President Aliyev: We all are united to promote mutual understanding
Baku, Azerbaijan, March 10
The IV Global Baku Forum titled "Towards a Multipolar World" launched in the Azerbaijani capital on March 10.
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev congratulated and welcomed the guests at the event.
"First of all, I'd like to welcome you all to Azerbaijan. I am very glad that Baku Global Forum becomes a good tradition."
He thanked the Nizami Ganjavi International Center, its board, its co-chairs, Mrs. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, Mr. Ismail Serageldin for transforming, in a very short period of time, the center into a world-scale international institution.
The president noted that the forum today will discuss broad issues of international agenda.
"The topics of discussions are very important to all of us, and the whole mankind," the president added.
"I am sure that the guests at the forum will contribute valuable thoughts to the cause of peace, security, predictability in the world," he said.
Ilham Aliyev added that every international forum and its level mainly depends on the list of its participants, heads of states and governments, prominent politicians, public figures, and experts.
"Therefore, this shows the level of discussions that we will have today and tomorrow," he said.
"Since we met last spring, the situation in the world has changed, unfortunately not in positive direction," the president said.
He added that the world didn't become safer and more secure, while the conflicts remain unresolved.
"Our main goal is to play our role as countries, governments, politicians, to try to reduce tensions, create grounds for cooperation, mutual understanding, mutual respect," he said. "Otherwise, the situation in the future will continue to deteriorate."
Among the troubling issues, President Aliyev named the situation in the Middle East, situation in parts of Europe, refugee crisis - all the realities of the recent years.
The president said that one of the main objectives of the Fourth Global Baku Forum is to address these issues, especially taking into account the level of participants and their contribution to the world affairs, their experience, and knowledge, and that may help to find a way out of the existing situation.
"We are all united in one objective - to promote mutual cooperation, mutual understanding," said the president."We are all interrelated."
"Sometimes it may seem that what we see on TV, the dangerous events happening in different parts of the world, one may think this is happening on another planet, but it is just the next door. The refugee crisis showed that we're all interrelated."
Azerbaijani president said that every action, every step, every interference in other countries' internal affairs may result in difficulties for those, who interfere.
"That, I think, is the main lesson of today's reality. We all need to respect each other, respect our choice, territorial integrity, our plans for the future, we all need to interact, because the main goal is to reduce tensions and diminish the existing threats."
Independence and Nagorno Karabakh conflict
The president further said that this year Azerbaijan will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its independence.
"During the early years of independence, we've suffered from civil war, humanitarian crisis, occupation, aggression, economic difficulties, actually an economic collapse," he said. "Azerbaijan became a target of terrorist attacks. Armenian terrorist organizations committed numerous acts of terror in the 1990s against civilians. And the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan unfortunately is not resolved."
He went on to add that though Azerbaijan achieved some success during the early years of independence, and today is developing as a modern, stable, predictable, self-sufficient country, the conflict still needs to be resolved.
"The conflict needs to be resolved in order to allow a million of Azerbaijani refugees to return to their homeland, stop violence and establish peace in our region, because without it, all the countries will suffer," Ilham Aliyev said.
The president noted that Armenia, which continues to illegally occupy historic and legal part of Azerbaijan, didn't benefit from the occupation as the country continues to suffer from economic difficulties, isolation, migration, poverty - all of that is because of aggression and occupation of Azerbaijan's lands.
"Nagorno Karabakh is a historic, legal part of Azerbaijan," said President Aliyev. "The international community recognizes Nagorno Karabakh as Azerbaijan's integral part. As a result of the conflict, one million of Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced persons, became subjected to ethnic cleansing. The occupation of almost 20 percent of our territory continues."
The president reminded that International organizations, in particular the UN and its Security Council, adopted numerous resolutions, demanding unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Armenian troops from the territory of Azerbaijan, however these resolutions are not implemented.
Ilham Aliyev further suggested that the mechanism of implementation of these resolutions should be a topic of discussions.
"In some cases, the resolutions of the UN Security Council are implemented within hours or days, in our case - it's more than 20 years," he said. "That shows the lack of political will, especially of those countries that have adopted these resolutions."
Ilham Aliyev said today the negotiating process continues without any success and the main reason for that is because Armenia doesn't want peace.
"They want to keep the occupied territories under illegal control, they want to keep the status quo unchanged, but this cannot remain this way," he said. "The countries chairing the negotiation process, the three permanent members of the UN Security Council, in numerous occasions, publicly spoke about that."
"They said that status quo is unacceptable, and must be changed," he said. "To change the status quo, Armenia needs to leave the occupied territories, and stop occupation."
The president said that in the 21st century it is absolutely abnormal from all points of view, political, legal, humanitarian, to illegally occupy the territory of a neighboring country and block the negotiation process.
"I think that to resolve the conflict, first, Azerbaijan needs to become stronger and this is already happening and second, the international community, especially those who are obliged to have a mandate to deal with this conflict, must show political will and force the aggressor to stop the occupation, like we see in many other places around the world where the aggressor is stopped, punished, sanctioned and forced to stop the aggression."
Azerbaijani president reminded that Azerbaijan's historic heritage has been destroyed on the occupied territories.
"The OSCE twice sent the fact-finding and field assessment missions to the occupied territories and they reflected the real situation there. All our historic monuments, graves, mosques are destroyed," he said.
"Today we see TV reports on destruction of historic monuments in the Middle East. Twenty years ago the same was happening on the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, but at that time the international community and media didn't pay attention, or didn't have access to that information, but it is the same story, the same approach," Ilham Aliyev said.
The president added that the existing situation is dangerous for the future, peace and security in the region, since if the aggressor is not punished, it will plan something else.
The development of Azerbaijan
Despite difficulties, which included the humanitarian crisis that Azerbaijan has faced in the early 1990s, the country is successfully developing, said Ilham Aliyev.
"We had the highest figure of refugees per capita at the time," he said. "One million of people became refugees and internally displaced on their own land -- at that time the population of Azerbaijan was something more than 8 million. So we know how to deal with the humanitarian crisis."
He recalled that at the time Azerbaijan was different from today's Azerbaijan, it was a very poor country, a newly independent state, the economy was ruined, the industry was collapsed, and there were no prospects for the future.
"Our main goal was to establish the state, to create strong economy, to open the country for foreign investments, and to become part of the world market economy," he said. "And that happened."
"Today the country is stable. We continue our political and economic reforms that go in the country in parallel. All the fundamental freedoms are provided, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, religious freedom, media freedom, we have free internet, and more than 70 percent of our people are internet users."
The president noted that in Azerbaijan political freedom is supported by economic reforms.
"Since 2004 and up to 2014, Azerbaijan's economy was the fastest growing in the world," he said. "We managed to dramatically reduce poverty and unemployment down to 5 percent. Economy became more competitive, and according to the Davos Economic Forum, Azerbaijan's economy ranks 40th in terms of competitiveness."
President Aliyev said that Azerbaijan implemented many infrastructure projects, including social infrastructure projects to improve the living standards of people and at the same time create better conditions for investments.
"We were among the countries that received, per capita, one of the biggest direct foreign investments, primarily in the oil and gas sector," he said. "Now our goal is to attract investors in the non-oil sector."
"Reduction of dependence on oil and gas was part of our reforms. And today as a result of our reforms, oil and gas sector makes up for something more than 30 percent of our GDP and about a half of our budget revenues. So the target is to completely reduce the dependence on oil and gas."
The president went on to add that for Azerbaijan, the post-oil period has already started, and not because of reduction of production, but due to the collapse of the oil price.
"This is an absolutely new situation, no country in the world was prepared for that, no one could imagine the fall of oil price would be so dramatic. And it happened within one year," he said. "So we had to work very actively, very efficiently, to reduce negative impacts of this, and now our financial situation is again stable, predictable, and our budget is based on the price of oil of $25 per barrel - a kind of guarantee from any kind of economic complications."
President Ilham Aliyev noted that Azerbaijan has substantial amount of reserves in the Sovereign Wealth Fund and that allows the country to get of the situation with minimum risk.
"At the same time, this situation forces us to be more efficient with our reforms. The big package of reforms, which has already been introduced, by the way, is supported by the International Monetary Fund. So we are on the right track," Ilham Aliyev said.
Diversifying economy, building transportation networks
President Aliyev further said that today Azerbaijan is mainly dealing with diversification of economy, finding new areas of economic development.
"One of them, which we've worked on for many years, is new for international community -- it is transportation infrastructure. We are building transportation network, which will allow Azerbaijan in the future to have a strong position in the region. Geographic position is very preferable, so investments in transportation infrastructure, including railroads, airports, a seaport, allow us to be a crossroad transportation infrastructure," the president said.
He added that the East-West transportation corridor has already started to work.
"Hopefully this year we will finalize the connection of railroads between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, thus Europe and Asia will have new, shortest transportation route," he said.
President Aliyev further said that the first container train from China to Europe already passed through Azerbaijan, so this is a new Silk Road with a modern infrastructure.
"We made a proposal to our partners to have single transportation tariffs to make this route attractive," he said.
The president added that another transportation route, on which Azerbaijan has been actively working with neighbors and partners, is the North-South transportation route.
"It will allow cargoes to be transported from Pakistan, India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia to Northern Europe. Azerbaijan is investing in the modern infrastructure and hopefully soon this route will be in operation," President Aliyev said. "So, all these routes cross our territory, and this increases geopolitical importance of our country, generates additional revenue that we will use for development in the future."
President Aliyev further said that the energy sector remains very important for Azerbaijan's economy, and now also more important for energy security. He reminded that on Feb. 29 Baku held the second meeting of the Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council.
"The Southern Gas Corridor is the project that we call the project of the 21st century," the president said. "It is a mega-project, one of the biggest infrastructure and energy projects in Europe, initiated by Azerbaijan."
President Aliyev added that in this project, Azerbaijan plays the leading role as initiator, organizer and investor. He said the Southern Gas Corridor is a project worth $45 billion of investment.
"We've established a strong team of companies and countries, and the purpose of having this advisory council meeting was to coordinate our efforts, to meet the targets of implementation of this project, because it will be implemented in stages," Ilham Aliyev said.
The president went on to add that the project consists of four elements, which include production of gas from huge new Azerbaijani gas field and three integrated gas pipelines that will allow connecting Baku with Italy, through a 3,500 kilometer pipeline.
"Of course this is a huge investment and at the same time the project needs coordination. So in this room on Feb. 29, 11 countries plus the European Commission signed a declaration which underlines key and strategic role of Azerbaijan as a main enabler of implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor," said the president.
Noting that Azerbaijan established a team of countries, President Aliyev named the participants of the project in accordance with the route of the pipeline: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, and Italy.
"We have two more signatures on the declaration - Croatia and Montenegro, who, I am sure, will join the team in the coming years," President Aliyev said, adding that the governments of the US and the UK, and the vice-president of the European Commission also undersigned the document. So, twelve signatures actually show that the Southern Gas Corridor is already a reality."
Azerbaijani president went on to add that the Southern Gas Corridor is a project of energy security, energy diversification, and free competition.
"I think this is how the energy projects should be implemented, and our main goal is to implement this project and to treat it as a commercial one," he said.
"Sometimes, issues related to the energy security are too much politicized and we're against that. Politics and energy should be separated. Energy should not be used as a political tool. At the same time, political tools interfering in business development sometimes create complications," Ilham Aliyev said.
The president said this is a project for Azerbaijan to be able to export its natural resources, for decades ahead, to diversify markets.
"For Europe it means additional source of gas which it will need," said the president, adding that the producers, including Azerbaijan, will need the demand of European consumers.
He went on to add that ongoing economic difficulties observed worldwide today are temporary.
"The price of oil will not remain at this low level," he said. "The economic growth will generate activity, and the demand for natural gas in Europe will only grow. There will be enough room for everyone. I think the producers will also need to coordinate their efforts, to avoid unnecessary competition. Because producers have their own goals, consumers have theirs."
"I think that in the Southern Gas Corridor project we manage to provide the balance between producers, transitors and consumers. It is a win-win situation, that's why it develops successfully," said the president.
Ilham Aliyev noted that it is a serious challenge to implement such a huge project with so many participants, in a short period of time, in time when the oil price is down and you have to spend billions.
"The energy security definitely will dominate in the political agenda, and I think that with the example that we show with the Southern Gas Corridor, when energy and politics are separated, you can achieve success," Ilham Aliyev said.
The president reminded that this year Azerbaijan marks the year of multiculturalism.
"For centuries, peoples of different nationality, ethnic roots, and religions, lived in Azerbaijan in peace and dignity, and we're proud of it," said the president.
"We are proud that during the years of independence, these positive tendencies only became stronger," he said.
The president said that multiculturalism, religious tolerance is a state policy in Azerbaijan.
"At the same time, this is also a reflection of the mood of the society," he said. "This is important because state policy and general atmosphere in Azerbaijan in this respect is not different."
President Aliyev said that Azerbaijan in 2008 launched the Baku Process, when the country invited the culture ministers of member countries of the Islamic Cooperation Organizationnto participate in the meeting of the culture ministers of the Council of Europe members for the first time.
"That worked, and the Baku Process became a reality," President Aliyev said. "We organized numerous events in Azerbaijan, promoting the values of multiculturalism - the World Religious Leaders summit, humanitarian forum, and intercultural dialogue forum twice. And this April we will have the 7th UNAOC Global Forum."
Ilham Aliyev said that Azerbaijan's experience in this area is highly appreciated by leading international organizations, by international community, and it demonstrates that multiculturalism is alive, that it has a future.
The president added that those who can influence public opinion, politicians, media representatives, should be more responsible regarding the issue.
The role of media in this respect must be more positive, because unfortunately what we see on the news is mainly confrontation, refugee crisis and this leads only to alienation, said the president.
"We cannot afford alienation, because as I said before, we are all interconnected, we are all living on the same planet, and the distance between Europe and the Middle East, as we all see, isn't long. And even if it is, it doesn't stop people from trying to find shelter or trying to save their lives or lives of their families," he said.
"I think that concentrating on positive examples of multiculturalism and promoting these values will help all of us. Because no country, no nation can live in the future in isolation. We are all interconnected. Absolute majorities of the world countries have multi-ethnic, multi-religious population, and we must be proud of that," President Aliyev said.
President Aliyev said that last month Azerbaijan celebrated the inauguration of the one of the sacred places in the Muslim World, the Imamzadeh religious and historic monument, which is in Ganja, the motherland of great Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi.
Ilham Aliyev noted that the people of Azerbaijan protected the monument since the 8th century, adding that it was inaugurated and a new mosque was built there.
"We had a ceremony, and I invited all the representatives from all the regions of Azerbaijan, and at that ceremony, along with me, other speakers were the leaders of traditional religions in Azerbaijan - leader of Azerbaijani Muslims, leader of Azerbaijani-Russian Orthodox church, leader of Azerbaijani Jewish community and the leader of the Catholic church," the president said.
"They all not only participated but also spoke to the audience," Ilham Aliyev said. "Then we jointly moved to the newly built mosque. This is how it works in our country. That was a message to our society, message to our people, and message to our world."
The president also recalled that recently, in the biggest mosque of Azerbaijan, Shia and Sunni Muslims of Azerbaijan prayed together for the first time, and it demonstrates the real situation with the religious tolerance in the country.
"There is no distinction here, neither inside the Muslim community, nor inside our society. This is the reality of Azerbaijan, and is probably one of our biggest assets, and this is the main guarantee for successful development. Because without this consensus, without unity, we cannot achieve success. And we want to achieve more success, we want to continue to modernize our country and only based on these common values of friendship, multiculturalism."
Ilham Aliyev said that last year Azerbaijan hosted the inaugural European Games and I n 2012 it hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. Baku was announced the Capital of Islamic Culture and the next year Azerbaijan will host the Islamic Solidarity Games.
"Azerbaijan is the member of the Council of Europe, member of the Islamic Cooperation Organization. It is a bridge between cultures, traditions, religions, and this is our responsibility. We play this role in order to provide successful development of our country, and also to create most stable, predictable situation in the region," said the president.
"I am sure the discussions on the important topics of the program will contribute a lot to the positive development both in the region and the world," he concluded.