Dear ladies and gentlemen!
Distinguished guests, dear friends!
I sincerely salute all of you. The Second Baku International Humanitarian Forum is beginning its work today. All the guests attending the forum are our dear guests. I am sure that the meetings due today and tomorrow, the ongoing discussions will be very valuable, you will hear new ideas, and thus new opportunities for humanitarian cooperation will emerge. I am very pleased that we have further strengthened these positive trends since the first forum. In fact, the organization of the second forum suggests that the first forum was very successful.
I am sure that the third, fourth and fifth forums will be held in the future, we have already created this wonderful tradition. There is a great need for that because the results of the first forum, the decisions made, the declaration adopted reflect our shared vision for the future. And this vision is that we should strive to ensure that all people of the world live together. We must strive to increase the trend of mutual understanding, prevent confrontation on religious and ethnic grounds. On the contrary, cooperation trends should be further strengthened. I do hope that the outcome of the second forum will also be positive.
Thus, a new format associated with humanitarian issues is emerging on a global scale.
The fact that the International Humanitarian Forum is held in Baku is no coincidence. Azerbaijan has for centuries been a place of confluence of cultures. Over the centuries, representatives of various nations and religions have lived in Azerbaijan like one family, in an atmosphere of peace, harmony and understanding. These positive trends are continuing. I am sure that these trends will be even stronger in the future and Azerbaijan will continue its successful development.
In 2008, the Baku process began. The Baku process began with the participation of representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in a meeting of Culture Ministers of the Council of Europe in Baku in 2008. This positive experience contributed to the start of the Baku process. Since then, other international events have been held and, finally, the Baku international forum emerged as a forum. And now this process is well under way.
I think Azerbaijan’s experience in the field of multiculturalism is very interesting for all of us.
Multiculturalism is one of the topics of the forum. I am sure that some valuable ideas will be expressed and discussions held on this topic. The ideas about the positive future of multiculturalism are important and necessary. I believe that Azerbaijan’s experience is very significant and valuable for promoting multiculturalism. Because, I repeat, multiculturalism is our way of life.
Although it is a relatively new concept, multiculturalism has been part of our people’s lives for centuries. For centuries, representatives of different religions and nationalities have lived in Azerbaijan like one family.
Azerbaijan has never had and I am sure never will have confrontations and disagreements on religious or ethnic grounds.
Different views on multiculturalism are expressed in the world lately. Some believe that multiculturalism has failed, that it has no future. We believe that it has a present and future. We all have to work hard to strengthen the trends of multiculturalism.
One of the goals of the Baku International Humanitarian Forum is precisely to increase multiculturalism trends.
There is no alternative to multiculturalism. At the previous forum I also expressed my views about this. I can reiterate with full confidence that multiculturalism is the most viable option for future development.
Because the alternative to multiculturalism is isolation. I don’t think that in the 21st-century globalizing world any country would want to build its future on the basis of self-isolation. So the ideas to be voiced at the forum, in particular on this subject, will be a valuable contribution to our common cause. We must strive to ensure that people of the world cooperate with each other, enhance mutual understanding and avoid confrontation. Certain steps, statements and actions of provocative nature face response, which leads to confrontation and mistrust. We see this both in our region and elsewhere. So I think it is the responsibility of politicians and public figures, representatives of civil society and the media to highlight the positive trends and experiences. We must work on the basis of this positive experience. I believe that if this approach prevails, the world will be more secure and the relations between peoples will be more positive and sound.
In order to successfully address all the issues I have mentioned, an important role, of course, is played by the level of education, especially in underdeveloped countries. We in Azerbaijan pay great attention to this area. Azerbaijan has no illiteracy, an intellectual elite is emerging, science and education are rapidly developing. Education is a factor leading any society forward. The intellectual potential today and especially in the future will determine the development of any country.
There are countries rich in natural resources. But because of a low intellectual level these countries can’t achieve sustainable development. Therefore, we in Azerbaijan have designed programs to transform our natural resources into the intellectual potential. The principle of “turning black gold in the human capital” we proclaimed earlier is working well. A young and talented intellectual stratum is emerging in Azerbaijan. We can see that when there is a modern approach, there is development and the tendency to progress. Countries with a high level of education rarely experience negative events, struggle is conducted in a civilized manner. Now we can see growing public discontent in different parts of the world. Sometimes this discontent manifests itself in very convex forms, leads to confrontation, war, bloodshed. And where the level of education and general culture is high, it is of peaceful nature. We must strive to ensure, and we do that in Azerbaijan, that cultural and civilized ways of struggle prevail.
We need this, the region needs this. Because we live in this region, we don’t live on an island. Although everything in Azerbaijan is evolving in a positive direction – in the economic sphere, in the sphere of political reform, in humanitarian issues – we still live in this region and the problems of the region are very important for us. We need to prevent any negative trends to the maximum extent possible, to ensure that any protests are of civilized nature. I know that education will be one of the topics of the forum. This area, of course, should be given special attention.
Azerbaijan is a relatively young independent state. Our independence is only 21 years old. But Azerbaijan is a country with a rich cultural heritage. Our cultural heritage is duly protected by the state, by international organizations. Although we were part of other countries for many years, we have managed to preserve our national features and qualities, did not lose our national identity, and our culture has been the key prerequisite for that.
We have literature, art, music, native language, national values. Our national values are based on human values. I believe that national and spiritual values play and should play a special role in a globalizing world, particularly for the younger generation.
We in Azerbaijan attach great importance to that, but I should also say that respect for other cultures, religions and history must begin with respect for one’s own culture, history and religion. At the same time, people not attached to their homeland and far from patriotism can’t perceive the people of other cultures. Sometimes their disrespect for other cultures is based on contempt for their own. Therefore, this issue should be given special attention in a globalizing world. We are living in a period of rapid scientific and technological progress. New technologies, the Internet and other technologies are, of course, very important to us and Azerbaijan has made great progress in that. In Azerbaijan, the Internet is free, the number of Internet users has reached 65 per cent of the population. At the same time, we want the younger generation to grow up and be educated in the national spirit, patriotic spirit, the spirit of respect for our history and culture. So, I think this will play a positive role for peace and the processes ongoing in the world.
Other areas of the humanitarian field are also of great importance. For example, sometimes we see sports-related issues only as a sporting event. But the truth is that it is difficult to find another event of such significance that would unite people as much as the Olympic Games.
The Olympic Games bring together all nations, all people. They are both a competition and a symbol of friendship and understanding. Sometimes representatives of warring countries compete with each other in a sporting arena, shake hands, congratulate each other on victory. Unfortunately, we can see it only during Olympic Games. Thus, the factor of sport plays a very important role in enhancing the dialogue between cultures and we in Azerbaijan pay great attention to this area. In most cases, the struggle in sport is conducted by the rules and this is probably the main factor that distinguishes sports from politics.
I want to say a few words about the responsibility of politicians. I believe that underlying some of the painful and worrying developments unfolding in the world are irresponsible politicians. This lack of responsibility is manifested in different forms.
There are instances when provocative statements by some politicians incite insufficiently educated people to resort to aggression. On the other hand, unrealistic promises, populist speeches of politicians and social initiatives not based on real economic fundamentals cause fair resentment in society. Perhaps this is one of the main causes of the financial and economic crisis. Unrealistic promises, populist tendencies of excessive borrowing are a key contributor to the financial and economic crisis.
In the humanitarian sphere too, the responsibility of politicians is very important. Because in the Internet era, in a globalizing world, any word spoken in any part of the world immediately reverberates. Therefore, politicians should be more responsible, be aware of this responsibility. In this case the degree of tension in the world will subside.
Speaking about humanitarian issues, I want to say a few words about our most disturbing problem of course.
Azerbaijan has been faced with a humanitarian catastrophe for 20 years. For 20 years, the internationally recognized ancestral lands of Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding seven districts have been under Armenian occupation.
This occupation continues. Azerbaijanis have been subjected to a policy of ethnic cleansing. All the Azerbaijanis have been driven out of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding districts. Currently, the world’s biggest number of refugees per capita is registered in Azerbaijan. We have over a million refugees and IDPs who can’t return to their homes because of the ongoing Armenian aggression.
Our people have seen great tragedies. The Khojaly genocide was perpetrated when a massacre was unleashed against innocent people, including women and children. The Armenians have destroyed our cultural monuments. So a genocide has been committed against our people and against our culture. Those who carried out this genocide, this crime have yet to be adequately condemned by the international community. True, international organizations, the world’s leading international organizations have passed many decisions and resolutions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But, unfortunately, there is no mechanism for enforcing these decisions and resolutions. This leads to reducing respect, lost of faith in the decisions of these international organizations.
Twenty years ago the UN Security Council passed four resolutions on an unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian forces from the occupied Azerbaijani lands. None of them has been executed. All the other reputable international organizations, such as the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, NATO, etc., have also adopted similar resolutions. Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is recognized by the international community.
But the conflict remains unresolved. The main reason is that Armenia is interested in maintaining the status quo. But they have to realize that the status quo can’t remain unchanged, it will be changed and we want it to happen soon and peacefully.
Because we have already started playing a stabilizing role in the region and, of course, strive to ensure that the stability of the region is not compromised. But on the other hand, it is impossible to come to terms with occupation.
So I believe that it is time to resolve the conflict. Armenia must fully comply with international law and resolutions of international organizations and unconditionally withdraw from the occupied lands. In this case, real peace and cooperation can be achieved in the region.
Despite this problem, our country has covered a long and successful road in the years of independence. The political reform carried out in Azerbaijan has contributed to the emergence of a free society. There are all the freedoms in Azerbaijan, political reforms have successfully continued, there is democratic development. At the same time, our economic reforms further reinforce the political reform. Because the political reform without the economic basis may lead to failures, and we know that from history. Therefore, economic and political reforms are conducted in parallel in Azerbaijan. In the economic sphere – if we consider that one of the topics of the forum is economic issues – we have achieved great success in recent years.
I want to bring to your attention some figures. Over the past few years, Azerbaijan has been the fastest growing economy in the world. Over the last seven to eight years our economy has grown three times. The poverty rate has dropped from 49 to 7 per cent. We will try to make it even lower. The problem of unemployment has been practically resolved. Of course, there are still unemployed but their share is 5.4 per cent. Azerbaijan’s foreign debt amounts to only 7 per cent of the GDP. This suggests that by conducting economic reforms and initiatives, we built our work on internal resources. We didn’t borrow much. So we can fully repay our foreign debt at any time. I believe that Azerbaijan is in one of the leading places in the world in this respect.
Our steps towards economic diversification are paying off. As you know, Azerbaijan is a country rich in oil and gas. But our economic indices for the first six months of this year show that our non-oil sector grew by more than 10 per cent. So diversification is already a reality. There are all the possibilities for achieving long-term and sustainable economic development in the future. First of all, there is political will. There is also a strong financial situation.
Our energy and transport projects are of great importance not only for Azerbaijan and the region, but also for Europe. So we can already predict our future and see what Azerbaijan will be like in five to 10 years. As someone conducting this reform, I don’t see any problems. I am sure that our economic development will be stable and rapid.
With regard to social issues, the welfare of the people is improving, which is evidenced by the reduction of poverty. Social justice plays a major role in Azerbaijan, the principles of the market economy are the main mechanism of our development.
The private sector share in the GDP is currently 83 per cent. So in 21 years of our independence we have not only completed the transition and switched from a planned to a market economy. Due to our reforms we have also minimized the dependence of our economic development and the future of our citizens on the oil and gas factor.
We have ambitious plans regarding the application of scientific and technological progress and high technology in the coming years. We have a clear vision for the future. The modern independent state of Azerbaijan rests on a number of principles.
Among them, a very important place is occupied by the “strong state” concept. Because for the people who were deprived of independence and were part of other states for centuries, state institutions are of paramount importance. Additional measures will be taken to strengthen the foundations of statehood. A strong state is our national idea, a nationwide cause. Along with this, we have succeeded because of our domestic resources. I repeat that we have achieved all these successes without borrowing much, using our own resources. So this concept is very important for us. We are a nation attached to national, spiritual and religious values, we appreciate our values. At the same time, Azerbaijan is a secular state. Secular foundations of society and the state are strong. I believe that in the next few years the processes in this area will only go in a positive direction.
As I noted earlier, regardless of the socio-political system, Azerbaijan was home to different religions and peoples for centuries. It is still the case now. Representatives of all nations and religions live like one family in Azerbaijan, there is no and can’t be any discrimination. This is also one of the factors that epitomize modern Azerbaijan. I can say that our experience in this area is already causing interest in other countries.
The principles of social justice must be strengthened. In fact, the main reason for the negative events taking place in the world is social injustice. Economic reform must be accompanied by a strong social policy. If it is not, the fundamental economic reform can bring suffering. We have designed and are implementing very serious programs in the social sector. The improving welfare of our people suggests that the action taken in this area has also been successful.
Of course, at the heart and in the center of all our work is the human factor. I believe that this is the most important approach for any state. Everything is done for the people. Their freedom, security, health, employment and prosperous life is the responsibility of the state. I think we have achieved great success in this area too. Azerbaijani citizens live in a free society.
They have all the freedoms and work to multiply the power of the state.
Overall, there is a very positive atmosphere in society – an atmosphere of creation and development. Of course, there is a great need for international cooperation to enhance this positive trend.
Azerbaijan plays a role in enhancing the dialogue among civilizations. I am sure that this role will only grow in the future. There are natural reasons for that because we are located at the crossroads of continents. There are political reasons because it is our political conviction that has historical basis. Azerbaijan is a member of both the Council of Europe and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. There are several countries in the world that are members of both. Sometimes, when Azerbaijan is viewed from Europe, it is presented to the Europeans as an Asian country. And when we are viewed from Asia, we are portrayed as a European country.
So I can say that there is this synthesis, a synthesis of cultures in Azerbaijan. We can say that this is one of the factors contributing to our national identity. As a natural geographic bridge, we also strive to serve as a bridge in the humanitarian sphere. This is the main objective of the forum.
I want to reiterate that the results of the first forum, the discussions held last year really inspired us. I am sure that the results of this forum will also be positive. All the guests will express their valuable thoughts. This forum is attended by prominent political and public figures, Nobel prize winners, media representatives, academics. There are people from over 60 countries. I can say that the intellectual elite of the world will be expressing its valuable thoughts in Baku today and tomorrow.
Once again, I sincerely welcome you, dear guests. I know that some of our guests are in Azerbaijan for the first time. I am sure this visit will also be an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with our country and that you will remember this experience. I know that anyone visiting Baku at least once wants to come back to our city.
I welcome you again and wish you the forum success.