Azerbaijan plays important role as stabilizing factor in region - Ilham Aliyev

Azerbaijan plays important role as stabilizing factor in region - Ilham Aliyev

Baku, Azerbaijan, March 16

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Every international forum is important, and future impact on the decision-making in the world depends on the discussed topics, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said.

He made the remarks at the opening ceremony of the 5th Global Baku Forum titled “The Future of International Relations: Power and Interests”, which kicked off in Baku March 16.

The president said that holding of this forum has already become traditional, and this is not the first time Azerbaijan is hosting it. He welcomed all the participants, who represent more than 50 countries at the forum.

"Azerbaijan, as an independent country, is relatively new. Last year we celebrated the 25th Anniversary of restoration of our independence. Our activity, projects that we initiate in the country, have positive impact on the whole region is one of the ways to present our country to the world," the president said.

Ilham Aliyev went on to say that since the last Baku Global Forum meeting, the world didn't become safer.

"We still have protracted conflicts, confrontations, wars in our region. This of course is a very dangerous tendency. Azerbaijan in its region is playing an important role as a stabilizing factor. Our initiatives aim at regional cooperation, predictability and strengthening of security measures in the region," said Ilham Aliyev.

The president went on to add that Azerbaijan is not an island, and close neighborhood is of great concern to the country. He said there are still challenges, wars, conflicts, the migrant crisis, and it is a big humanitarian catastrophe.

"At the same time, the migrant crisis also leads to, I would say, less understanding between different parts of our world. It creates certain discomfort for the people of the countries where the migrants are heading. But, this is only the consequence of what happened, because the real reason of this crisis is external political and military interference into internal affairs of these countries," he said.

The president went on to say that the migrant crisis wasn't happening five or ten years ago, it happened recently.

"So this is the consequence of, I'd say, not a very thoughtful policy towards the countries of the Middle East. And this, in turn, leads to radicalization of societies of the countries where the migrants are heading," said Ilham Aliyev.

He went on to say that unfortunately, the most attractive slogans in election campaigns are slogans very close to nationalism and anti-migrant sentiment.

"We witnessed it during last months, years. And this is the tendency. I think one of the most important issues on global agenda is to reverse this tendency backwards. More to cooperation, mutual understanding, mutual respect, rather than alienation, political confrontation and lack of dialogue of civilizations," Azerbaijan's president said.

The president said Azerbaijan is a country, which geography, to certain degree, predetermines its role in the region.

"We are investing in the dialogue of civilizations and cultures. Azerbaijan itself suffers from war, occupation, humanitarian catastrophe, as a result of Armenian aggression and occupation of its territory," Ilham Aliyev said.

"This occupation lasts for more than 20 years, and twenty percent of internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and seven districts surrounding it, are under Armenian occupation. All the infrastructure [there has been] destroyed, all our historical, religious monuments destroyed. OSCE fact-finding mission sent delegations and groups of observers to the occupied territories, and their report clearly shows that all the buildings and historical heritage of Azerbaijan have been destroyed," he said.

"This conflict is the result of Armenian aggression against its neighbor. It is the result of separatism and war against Azerbaijan. A million of Azerbaijanis suffered from that - they became refugees and internally displaced persons. This figure is one of the highest per capita in the world. Today's population of Azerbaijan is close to ten million. When the conflict started, it was eight million. So, one million of eight million in the beginning of 1990s became homeless," President Aliyev said.

The president went on to say that at the time, Azerbaijan, being a very poor country, had to face series of political, economic and social issues.

"Economy was in chaos. There were no clear means for economic developments, and plus a million people came from the occupied territories, and they had to be taken care of. Since that time, of course, Azerbaijan has developed. We're capable to provide decent conditions for our compatriots, but the conflict is not resolved," said Ilham Aliyev.

He went on to say that all the important international organizations adopted resolutions and decisions which demand withdrawal of occupational Armenian forces from Azerbaijani lands.

"The UN Security Council, which is a top body on international arena, adopted 4 resolutions, demanding, I quote, immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories. But these resolutions remain on paper, Armenia ignores them, and already 25 years have passed," the president said.

"This shows that there's a lack of mechanism of implementation of decisions of international organizations, in particular UN Security Council. On the other hand, it shows again lack of consistence, because we all know that in some cases resolutions of the Security Council are implemented within days, if not hours, but in our case, it is 25 years and still there's no progress," Ilham Aliyev said.

"Our refugees and internally displaced persons cannot go back to their native land. And this we consider the policy of double standards. In general, I think, the recent developments in the world show that the policy of double standards, unfortunately, has become a kind of standard in international relations," he said.

The president added that the norms and principles of international law are being interpreted in different countries with respect to the preferences to the current political interests.

"I think this is an important issue, when we're talking about the reforms of the United Nations. And in general, the implementation of decisions of international organizations. If the adopted decisions are not implemented, not only the countries will suffer, but also the world will be in danger, because it means that any country can use its force to change situation on land, in order to occupy territories, cause sufferings of millions of people and not be punished," Ilham Aliyev said.

The president of Azerbaijan went on to add that the country has raised this issue many times in front of international organizations - about aggression, occupation and war crimes committed by Armenia against peaceful Azerbaijani citizens.

"Armenia must be sanctioned, then it will be fair, then it will be a single standard," Ilham Aliyev said.

"The conflict's resolution must be based on international law, and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be restored. People have the right to return to their homeland," said the president.

He went on to add that the unresolved Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict is dangerous to stability and peace.

"We want to resolve this conflict peacefully, but we want to resolve it. Armenia wants to keep the status-quo unchanged and ignores strong statements of the mediators, which are permanent members of the Security Council," said Ilham Aliyev.

He added that the US, Russia, on many occasions have said that the status quo is not acceptable and that it has to change, and that means the beginning of de-occupation of territory of Azerbaijan.

"Despite this heavy burden and the humanitarian crisis, Azerbaijan's development was rapid, it is sustainable, we have big achievements in economic transformation of our country, and I think that 25 years of freedom and independence, demonstrated that the people of Azerbaijan are not only capable to live as independent nation, but also capable to achieve success in many areas," the president said.

"If we look at economic performance of Azerbaijan, especially in the recent years, we will see that our achievements in economic area really demonstrate that we have strong political will, consolidated society. When you have unity between the government and the people, you can achieve a lot, even with a conflict, and occupation," Ilham Aliyev said.

The president went on to say that due to the broad regional development program, Azerbaijan managed to reduce poverty by ten times within the last 14 years, and it currently stands at less than six percent, while unemployment stands at around five percent.

"Of course Azerbaijan's economy suffered because of the collapse of the oil prices, but at the same time this situation forced us to be more active on economic reforms, and within a very short period, we managed to overcome the difficulties," said Ilham Aliyev.

"You can imagine if your revenue drops 3-4 times, for any country, any family, it is a serious challenge. Countries and people get used to certain lifestyle, certain development and then all of a sudden, your revenues collapse. This was a really serious challenge for our government, but I think that we managed to overcome it," the president said.

"Though there were difficulties and they continue, but in general, the period of adaptation to low oil prices, I think, has already happened, and 2017 is the year of economic growth. Even last year, when we, for the first time in 14 years, had economic recession, if you look at the parameters not linked to oil and gas, we see that the development of our non-oil industry grew last year by 5 percent, agriculture by more than 2 percent," Ilham Aliyev said.

He went on to add that in the first two months of this year, the same performance was shown by the non-oil industry, the country's GDP started to grow, and Azerbaijan managed to significantly increase its non-oil export within two months of 2017.

"Therefore, the diversification of economy was being conducted for many years, and it is already bringing results. Now the main objective for the coming years is the diversification of our export, we need new markets, and of course to enter one, we need to have very good political relations with countries whose market is attractive for us," said the president.

The president further said that as far as foreign policy is concerned, Azerbaijan has a strong position in the region and world.

"The international community respects us because we pursue independent policy and also we always keep our word. We are a reliable partner, and we manage to build very positive, at the same time pragmatic, relations with our neighbors, which are based on history, friendship, mutual interest, mutual respect, and non-interference in internal affairs of each other," Ilham Aliyev said.

The president noted that regional cooperation and Azerbaijan's relations with all the neighbors is of extreme importance, as it is for any country.

"If a country has problems with its neighbors, both suffer. Therefore, apart from Armenia, with all our neighbors we have good relations. We implement a lot of projects, energy, transportation, trade, cultural projects which bring our peoples closer," President Aliyev said.

He went on to say that Azerbaijan has established very good relations with the EU member countries. According to Ilham Aliyev, with nine of them, Azerbaijan signed or adopted strategic partnership document.

"I think this is also a big achievement, because it shows that many European countries treat Azerbaijan as a strategic partner. And that's not only because of energy resources, our cooperation is much broader," he said.

The president said that last month, Azerbaijan launched the negotiations with the European Commission on the new agreement, which will be a partnership agreement, and will cover many areas.

"So this policy called "balanced", I don't know if that's the proper word, but this policy is based on national interests of our country. And that dictates us to build relations based on national interest, based on realistic approach. We should not put in front of us unrealistic targets and then get disappointed and frustrated when these targets are not met," he said.

He said that the same can be applied to Azerbaijan's relations with the EU.

"We put up a very realistic target, and now we see that our counterparts, they also prefer to treat Azerbaijan from a realistic point of view. Instead of signing an association agreement with the EU, which, frankly speaking, wasn't an agreement which could produce some tangible results, we preferred to go on a separate track and prepare an agreement on partnership, or maybe it can be called a strategic partnership, which will be balanced, mutually beneficial and with practical results," the president explained.

"Policy without results is populism, and we don't have time to waste. We base our policy on real situations," he said.

"Azerbaijan plays also a stabilizing role in the communication between some countries which sometimes have problems. And it happened in recent history, when our neighbors had misunderstandings, clashes. We always tried to play our role, and due to the fact that Azerbaijan is considered to be a really independent country with respect to its policy, we succeeded."

President Aliyev went on to mention an important event that took place in Baku last month.

"For the first time, the representatives of military command of the new US administration and that of Russia met. Chiefs of Staffs of both armies met in Baku for the first time. The selection of Azerbaijan for this meeting was of course not our initiative, we were approached by both sides. But the selection of Azerbaijan is another demonstration that we are considered a reliable partner, which is respected by big powers and which independent policy is already a reality," said the president.

"This is appreciated, because it is better to have a predictable partner rather than a satellite. We do have satellites nearby, and that doesn't lead to success or respect," Ilham Aliyev said.

He went on to add that in the future, with respect to the foreign policy, it will be based on pragmatism, national interests, security. President Aliyev said that Azerbaijan works very actively as far as fight against terrorism is concerned.

"Azerbaijan is a reliable partner in the peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan since 2001. Since the very beginning we keep our troops there and we provide very important transportation network, which is called Northern Distribution Network, and also provide flights for NATO operations. And this is a serious contribution to the peacekeeping efforts," he said.

The president noted that Azerbaijan is one of the few non-member countries of NATO that provide serious military and economic assistance to the government of Afghanistan.

The president then spoke about the recent developments in the transportation sector. He said that it isn't Azerbaijan's internal matter, since the projects which the country initiates in the region are growing and becoming global.

"With our partners in Georgia and Turkey, we initiated the construction of the railroad, which connects 3 countries and actually connects continents. Because now, we can increase trade even without having the railroad connection. It is needed to connect Asia with Europe with the shortest transportation route," President Aliyev said.

He went on say that this is the cheapest and the shortest route, and the companies that wish to save time on cargo transportation will definitely use this transportation network.

"East-West corridor is the corridor of cooperation, and business. And it already generates thousands of jobs, in Azerbaijan and in the neighboring counties. And it will generate a lot of profit for our country, and our role as a transitor will grow," said the president.

"This project was inspired by energy diversification projects, which again we started to implement with our Georgian and Turkish neighbors, and now it is growing and already with its oil pipelines and gas pipelines we have many countries enrolled in this process," Ilham Aliyev said.

Speaking about the Southern Gas Corridor project, the president said that already seven countries - Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Albania - are the members of the project.

"And three Balkan countries - Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina are our partners for the next stage of development of this project," he said.

"This is really a project of the 21st century," he said, adding that the $40-billion project, initiated by Azerbaijan, is supported by the European Commission, and is being successfully implemented.

"In the time of low oil prices for the last two years, there was no delay from the point of view of payments of our share, in order to implement this project, which is an integrated system of three pipelines stretching from Baku to Italian coast, and investment in the huge gas field in the Caspian sea," Ilham Aliyev said.

"This is a contribution to energy security. At the same time, this is contribution to regional cooperation. These countries, which are members of the Southern Gas Corridor, already became natural long-term partners and friends. So we managed to transform positive regional cooperation here in the Caucasus and Turkey towards Europe. And this creates a unique format of cooperation," President Aliyev said.

"And already three times in Baku, every February or January we gather the Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council, which took place again this year, and the declaration which is adopted by all the members of the council, once again shows the leading role of Azerbaijan," the president said.

"We initiated the projects. We invite neighbors and partners, and we see good results. None of the projects which we initiated, neither in economic, energy nor in transportation areas, failed. All of them were based on realistic approach. None of them were just for the sake of making noise or praising ourselves or using populist ideas to demonstrate our potential," Ilham Aliyev said.

"Our potential is much bigger than what is demonstrated today. We are not trying to present Azerbaijan on every corner, we're just doing our homework and time shows that we made the right choice," he said.

The president then spoke about Azerbaijan's investment in intercultural dialogue.

"Azerbaijan in two months time, will host the 4th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, it is already a tradition, and it is also co-sponsored by such organizations as UNESCO, ISESCO, Council of Europe, World Tourism Organization, UN Alliance of Civilizations. It is a global event, I'd say a unique event, which addresses the issues of intercultural and interreligious dialogue in the world," said the president.

He further said that Azerbaijan was selected to host it not only because the country initiated it in the first place, but also because of the country's role as a bridge between civilizations and religions.

"Religious tolerance and spirit of multiculturalism in Azerbaijan already makes us the center of this positive event. We pay very big importance to this forum, and to this movement, because this is what the world needs today," said Ilham Aliyev.

"I said it in the beginning, unfortunately we talk about dialogue, but we see alienation. We talk about tolerance, but we see hatred, which is growing, and it is dangerous for all of us," said Ilham Aliyev. "And for those who suffer from that, the role of Azerbaijan as a cultural bridge is important."

The president went on to say that at the same time, today's positive, sustainable, safe, stable development of Azerbaijan shows that only in the spirit of mutual respect, multiculturalism, respect to the traditions, religion, one can achieve success.

"Azerbaijan is a multi-confessional and multi-ethnic country. This is our big asset. We demonstrate that this is the only way to develop. Isolate yourself to cultivate hatred or any kind of superiority, will return as a boomerang," said the president.

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