BAKU INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN FORUM GET`S AN IMPRESSIVE WELCOMING SPEECH FROM AZERBAIJAN PRESIDENT-ILHAM ALIYEV
Speech by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev at the III-rd BAKU INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN FORUM-2013
Dear ladies and gentlemen!
I warmly welcome you all to Azerbaijan and say to you – you are welcome! The Third Baku International Humanitarian Forum starts today. It is a great event. It is a very significant development in the life of our country. I should note that this forum has already become a wonderful tradition. I remember addressing the opening ceremony of the Second Forum last year and expressing hope that the third, fourth, fifth and more forums would be held in Baku. I see that this has already become a reality. This suggests that great attention is being paid to issues of international cooperation. These issues should always be in the spotlight because humanitarian and cultural cooperation are the factors that unite peoples and countries.
The Forum attracts huge interest. It brings together about 800 guests from 70 countries. We can say that our guests today include the intellectual elite of much of the world.
Azerbaijan has always been keen on humanitarian cooperation. This issue is always in the spotlight. I believe that our country has already accumulated great experience in this field.
Today, along with political, economic and energy issues, Baku is venue for high-level discussions on humanitarian issues. I should note that Azerbaijan has hosted prestigious international events, summits and international conferences on various topics in recent years. Baku has turned into a center of international cooperation. This year, for the first time in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, Baku has hosted the Davos World Economic Forum and a meeting the Club of Madrid. The Forum on Intercultural Dialogue has been held twice. The Baku International Humanitarian Forum also has a special place in this series. I am sure that the discussions and exchanges of views to be conducted within the framework of the Forum will contribute to international humanitarian cooperation.
The fact that such events are held in Azerbaijan is probably natural, because representatives of all nationalities and religions have lived in Azerbaijan in peace, tranquility and brotherhood at all times. Regardless of the public and political system here, Azerbaijan has always been a place of tolerance. Today, independent Azerbaijan builds its policy on this solid foundation.
Today, there is a multiethnic and multi-religious society in Azerbaijan. This is our great treasure and asset. We are cherishing and will continue to cherish this treasure. The historical monuments of all ethnicities and religions are protected and restored in Azerbaijan. We have restored an ancient Zoroastrian temple in Azerbaijan. The oldest church in the Caucasus is also located in Azerbaijan. It has also been renovated. The Shamakhi Juma Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the world, has been overhauled. It is 1270 years old. In other words, restoration and protection of the monuments of all religions are part of the national policy. Of course, this beautiful and historical experience accumulated in Azerbaijan manifests itself in the modern world. I believe that the development of civil society, the development of international relations in a positive direction is our greatest achievement.
I would like to note once again that it is no coincidence that issues related to humanitarian cooperation are discussed in Baku. I am confident that the Forum will have a bright future and this platform for international cooperation will have a positive impact on the positive developments taking place in the world.
The Forum has a very broad agenda and very interesting topics will be discussed. But I am told that the biggest interest is on the “round table” on issues related to multiculturalism. I can say that this theme is at the center of the Forum’s attention, as it requires constant attention and there are different opinions on this topic in the world. Of course, there is both positive and negative experience. I believe that our common cause must consist in highlighting and promoting the positive side of multiculturalism and eliminating discrimination taking place in the world in connection with this topic.
Multiculturalism is a state policy in Azerbaijan. I should note that this is also dictated by our past. At the same time, multiculturalism is a way of life in Azerbaijan. In our daily life, we act on the basis of these principles. These principles are supported and protected by an absolute majority of society.
President of Azerbaijan proudly states: the intellectual elite of much of the world is assembled at Baku International Humanitarian Forum
There is no alternative to multiculturalism in the 21st century. Of course, in the 21st century world we can’t remain indifferent to such negative trends as discrimination, xenophobia and Islamophobia.
Therefore, I believe that the formation of multicultural societies and the promotion of these ideas should be part of every responsible politician’s and public figure’s activities.
Unfortunately, in some cases we hear other opinions. Some suggest that multiculturalism has no future. In a number of countries there is a very pessimistic mood on this issue. I believe that we need to conduct our analysis on the basis of the positive experience existing in the world and promote this positive experience because there are many addresses of multiculturalism in the world. Most countries have multiethnic societies. The coexistence of different religions and different peoples is the requirement of the time. In other words, mankind is developing in this direction. Today, human values form the basis of any normal society. Under such circumstances, the problems associated with multiculturalism, of course, should be openly discussed. We should not hush up these problems.
They should be openly discussed. It is necessary to analyze the positive and negative experience. I want to say once again that our main goal should consist in contributing to the development of multicultural societies. I can say that the experience accumulated in Azerbaijan in this direction is positive. As I said, this is our state policy and a way of life.
I believe that the holding of the Humanitarian Forum in Baku is an estimate of the positive aspects of this experience. At the same time, I have to say that, unfortunately, Azerbaijan is faced with a humanitarian disaster. For many years, our internationally recognized lands have been under occupation. The ancestral lands of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts, are under the occupation of Armenian occupying forces. We have been confronted with a policy of ethnic cleansing. More than a million Azerbaijanis have become refugees and IDPs in their native land. Twenty per cent of our lands are under occupation. All of our cultural heritage, historical and religious monuments in the occupied territories have been destroyed.
International organizations, in particular the OSCE, have sent two fact-finding missions to the occupied regions, and their reports explicitly state that everything is destroyed there. International organizations have reflected their principled position on this issue in their documents. Four UN Security Council resolutions demand a withdrawal of the Armenian occupying forces from our occupied lands. The European Parliament, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Council of Europe and other organizations have adopted similar decisions and resolutions. But unfortunately, these decisions and resolutions are not fulfilled. Here we have to say a few words about the effectiveness of international organizations. Their decisions remain on paper and are not fulfilled. Of course, this is an unbearable fact. Sometimes, the decisions passed by international organizations are executed in a matter of a few hours. As for us, these resolutions have remained unfulfilled for more than 20 years.
Talks on the issue are under way and, of course, the internationally recognized territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be restored. More than a million refugees and displaced persons should be able to return to their native land. It is their fundamental right. This conflict also represents a flagrant violation of human rights. More than a million citizens of Azerbaijan can’t return to their native lands. This huge humanitarian catastrophe has certainly caused great damage to the overall development of our country.
The present-day development of Azerbaijan attracts even more attention because we have been able to achieve this development while our lands are under occupation. One of the topics of this forum is related to the humanitarian aspects of economic development.
In my view, this is a very interesting topic. Again, I think that the experience of Azerbaijan can prove very interesting because despite the fact that we have been subjected to ethnic cleansing, our lands are under occupation, there are more than a million refugees and displaced persons, and the government provides them with financial assistance and care, our economic development over the past 10 years has been the most rapid worldwide. Over the past 10 years, as a result of the reforms, the country’s economy has grown 3.4 times. This, if I may say so, is a world record. At the same time, Azerbaijan is paying great attention to social issues. After all, radical economic reforms often lead to a worsening of the standard of living. Azerbaijan, as a country that has experienced a period of transformation over the past 20 years, should of course defend itself from these risks.
Our independence is only 22 years old and we have lived as an independent and free country for 22 years. At the same time, Azerbaijan has been building its economy on market principles for only 20 years. Not only were we not independent – the economic system which existed in the Soviet Union could not function effectively, of course. Therefore, for us the transformation went in two directions. First of all, we had to establish and strengthen the foundations of statehood. We had to establish all democratic institutions and Azerbaijan had to integrate into the world community. At the same time, we had to carry out fundamental reforms in the economic sphere, because our development would be impossible without this. Of course, these reforms could adversely affect the standard of living of our people.
But our policy, the thought-out social policies contributed to the fact that the rapid economic development has also had a positive impact on the welfare of our people. To confirm that, I want to give you some figures. As I said, in 10 years our economy has grown 3.4 times. Budget revenues have increased 20 times, salaries nearly six times and pensions nine times.
Ten years ago, the level of poverty in Azerbaijan amounted to 49 per cent. As a result of the reforms carried out, it is only at 5.5 per cent today. Thanks to these reforms, we have created 1.2 million jobs in Azerbaijan in 10 years. Currently, the rate of unemployment in Azerbaijan is 4.8 per cent.
All this, of course, is the result of economic reforms. At the same time, all of this is directly related to the humanitarian sphere because citizens of Azerbaijan, their problems, concerns, safety and welfare are at the center of our policies.
Serious and consistent social policies have allowed us the opportunity to develop the country and improve the well-being of our people.
At the same time, our main objective in the economic sphere has been the growth of the non-oil economy. Today we have managed to achieve that. The non-oil sector dominates our gross domestic product. According to the rating the Davos World Economic Forum on economic competitiveness, the Azerbaijani economy is ranked 39th in the world. I think you would agree that for a country that has been living on the principles of a market economy for only 20 years this is a historic achievement.
I believe that social and humanitarian aspects of economic development should be a matter of particular interest for the development of any country. I think that it is necessary not only to conduct discussions on this issue, but also to provide recommendations. Sometimes the funds allocated for the solution of social issues give rise to economic problems in these countries. We see this through the manifestations of the ongoing global financial and economic recession. In many cases, the unrealistic and populist campaign promises of some politicians lead to economic problems.
At the previous forum I expressed my views on this matter and spoke about the responsibility of politicians. I believe that this issue will remain in the spotlight because populist promises and their subsequent implementation often lead to unnecessary borrowings. The national debt of some countries accounts for 100 per cent of their gross domestic product, perhaps even more. Countries that constantly borrow must repay their debt. In this case, they first of all try to repay this debt by cutting social programs and wages. Therefore, social and humanitarian aspects of economic development and the economic downturn have to be subjected to in-depth analysis. Our experience lies in the fact that in conducting economic reforms we rely only on our own resources. Therefore, our external debt amounts to only 7-8 per cent of the gross domestic product. We can repay this debt at any time because Azerbaijan’s currency reserves make up 70 per cent of the gross domestic product. We are among world leaders by this indicator too. I think that the use of domestic resources is the right policy.
We are conducting and will continue to conduct a very serious social policy. But the Azerbaijani economy is a source of that. Economic development must contribute to the solution of social issues. Of course, things must be properly coordinated because the development of each country should first of all be manifested in people’s way of life. And living standards grow and new opportunities emerge, the economy will certainly grow even faster. Azerbaijan has experience in this area. I think that it might be interesting for guests.
“Round tables” on scientific innovation will also be held on the sidelines of the Forum. Azerbaijan aims to be at the forefront in this area. The development of science paid much attention. An ad hoc Scientific Development Fund has been set up. Investment is made in high technology. In February of this year, Azerbaijan joined the club of space-faring nations, as the first Azerbaijani satellite was launched into orbit. Today, the Azerbaijani satellite Azerspace-1 serves our state and people. Currently, the focus is on the development of Internet technologies.
The Forum will also discuss topical issues of the media in the period of globalization. This “round table” also attracts a lot of attention. Of course, this is also a very interesting topic. I am aware that there are differing views on this topic. On the one hand, we live in an Internet world and this is our biggest advantages. I should note that the Internet in Azerbaijan is completely free, 70 per cent of our population are Internet users. Under such circumstances, the development of the free media, of course, is the basic condition. On the other hand, the impact of every word and piece of information in a globalizing world is also great. A word said in any place can have huge repercussions.
Today, people receive information and news primarily through the Internet. Of course, the responsibility of politicians, representatives of the media and public figures comes to the fore here. Unfortunately, the world media, including Azerbaijani, focus more on negative reports. Preference is given to sensationalism, disasters, acts of terrorism, etc. When you follow the media, it may seem that the world is on fire, that there are collisions, wars, explosions and acts of terrorism everywhere. But there are so many beautiful and positive developments in the world! Unfortunately, they usually stay in the background. Here, of course, we are talking about the responsibility of media representatives. If we want to strengthen our cooperation and the dialogue between civilizations in the world, we have to use all the opportunities available. Of course, the positive developments taking place in the world should also be the main topics of the media because otherwise information will be lop-sided. Of course, politicians can’t interfere in this. There are free media in Azerbaijan. There can be no talk of any intervention here. As a citizen, I wanted to share my thoughts with you.
The responsibility of the media will gradually grow. A responsible approach, I believe, will serve the interests of all of us.
I do hope that, in general, the Forum will conduct discussions on a conceptual approach to these issues. Which direction will the world develop in the future? We believe that the future of this world should be based solely on cooperation, mutual understanding, mutual respect and dialogue among civilizations. Otherwise, mankind could face huge disasters and problems. But in today’s world, we sometimes come across a different picture. There is a crisis of confidence in world politics these days. This is also a very dangerous trend. Sometimes even the closest allies have contradictions and misunderstandings. In other words, confidence is in decline. And international cooperation is out of the question without confidence. International cooperation, including political and humanitarian cooperation, can be built only on the basis of mutual trust and sincerity. Some believe that sincerity is not a political category. Maybe. But we have to make sure that sincerity becomes a political category. In this case, I think the world will be more secure.
We are very concerned about the conflicts and wars on religious grounds because these are very dangerous trends. The discussion of humanitarian issues and humanitarian cooperation are a step in a positive direction. I believe that every aspect of humanitarian cooperation should be at the heart of the global agenda because, I want to reiterate, in many cases when political and economic issues come to the fore remain somewhat out of sight. This should not be allowed to happen.
Issues of education will also be discussed today. Azerbaijan conducts serious reforms in this area.
The development of science and education is our future and the future of any nation. I have repeatedly pointed out that the future of our country will be associated with science and education. We are happy that there is a very high literacy rate in Azerbaijan – almost 100 per cent. This gives us the opportunity to improve the quality of education and develop science even faster. This is the future of any country. At the same time, competent and well-educated young people are far from radicalism. It is not easy to mislead them. Therefore, the development of science and education, the education of competent young people will provide for a long-term sustainable development of our country. Of course, our guests today represent many developed countries. They know best of all that the progress of developed countries was secured not by natural resources, but by science, scientific and technological progress and knowledge. This must be the case here too. Our natural resources have only given an impetus to the development of our country. The future sustainable development of Azerbaijan must be based on scientific and technological progress, modern technology, free and democratic society. Our country has taken major steps in this direction. Azerbaijan has implemented significant reforms aimed at promoting democracy, human rights and a free society. Political and economic reforms go in parallel in Azerbaijan.
I can say that the inaugural European Games will be held in Baku in two years. This, too, will be a historic event because European Games have not been held before. There have been Pan-American, Asian and African Games. The Olympic movement emerged and was revived in Europe, but for some reason European Games have never been held before.
The mission of hosting the first games, this honorable mission, has been entrusted to us, and Azerbaijan, a Muslim country, will play host to the first European Games in 2015. I believe that this event carries not only a sporting but also a great public meaning. Two years later, in 2017, Azerbaijan will host Islamic Solidarity Games.
These two events reflect the role of our country in the world. Azerbaijan is a member of both the Council of Europe and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, one of a handful of countries that are represented in both these organizations.
Our geographical location makes us a bridge between Asia and Europe. And our policy enhances this function.
Issues of humanitarian cooperation also turn Azerbaijan into a center of dialogue among civilizations. This is a great and honorable mission. At the same time, it is a big responsibility. We are ready for this responsibility, have taken on this responsibility and this forum is a good example of that. I am confident that the Forum participants will share their thoughts on all these topics. The upcoming discussions will be very interesting. I know that. I am confident that these discussions, the decisions to be made and our future joint activities will contribute to the development of international humanitarian cooperation in the world.
Once again I salute all of you and wish the Forum participants every success. I am confident that the Forum will be a major and successful event.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev
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