Dear ladies and gentlemen!
The Baku International Humanitarian Forum is beginning today. I want to warmly welcome all participants of the forum. Today’s forum brings together about 500 people from over 60 countries. So I say to all the guests: “You are welcome!”
The Forum is a very significant event. It has become a wonderful tradition. The forum is being held for the fourth time. This truly indicates that there is a great need for such discussions. The developments unfolding in the world and some issues of concern require that even more attention is paid to the humanitarian sphere. I am confident that the discussions and exchanges to be held within the framework of the forum will contribute to the deepening of the humanitarian cooperation. We in Azerbaijan are paying a lot of attention to this area. It is no coincidence that this forum is being held in Azerbaijan. I can say that at the moment this forum plays an exceptional role in the discussions and analyses of humanitarian issues in the world. Of course, this is exactly why interest in the forum is steadily growing. It has become an important format on the international arena.
We in Azerbaijan have always paid great attention to humanitarian aspects in the development of relations between the countries. This is necessitated by our historical past and our culture. Over the course of centuries, a multi-confessional and multicultural society has emerged in Azerbaijan, and these positive trends were further reinforced in the years of independence. All peoples in Azerbaijan live in an atmosphere of friendship and goodwill like one family. Azerbaijan has never experienced confrontations or misunderstandings on religious and ethnic grounds, and it is our greatest asset. The power of any country, of course, is determined by several factors – political opportunities, economic strength and, at the same time, the atmosphere in society, the sound environment and the sense of solidarity. I believe that from this point of view the experience of Azerbaijan is very positive, and by our work we are making a positive contribution to the processes ongoing in the world.
Multiculturalism is a way of life in Azerbaijan. It may be a relatively new term but over the course of centuries Azerbaijan has had a multicultural society. Clear evidence of this is the friendship and solidarity among peoples. We are still committed to ensuring that our initiatives have a positive impact on the processes taking place in the region and the world at large. It is no coincidence that the several initiatives put forward by Azerbaijan have already found their place in life and are now generating new opportunities. For example, it should be noted that the meeting of Culture Ministers of the Council of Europe held in Baku in 2008 was also attended by the Ministers of Culture of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. A joint meeting was held. It happened for the first time in history, and Azerbaijan made this initiative as a member of both the Council of Europe and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Then, we invited the Ministers of Culture of the Council of Europe to the meeting of the Ministers of Culture of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation held in Baku in 2009. So that initiative was called the “Baku process”. Today, the “Baku process” is very much alive and is developing. Baku has hosted forums on dialogue among civilizations. The Summit of religious leaders of the world was held on our initiative a few years ago, and the essence of the Baku International Humanitarian Forum is just that.
I am sure that the prominent statesmen, public figures, scientists, specialists and experts participating in the forum will share with us their interesting thoughts over these days, so we can jointly contribute to the humanitarian sphere. We will continue to make effort for the deepening of the humanitarian cooperation in the future. Of course, I believe it is no longer a secret that this forum will be held annually, so this format will live.
I should also note that even though we have always paid great attention to humanitarian cooperation and the solution of humanitarian issues, our people and state are faced with a humanitarian catastrophe. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan has been violated and an aggressive policy is conducted against us. The internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan is under Armenian occupation. As a result of the occupation, 20 per cent of our territory has been captured by the Armenians. More than a million of our fellow countrymen have become refugees and internally displaced persons. A policy of ethnic cleansing has been conducted against us. The Khojaly genocide has been perpetrated and hundreds of innocent people have become victims of this genocide.
More than 10 countries have officially recognized the Khojaly massacre as an act of genocide. In connection with this conflict, the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, all reputable international organizations have adopted resolutions and decisions. Four UN Security Council resolutions were adopted, demanding an unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian forces from the occupied territories. Unfortunately, these resolutions are not being executed. And here we are faced with a great injustice and double standards. We know only too well that in some cases UN Security Council resolutions are carried out in a matter of one day. Unfortunately, when it comes to the most important issue for us, these resolutions have remained on paper for more than 20 years. The OSCE, the European Parliament, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and other international organizations have adopted resolutions and decisions that support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. This format and this framework is the only way to resolve the conflict.
Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is recognized by the whole world and must be unconditionally restored. Our fellow countrymen affected by the occupation and expelled from their homes must return to their native lands despite the fact that there is no life there and everything is destroyed. The OSCE fact-finding and evaluation missions have been sent to the occupied lands twice, and their reports clearly state that everything is destroyed there. Our mosques, the tombs of our ancestors, our historical monuments have been desecrated and our museums have been looted. This is a great humanitarian disaster, and Azerbaijan has at its own expense done a great job of addressing this humanitarian issue, settling the IDPs and arranging for their employment, and this work is still in progress. Some of the displaced persons are still living in difficult conditions.
The Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict poses the biggest threat to the region. The soonest settlement of the conflict based on the norms and principles of international law will pave the way for regional peace and even greater development, and usher new opportunities for regional cooperation. Despite this difficult situation, the development of Azerbaijan has been sustainable. We have made great strides in recent years, including those in the humanitarian sphere. The humanitarian sphere is one of the priority areas for our government, and we are investing a lot in this sector. At the same time, I believe that humanitarian issues are also successfully addressed in Azerbaijan.
A lot of attention is paid to education. Over the past 10 years we have built around 3,000 new schools. Reforms are now under way to improve the quality of education. I believe that in the near future we will see the excellent results of these reforms. At the same time, Azerbaijani youngsters are sent by the state to study in higher educational institutions of the world, and they will certainly have their say in the development of our country in the future.
The issue of improving the healthcare system is also quite relevant. If we consider that the material and technical infrastructure of the healthcare system became completely unserviceable in the first years of independence, we invested heavily in it and created a modern health infrastructure. Over the past 10 years we have built and renovated more than 500 healthcare institutions, and today many of them meet the highest standards.
Our initiatives related to culture are also yielding fruit. Azerbaijan regularly hosts international events, festivals and competitions. Our historical monuments are being restored. A special program has been implemented. There are many ancient monuments in Azerbaijan. They are our national treasure. The state also restores religious monuments and builds new ones. I must note that the Shamakhi Juma Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the world, has undergone major overhaul. This mosque was built in Shamakhi in 743 and is one of the oldest mosques in the Muslim world. In the village of Kish of Shaki District there is the oldest church in the Caucasus. This church has also been restored. It is our national treasure. Orthodox churches, the Catholic church and synagogues have been repaired in Azerbaijan with support of the state. So this is our greatest asset, and I want to say again that a multicultural society, the inter-religious dialogue, friendship and brotherhood among peoples further strengthen our state. This creates a wonderful atmosphere in our society. I want to say again that this is also a government policy and order of society. So I think that we will successfully develop in this direction. I should also note that our experience in this area may be of interest to other countries.
At the same time, we pay great attention to the economic sphere. After all, if there is no strong economy, it will not be so easy to put forward humanitarian initiatives. Therefore, we wanted to ensure our economic independence, strengthen our state and, at the same time, create new opportunities for our compatriots living in harsh conditions. Our social policy is conducted in a focused manner. Over the past 10 years we have repeatedly raised pensions and wages. The rate of poverty has sharply reduced. In just 10 years, poverty has dropped from 49 to 5.3 per cent. We can say that the fight against poverty is nearing completion. I believe that over the next few years poverty will be completely done away with in Azerbaijan.
The fight against unemployment is also primarily of humanitarian nature. In recent years we have created more than 1,200,000 jobs and unemployment has sharply declined as well. It is less than 5 per cent now. In fact, migrants from other countries come to Azerbaijan in search of work. So this is underpinned by a sound policy. Economic development is very rapid. Over the past 10 years Azerbaijan has been the fastest growing country in the world in terms of economic development. All our economic indicators are positive. Over the past 10 years the economy has more than tripled. The foreign debt of the state is at a very low level – 8 per cent. Over the past 10 years budget revenues grew more than 20 times. Proper distribution of budget revenues, the implementation of social programs and infrastructure projects have facilitated the development of our country.
Of course, Azerbaijan is known in the world as an oil and gas country. This is our greatest wealth. But we know that in some countries this great wealth does not bring success. On the contrary, it creates problems, opens the way to war and stratification of society. In Azerbaijan, we are seeing quite the opposite. Our natural resources have had a positive impact on the lives of every individual. This is evidenced by the paved roads, hospitals, growing wages and improving cities. Azerbaijan has accumulated a unique experience in using oil revenues correct and converting the “black gold” into human capital – we have already achieved this. In the future, our economy will develop in a diversified manner. Today we are investing in new technologies. Today, Azerbaijan is a space-faring nation. We have joined the club of space countries.
We attach great importance to innovation, new technologies and the development of science. A science development fund has been set up. I can say that economic development, the social agenda and the attention paid to the humanitarian field have been the key contributors to Azerbaijan’s successful development in recent years. I think that by our economic projects we have made a positive impact on regional cooperation too. In many cases the ambitious regional energy and transport projects were initiated by Azerbaijan, which assumed the main economic risks. I can say that all our initiatives, our projects related to the economy, energy and transport have been successful. There has never been and I am sure never will be a failure.
At present, Azerbaijan is an economically independent country. We pursue an independent foreign political course. This policy is supported by most countries of the world. To visually confirm these words, I want to say that a few years ago Azerbaijan was elected a member of the UN Security Council. The UN Security Council is the most authoritative body in the world, and the newly independent state of Azerbaijan became a member of this prestigious organization with the support of 155 countries. So this is also a reflection of our role in the world and of our independent foreign policy. The vast majority of the international community believes in us and supported us with their votes.
I think that if each country pursues an independent foreign policy, there will be less war and misunderstanding in the world. All countries should respect others. Each country should respect the choice of other countries – both on the international plane and in the field of interreligious dialogue, in the humanitarian sphere. All this is interconnected. People come here from over 60 different countries, but we get together and hold discussions. We try to find a way to direct the processes ongoing in the world primarily in a positive direction. The processes ongoing today are very alarming. Both in the Muslim world and in Europe there is a growing trend of radicalism, discrimination and racism. We see these trends and anxiously follow them.
During these days in Baku, we will try to find out what needs to be done to eliminate these trends. This is the main question because we are talking about a dialogue between civilizations. But at the same time we are disappointed by some statements that multiculturalism has crashed and has no future. These are very dangerous statements. I should note that there is no alternative to multiculturalism in the modern world. The vast majority of countries in the world are multinational. If multiculturalism has crashed, then what can become an alternative to it? And the answer is also very clear. It is discrimination, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. We must speak out against these perilous trends. Of course, this should first of all be done by the states. But at the same time, the policy of states is increasingly determined by the political, public and academic elite of every society, the public opinion. Not a single head of state or government can ignore public opinion. So I believe that we must work together to talk about these issues. We must express our views on issues of concern to us and, if necessary, provide feedback. We, as partners and friends, have to express our views on these issues. We in Azerbaijan are trying to develop regional cooperation in this region, to further improve the relationships between nations and to reinforce the dialogue between religions. We have the capacity to do that because our past, as I said, allows us the opportunity to treat these issues with great care. We know about these issues. Azerbaijan itself is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. Besides, representatives of different religions lived together in Azerbaijan in the past. As I said, as a member of both the Council of Europe and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, we have taken on this mission. We want to see even more cooperation and understanding. We continue to see our role in this.
We are also very concerned about the negative developments unfolding in the Muslim world. After all, we are a part of the Muslim world. Today, wars, clashes and bloody stand-offs are practically destroying countries. This is a very serious process. We cannot view this process in isolation. In today’s world we are all connected to each other. At the same time, the worsening attitudes towards migrants on the European continent, the statements such as “multiculturalism has crashed” and the fact that political forces inclined to discrimination are gaining a growing number of votes should, of course, disturb all of us. Let me say again that this forum also pursues this goal. I believe that in the modern world Azerbaijan has a unique role from geographical and humanitarian perspectives. We are a country located between Europe and Asia, on the ancient Silk Road. We understand Europe very well and are also a part of the Muslim world. We strive to ensure that the dialogue among civilizations, the humanitarian dialogue becomes even stronger and intensifies.
Of course, the discussions will focus on these issues. I am sure that the discussions will be very successful. To confirm what I have said, I should note that many initiatives not only in the humanitarian but also in other areas have been successful.
Two years ago Azerbaijan successfully conducted the most representative song contest of Europe and perhaps even the world – the “Eurovision”. All the guests were very pleased. Next year Baku will host the inaugural European Games – they are unofficially called European Olympics. This is a very significant event because games of the Olympic level have not been held in Europe before. Azerbaijan put forward its candidacy and the European Olympic family showed great confidence in us.
In 2017, Islamic Solidarity Games will also be held in Baku. Over the course of just two years, both European and Islamic games will be held in Azerbaijan. This is also a confirmation of my words. This is our role, and we aspire to unite peoples. I also want to note that a very important and historic decision was made last month – the 2020 European Football Cup will be held in Baku too. Only 13 cities of Europe were selected and one of them is Baku. This is what the present-day Azerbaijan is like. We are a member of the European family, we are a member of the Muslim family, and we are showing that this is possible. One does not and should not reject the other. Undergoing a process of development, our country shows that when there are strong and thought-out policies and positive trends in society, one can achieve great success.
Dear guests, let me welcome you once again. I know that among the guests there are people who are already familiar with our country. There are also those who have come here for the first time. I am sure that this forum will be very interesting for you. You will share your valuable thoughts and, at the same time, become more familiar with our country.
I wish the forum success. Thank you!