Azerbaijani president, first lady attend official reception on occasion of Republic Day (PHOTO) (UPDATE)

Details added (first version posted on May 27 at 15:15)

Baku, Azerbaijan, May 27


President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva have attended an official reception on the occasion of the national holiday of Azerbaijan, Republic Day, at Buta Palace.

The event started with the performance of the national anthem of Azerbaijan.

The head of state made a speech at the official reception.

Speech of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev:

"Dear ladies and gentlemen!

I sincerely congratulate you and all the people of Azerbaijan on the upcoming Day of Republic.

The establishment of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was a historic event because a democratic republic was created for the first time in the Muslim world. We are rightly proud of the fact that it was the Azerbaijani people who pioneered the creation of the first democratic republic in the Muslim world. This testifies to the fact that our people are very progressive. It shows that outstanding representatives of Azerbaijani intelligentsia have done a great deal for the development of our country.

Although the Democratic Republic did not last long, it managed to do a lot in 23 months. The national flag and citizenship of Azerbaijan were approved, the national army was created and, together with the Islamic Army of the Caucasus, liberated Baku from occupiers. Baku State University was established. This suggests that education received great attention. More than 200 laws were adopted, including a law granting women the right to vote. That is, all these and other steps indicate that the founding fathers of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic have done a tremendous job for our country and people.

The Azerbaijani people and state treasure the memory of the founders of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. Their memory lives in our hearts. Several years ago, I signed an executive order to set up a memorial in honor of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in the center of Baku. Last year was declared a "Year of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic" in our country.

Twenty-three months later, the republic fell, which shows again that it is even more difficult to maintain independence than to obtain it. The flag raised in 1918 was dropped in 1920. After that, great leader Heydar Aliyev officially raised and approved this flag at a session of the Supreme Majlis (parliament) of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic for the first time. Essentially our road to independence began from this historic moment. The Soviet Union was still in existence, and such a bold step demonstrates how much the great leader was attached to his people, to the state, to their future, and how much importance he attached to that.

In 1991, as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan gained independence along with other Union republics. Of course, we got the second chance in the 20th century. But unfortunately, the negative developments unfolding in the country did not allow the newly-independent Azerbaijan the opportunity to stand firmly on its feet, pursue an independent policy and protect the interests of our people. Those were very difficult and tragic years.

In 1992, after the unlawful seizure of power by the PFPA-Musavat regime, the situation aggravated further. The country was in an uncontrolled state. It was in those years that the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict flared up and our lands were occupied. There was chaos and total crisis in our country, the economy was in a paralyzed state. Of course, the Azerbaijani people were looking for a way out. I should also add that the PFFA-Musavat regime instigated a civil war in the country. Our people saw the salvation in Heydar Aliyev and invited him to take up power, thus confirming their wisdom yet again.

Year 1993 was a turning point in our modern history. It was in 1993 that Azerbaijan embarked on the path of development, ensured stability and the country began to confidently move forward. Great leader Heydar Aliyev has made an immense contribution to the people and the state. I should also note that until 1993, our independence was of formal nature because the country was unable to pursue an independent policy. One of Heydar Aliyev’s achievements was that Azerbaijan embarked on a path of true independence. Serious reforms were initiated in political, economic and other spheres.

A regular army was created, an influx of major foreign investment into our country began, the foundations of statehood were laid and the ideology of Azerbaijanism was adopted as official ideology. In a nutshell, it was in those years that strategic directions for the development of Azerbaijan were determined. Today, Azerbaijan is governed by these strategic development directions and pursues a confident policy in accordance with the changing situation in the region and the world. By pursuing an independent policy at the present time, our country has taken major steps to secure national interests and achieved tremendous success.

Since 2003, Azerbaijan has been implementing the policy of Heydar Aliyev, continuing and enriching it. Of course, a lot has been done since then, but both the world and the region have also changed. New threats have appeared in the region and the world, new challenges have arisen. Of course, we are always trying and should try to protect our country from possible risks. The experience of recent years shows that we have managed to achieve this.

The military capacity of our country is increasing. Parts of Aghdara, Fuzuli and Jabrayil districts, as well as a significant area in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, have been liberated from occupiers. Thanks to the buildup of our military power, the Azerbaijani army today is among strongest armies in international rankings.

Over the past 16 years, we have achieved economic development and resolved many economic issues. Major investments have been made in our country. Investments in excess of $260 billion serve the development of our country and people today. The funds invested both in the oil and non-oil sectors have significantly strengthened the economic potential of our country.

Very serious steps are being taken related to the social sphere. The well-being of our people has significantly improved. Problem of the internally displaced persons are being addressed. More than a hundred IDP settlements have been built, and steps related to this issue will continue to be taken. Modern infrastructure has been created in Azerbaijan and large funds have been invested in this area.

In short, recent years have seen development and progress in all directions. Great work has been done on the development of the social infrastructure. Schools and hospitals have been built. All this is Azerbaijani reality. This has already created powerful economic potential, a strong economic foundation. If we add to this the transport and energy projects being successfully implemented on our initiative, we can see that Azerbaijan has really come a long way.

Today we are working hard to become one of the international transport centers. Major steps are also being taken in this direction and large investments are being made. The railway infrastructure, the construction of roads, the launch of six international airports, the modernization of maritime transport – all this work has been done in recent years.

It will take several hours to list the work we have done. I simply want to say that Azerbaijan today is confidently advancing along the path of independence and the problems facing the country are being addressed. But we must look ahead and should not be complacent with the progress achieved. The problems facing the country should be the main task for us. All relevant instructions are being given to address them.

To further ensure sustainable development, we need to work hard. The decisions made must be implemented. I believe that this is one of the most important tasks on our agenda because sometimes decisions are made and orders are signed but their implementation is delayed. Therefore, this area must definitely be given more serious attention in the coming period, so that the decisions made, the laws and orders signed are implemented.

We live in the conditions of war. It is not over yet. Under such circumstances, building up military capacity should be one of the top priorities for us. Very serious steps have been taken in this direction. I can say that in recent years, 80 percent of our military units have been completely reconstructed. In the coming years, the remaining units will be overhauled. Azerbaijan has a strong military capacity but tangible steps will continue to be taken in this direction.

The Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the occupation of our lands are the bitter legacy of the PFPA-Musavat regime. We are trying to resolve this issue. Azerbaijan has become much stronger in this direction – legally, politically, economically and militarily. The decisions and resolutions adopted by influential international organizations in recent years support our fair position, and this has created a very solid legal basis for resolving the conflict. No country has recognized the self-proclaimed “Nagorno-Karabakh republic”, the world's leading organizations and many countries have reacted harshly and negatively to the illegal referenda held there.

We communicate and should continue to communicate the truth about the conflict to the world. I think that the situation is completely different today. In past times, the distorted information circulated by the Armenian lobby took up more space, while today the world community is properly informed about the conflict. Everyone looking at the map can see that it is Azerbaijan that has been subjected to occupation.

We will continue to pursue a consistent policy related to this issue. Our principled position remains unchanged. We will not step away from this position. The conflict must be resolved only within the territorial integrity of our country, the decisions and resolutions of the relevant international organizations must be implemented.

We will continue to pay great attention to the social sphere because it should be a priority for any country, including us. Even though wages and pensions have been increased several times in recent years, we will continue to take steps in this direction. Recently, a very large social package was adopted. These reforms were announced after last year’s presidential election. A very serious social initiative was launched at the beginning of this year. The decisions made cover three million people and the financial situation of these citizens is improving.

However, I believe that we will continue to take resolute steps in this direction because the social well-being of our citizens is our highest priority. Of course, this is connected with economic development because social programs cannot be implemented without economic development and financial opportunities. Therefore, a lot of attention is being paid to reforms in the economic sphere today, and these reforms are already yielding results. The result is that our budget revenues are growing. Since the beginning of this year, budget revenues have increased significantly – by hundreds of millions of manats. This creates additional opportunities for us to transfer this growth primarily to the social sphere.

Solution of problems related to unemployment is an issue that is always on our agenda because, although 2 million jobs have been created since 2003, there is still unemployment. It is true that in comparison with other countries the rate of unemployment in Azerbaijan is very low. Nevertheless, we believe that steps should continue to be taken in this direction in the future. Since the beginning of this year, about 50,000 jobs have been created in the public sector alone. Of course, we are well aware that jobs should first be created in the private sector, and they are being created in the private sector. The government supports the private sector and encourages it to do so.

Unemployment is a problem inherent in any country. The solution of this issue requires great effort. We are making these efforts and achieving the result. But it is also necessary to remember that the population of Azerbaijan has increased by 1.7 million people over the past 15 years. Measures related to unemployment should be taken on a regular basis. This issue is always on the agenda and we are seriously dealing with that.

There is information warfare in the world today. Everyone can see that clearly. Azerbaijan is a country that has been the target of information attacks for many years. Distorted and false information, conjured-up facts and fictitious news about our country have gained momentum. We must adequately respond to this and communicate our realities to the world. Most of the attacks against us are launched by the Armenian lobby and their allies – some local groups calling themselves opposition.

Their goal is to tarnish Azerbaijan, spread distorted and false information about our country. This is one of the types of information warfare. By our policies, we are smashing and should continue to smash all this lie and slander to smithereens, because Azerbaijani realities show that our country is confidently and rapidly developing. From my experience as President, frequent contacts with foreign visitors and meetings with guests visiting Azerbaijan for the first time, I can say that I have seen their genuine surprise: they did not know that Azerbaijan is such a developed country. We did not know that the situation in Azerbaijan is so good, that you have such clean, tidy and beautiful cities. The public mood is positive. People support the government. In other words, why were they surprised? Because a focused campaign was always conducted against us! The goal is to discredit Azerbaijan, to strike a blow to our development and to undermine the traditional foundations of our society. We cannot and will not allow this to happen because we are on the path of independence. We have made our choice. We are building a strong state, a state that rests on national and spiritual values.

Therefore, one of their aims is to undermine our national values and traditions. They are trying to undermine them, to undermine the development of our country. Azerbaijani people are well aware of that. They should know that we live in the conditions of information warfare and should be ready for this. We can win this war only with our deeds and with our determination.

We face many challenges. The most important of them is that Azerbaijan should pursue an independent policy. Our people can develop only in the conditions of independence. We have been deprived of independence for centuries and could not make our choice. Today we are happy to live as an independent country, as a free people because our destiny is in our own hands.

Protection and strengthening of our independence are our top priorities. Established in 1918, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic lasted only 23 months. The independent Republic of Azerbaijan is the successor of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, and we have ensured and implemented its intentions. I am confident that our development along the path of independence will be sustainable and successful, and the state independence of Azerbaijan will be eternal! Thank you!"

The official reception continued with a concert.

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