advantage of all of these factors, in particular the occupation of Shusha and Lachin District – even though a role in the occupation of these districts was played by the PFA-Musavat grouping – this grouping illegally seized power, and the second horrific stage of the first period began.
The period from the summer of 1992 to June 1993 was one of disgrace, shame and disaster. Having illegally seized power, the PFA-Musavat grouping was dragging the country into an abyss. After the occupation of Kalbajar District in April 1993, a geographical connection appeared between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. The developments unfolding inside Azerbaijan were pulling the country apart. There was an economic crisis. The industry was practically paralyzed. The then authorities sought only to ensure their own interests. Corruption and bribery reached their climax at the time. The country was run by illegal armed formations. Armed groups of people walked in the streets of Baku and disturbed people. Despite the ongoing bloody battles with Armenia, the PFA-Musavat grouping started a civil war to maintain its grip on power in Azerbaijan. They destroyed the city of Ganja and fraternal blood was shed. As a result, we were faced with even greater losses.
As a result of the incompetent and treacherous activities of the PFA-Musavat grouping, Azerbaijan was on the verge of losing its state independence in just one year. History was about to be repeated. The independence we gained in 1918 was lost in 1920 – after two years. This time round, we were very close to losing it two years later again. If Heydar Aliyev had not come to power at the request of our people, Azerbaijan could find itself in a dire and deplorable state. I should also note that the PFA-Musavat grouping, which attempted to dislodge Heydar Aliyev in Nakhchivan, including sending armed paratroopers there, having found itself in dire straits, appealed to Heydar Aliyev itself and invited him to Baku to save them. They sent a plane to Nakhchivan three times. By coming to Baku, Heydar Aliyev primarily demonstrated his respect for the will of the Azerbaijani people. In those difficult days, as a great statesman and patriot, he arrived in Baku, and Azerbaijan entered a period of development. 1993 was a watershed year. In June, Heydar Aliyev was elected Chairman of the Supreme Council, and the situation began to gradually change for the better. In the first place, the illegal armed groups were disarmed. Significant steps were taken in building an army. The foundations of statehood were laid and stability ensured. In 1995, the Constitution of the independent Azerbaijan was adopted. Serious political reforms were conducted in our country. I should also note that a special role in the formation of a political system in the modern Azerbaijan was played by the Yeni Azerbaijan Party.
The Yeni Azerbaijan Party was founded under the leadership of Heydar Aliyev as an opposition party in 1992. It set an example of political struggle. The political reforms carried out in Azerbaijan under the leadership of Heydar Aliyev were designed for the development of democracy and protection of human rights. In those years, Azerbaijan managed to overcome the international isolation because there was no information about our country in the world. Armenia, using the capabilities of the Armenian lobby, conducted a smear campaign against us. We were deprived of the opportunity to respond and communicate reality to the world community. In other words, an end was put to international isolation and information siege.
Azerbaijan embarked on economic reforms and established the principle of a market economy. It was in those years that foreign policy priorities were outlined. Azerbaijan began to develop as a modern and secular state. In other words, it was in those years that the strategic steps regarding the future of our country were taken. Today, history shows that it was the only right way.
At that time, Azerbaijan was faced with a difficult economic situation. Our industry had practically collapsed. Inflation was measured by thousands of per cent. Of course, under such circumstances, the country's economy could not develop without foreign investment. Without the economic development, the country could not be independent, of course. Therefore, in 1994, on the initiative of Heydar Aliyev, the Contract of the Century was signed. It has been 22 years since then. But the Contract of the Century still plays a role in the development and strengthening of our country. For the first time in history, Azerbaijan opened the Caspian Sea to foreign investors. Investment amounting to billions of dollars was made in Azerbaijan, and our country began to develop. The agreement on the Shah Deniz gas field was signed in 1996. Today, Shah Deniz plays a special role in the energy security of Azerbaijan, the region and to some extent Europe.
In 1993-2003, Azerbaijan experienced a period of development and stability. It was the second period of our independence. Let me go back to the early years of independence again. If Heydar Aliyev, a brilliant personality inseparably attached to his people, had been in power at the time, we would not have faced those disasters. But history is history. We can’t change it. Our goal is to lead the country forward, strengthen and develop it on the basis of the positive trends.
I believe that 2003 was of particular importance for our independent history in this context. It was in 2003 that the people of Azerbaijan made the decision as to which way to go: whether to continue the policy of Heydar Aliyev or whether Azerbaijan will be faced with grief and disaster again?! The people of Azerbaijani, as always, showed their wisdom and voted in favor of the policy of Heydar Aliyev. I should also note that the main source of the collapse of the PFA-Musavat grouping in 1993 was the will of the Azerbaijani people. Our people could tolerate their mediocre work only for one year, and in order to wash away this stain from our history, the people of Azerbaijan put an end to that government. From that time to the present day, they have been on the refuse dump of history.
As I have already said, 2003 was a year of choice. The current realities of Azerbaijan are evidence that the people of Azerbaijan made the right choice again. Since 2003, Azerbaijan has been experiencing a period of dynamic development and continuing the policy of Heydar Aliyev. This is a third period of our independence, which is a logical continuation of the second.
In those years, Azerbaijan made great strides in all areas. We have expanded our international relations. Azerbaijan is a country enjoying great respect worldwide. Bilateral ties are developing. We are gaining more and more friends in the world. Our word matters a lot in all the organizations we are a member of. Our principled position on the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh remains unchanged. This position gains increasing international support. The world community already knows what the reality is. Our lands are under occupation. The resolutions of the UN Security Council and other institutions are not fulfilled. A fair settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the basis of international law is our principled position. The whole world recognizes and supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
Several years ago, a historic event that reflects our credibility in the field of international relations took place. We were elected to the UN Security Council. This event is important not only because we were elected to the supreme body of the planet and presided there twice. It is important because 155 countries voted for us in the circumstances of tough competition. Some forces united against us and tried to prevent Azerbaijan from getting elected. In other words, we won this place with great difficulty. This is yet another indicator. So when we talk of the international community, we mean all the countries. Today, the international community supports us.
From 2003 to this day, we have been experiencing a period of development that is unparalleled in the economic sphere. Our economy has tripled. No other economy has grown three times in such a short time. There has been a threefold increase of industrial production. We put an end to poverty. Poverty was at the level of nearly 50 per cent and has now dropped to 5 per cent. There is a serious campaign against unemployment. Unemployment is at a very low level. We have started developing Azerbaijani regions. The implementation of state programs has begun, resulting in the creation of more than 1,300,000 jobs in the regions. Our regions have come to live, cities have started thriving and modern infrastructure projects have been implemented. We have turned from a country importing electricity and gas into their exporter. Great attention has been paid to social issues in Azerbaijan. Over the last 13 years, wages and pensions have increased several times. Social infrastructure projects are implemented. We have built over 3,000 schools and 600 medical institutions. There are over 40 Olympic centers in the regions. All this progress was made in recent years.
We are moving towards technological development. Today, Azerbaijan is one of a handful of members of space-faring nations. We have two satellites and expect to commission a third one in the near future. Azerbaijan has become a very important country in addressing issues of regional cooperation. In recent years, the large-scale energy projects implemented on our initiative have become even more widespread. These are intercontinental energy projects. In particular, I should note the Southern Gas Corridor. I should also mention that this corridor is created on the basis of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipelines commissioned in 2006 and 2007. Without these pipelines, the Southern Gas Corridor would not be built. The Southern Gas Corridor, one of the largest energy projects in the world, is being successfully implemented today. We are approaching the final phase in the implementation of the Shah Deniz-2 project. Project execution is already at 83 per cent. The implementation of TANAP project is at 40 per cent. We are successfully implementing this giant energy and economic project. In the future, it will bring us a lot of additional economic dividends. We supply our ample gas resources through reliable routes to one of the world's largest and closest markets to us – the European market. Our energy policy is receiving a high assessment in the world. We have set up and are expanding the format of international cooperation.
The Southern Gas Corridor is a historic project. It will pave the way for our further successful development. At the same time, we are taking serious steps in connection with the development of other sectors of our economy. In particular, there has been increasing development of industry and agriculture in Azerbaijan in recent years. Although the economic recession continues in the world, we have taken serious steps in this direction. I am confident that the non-oil sector will develop even faster in the coming years. Currently, about 70 per cent of our economy is formed in the non-oil sector. Today we are seriously dealing with the diversification of our exports. We must minimize our dependence on oil and gas.
Azerbaijan is conducting drastic reforms of governance. We are fighting negative factors. Corruption and bribery are the main evil inhibiting our successful development. Institutional measures in this direction also bring remarkable results. We are already offering intellectual products to the world. We are even exporting it. “ASAN xidmət” is our product. There have been over 12 million applications to this service. About 4 million people are using these opportunities. This experience is being studied in other countries. We need to continue exhibiting our diversified export opportunities in the world. The export of intellectual products is of particular importance.
Azerbaijan is known worldwide as a reliable partner, because all projects with our participation are calculated for cooperation. We believe – and experience shows that this is correct – that cooperation among countries can eliminate some of the problems. Our energy policy has good intentions. We have never used it for any other goals. All other regional initiatives, including those in the transport sector, are aimed at cooperation. Today we are playing an active part in the creation of East-West corridors. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will be put into operation in the coming months. Thus, we will link Europe with Asia in order to provide ourselves with even greater opportunities because this corridor will bring us a lot of economic benefits. The volume of cargo passing through this corridor will constitute tens of millions of tons. At the same time, we are creating the North-South corridor. We have taken the initiative again and offered a regional cooperation format, which has already been created. This will enable us to carry additional tens of millions of tons of cargo. This is what we mean by a reduction of dependence on the oil factor and the development of the non-oil sector. Taking advantage of our geographical location, we propose and implement these projects.
Our relations with the neighbors are at the highest level. We do not have any problems. And this is the way it should be. If all countries could build their relations with neighbors like us, there would be no wars in the world. The main reason for wars is that neighbors do not get along with each other. Let me repeat that if great leader Heydar Aliyev had been in power at the beginning of the 1990s, the Armenia-Azerbaijan war would have never started. We would never have allowed this. But today we are faced with this problem. There are diplomatic and other ways. We have taken great strides in the field of army building. Today, international experts also note that the Azerbaijani army is among the strongest armies in the world. We always knew that, but today it is known to the whole world. The events that took place on the line of contact in April this year once again demonstrated the power of the Azerbaijan army. By launching a counteroffensive operation, our army liberated parts of Agdara, Fizuli and Jabrayil districts from the invaders. The Azerbaijani flag flies high there now. This shows our strength. We know our strength, believe in it and can destroy any target enemy. We are simply trying to resolve the issue peacefully.
In recent years, Azerbaijan has become a center of multiculturalism in the world. This is confirmed by the international events, humanitarian forums, forums for inter-civilizational and inter-cultural dialogue held in our country. We are handling these matters at the appropriate level not only in the country. We also show the way to many countries. We want our example to be learned from. If it is, tensions will subside because wars are often waged on religious grounds, on the grounds of religious beliefs. Today, everything around us is ablaze, on fire. In Azerbaijan, there is stability and enhancing dynamics of development. Representatives of all nations living in our country feel comfortable. All of them are our brothers and our worthy citizens. This is also an example. This is a huge asset. We are cherishing it. In general, we protect our country from all evils. We do not interfere in anyone’s affairs and will not allow anyone to interfere in ours. We only show good will. However, on every issue, in particular the issues of interest to us, we always express a position of principle. Our policy is uncompromising. In matters of principle, we do not and will not yield to anyone. We are pursuing a dignified and independent policy. We count on our own strength and on the support of our people. The people are supportive of our policy. In last month’s referendum, the people of Azerbaijan once again expressed their support for our policy. This is the basic essence of the referendum results. We are on the right track. It is a path of development, a path of independence. Twenty-three of the last 25 years have been the years of glorious history. Today Azerbaijan is known worldwide as a modern, dynamic, wonderful, hospitable and dignified country.
Twenty-five years is a long history. We have proved to the world that we are capable of living independently and successfully. Clear evidence of that is our cities getting ever more beautiful, our developing regions and Baku, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
We will continue to follow this path and pursue an independent policy. We will go forward relying on the will of our people. Our independence is irreversible and eternal. I wish all the Azerbaijani people continued success in strengthening our independence.
Long live the independent Republic of Azerbaijan!