Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
First of all I would like to greet all our guests. Almost 200 guests from 80 countries representing more than 100 leading news agencies of the world from five continents gathered in Baku for the 5th News Agencies World Congress.
It is a big honor for us to host this important global event. I am sure that our guests will not only discuss important issues on the agenda, but will also be able to know more about Azerbaijan, see the development of the country, which is modern, dynamic, and which has great potential for the future. We consider hosting this event in Azerbaijan also as a sign of appreciation of the activity and achievements of the country in developing the independent media. This is one of the priorities for our government. I think that the achievements in the 25 years of independence show that we managed to provide freedom of media as well as other fundamental freedoms.
Today in Azerbaijan there are almost 40 daily, more than 200 weekly and monthly newspapers, 10 nationwide, one satellite, 13 regional, 70 cable TV. Azerbaijan is a country with a completely free internet. More than 75 per cent of our population are internet users. The country`s population is close to 10 million people. There are two million social media users in Azerbaijan. These figures show that development of the free media in Azerbaijan was very successful. We achieved our goal and along with political and economic reforms one of the areas of transformation for our country during these 25 years was also the reforms in the area of democratic development.
Last month we celebrated the 25th anniversary of restoration of our independence. The first Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan was established almost a hundred years ago in 1918. Unfortunately the first Democratic Republic lived only two years. But these two years were important as they laid down the foundation for democratic development of our nation. Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was the first democratic republic in the Muslim world. One of the achievements of that republic was that women were granted the right to vote much long before many European countries.
In 1991 our independence was restored and we had to live our own life. We had to build the country, we had to establish political institutions, modernize our economy, find our place on the world map. These years demonstrated that the people of Azerbaijan achieved main targets. Azerbaijan today is a country with good reputation on the international arena. Only one fact is worth to mention to demonstrate this – several years ago Azerbaijan was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, the highest international body. We got that seat with support of 155 countries. So the absolute majority of the international community, even countries which do not have very active political contacts with Azerbaijan, supported our candidacy.
That was a sign of support, that was a sign of appreciation of our activity, our international behavior as a responsible, reliable, reasonable partner. This support was generated by the fact that Azerbaijan is a country with independent foreign policy, which is aimed at broadening regional and international cooperation. Our foreign policy is based on our national interests and is not aimed against anyone. But at the same time Azerbaijan is a country with dignity, our future is in our hands. Therefore these factors along with, of course, rapid economic and political development of Azerbaijan played the most important role in getting this huge international support. We actively work in different international organizations. In all these organizations we promote the values of justice and international law.
Azerbaijan is one of the few countries of the world which is a member of both the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Council of Europe. In both organizations Azerbaijan enjoys a very high level of support. It was our initiative for the first time in the world back in 2008 to organize a meeting of ministers of culture of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Council of Europe in Baku. That was a first historic meeting. It contributed to the development of cooperation between these two organizations, and a broader movement was called Baku Process. We are proud of that. We think our achievement in this area is highly appreciated in the world.
We initiated that not only because we are members of these two organizations, but because our history, our traditions, multicultural development of our nation is a good example of how relations between different countries, between civilizations, different religions can be properly planned and organized. Azerbaijan is a good example of multiculturalism. By the way, this year was declared a year of multiculturalism in our country. It is our state policy. At the same time it is a sign of general, common mood in our society.
We organize numerous international events. Among them are the annual Baku humanitarian forum, intercultural dialogue forum. This year we hosted the 7th UN Global Forum of Alliance of Civilizations. An important sign of our achievements in this area was a recent visit this September by head of the Roman Catholic Church Pope Francis to Azerbaijan and his statements about multiculturalism and our achievements. He visited a Catholic church, an Azerbaijani mosque. He met with representatives of leaders of all the religious communities in Azerbaijan. He delivered a message from Baku, from this hall, to the world about the values of intercultural and interreligious dialogue.
We consider this as one of the achievements especially in today`s world where we unfortunately see confrontations based on religious and ethnic grounds. We see tragedies, we see sufferings of people just because of their nationality or religious roots. And these are very concerning developments. Therefore we propose our own agenda – agenda of multiculturalism, which has not failed. I think the example of Azerbaijan proves that.
We propose agenda of cooperation, mutual understanding. These are positive trends. So our role in this respect, of course, is mainly based on our traditions and needs of our country because Azerbaijan is a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional country. All the representatives of different ethnic groups and religions live in peace and dignity in Azerbaijan. At the same time this is a message to the world because we are not an isolated island, but we live in a neighborhood. Therefore we are interested in this, it is our legitimate interest to see positive developments in this area in the region and in the world.
Among the problems that we have faced for many years since we became independent is occupation by Armenia of a historical and legal part of Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh is a historical part of Azerbaijan. The name Karabakh is of Azerbaijani origin. Today it is under occupation. Not only Nagorno-Karabakh, which used to be an autonomous district of Azerbaijan during the Soviet time, but also seven other districts of Azerbaijan are under Armenian occupation.
This occupation lasts for more than 20 years. As a result of this occupation more than a million Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced persons. Our people were subjected to ethnic cleansing by Armenia. Today almost 20 per cent of the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan is under Armenian occupation. All the leading international organizations adopted right decisions and resolutions, including UN Security Council, which adopted four resolutions demanding immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops from the territory of Azerbaijan in the beginning of the 1990s. But they are not implemented. Armenia just ignores these resolutions and shows its ignorance to the whole international community. There should be very serious discussions and steps with respect to elaboration of the mechanism of implementation of resolutions of the UN Security Council. At the same time, from a political point of view, there should be unified methods of implementation of resolutions because in some cases, we see it often, resolutions of United Nations are implemented within days. But in our case it is more than 20 years. This is unacceptable, this is a sign of double standards towards Azerbaijan. We need to put an end to occupation.
Other international organizations like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, European Parliament, Non-Alignment Movement, and others adopted similar decisions and resolutions which remain on paper. All our historic monuments, our graves, mosques were destroyed by Armenians.
The OSCE twice sent fact-finding missions to the occupied territories, and the report of the OSCE shows that. Here in Baku you can visit an Armenian church which is under state protection and was renovated. But in the occupied territories of Nagorno-Karabakh and other districts , all our mosques were destroyed by Armenia. The conflict must be resolved as soon as possible, and resolution must be based on the international law and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Territorial integrity of Azerbaijan has the same value as territorial integrity of any other country. We hear all the time about the similar conflicts in the post-Soviet area that they must be resolved based on territorial integrity of countries. And the same should be applied to Azerbaijan.
Despite this huge political, economic and social burden, Azerbaijan develops. We are very committed to our development. We need to build a stronger country, we need to implement all our social promises , diversify economy, and to be stronger because unfortunately international law is violated on many occasions. There are no political mechanisms to force the aggressor to stop the aggression. Therefore we concentrated largely on development, economic development of the country. I think our achievements are very impressive.
Today Azerbaijan is a modern, developing, self-sufficient country with strong, diversified economy, with a very high level of social protection. All our economic programs were implemented, some of them even before the schedule. Azerbaijan`s economy grew more than three times over the last 13 years. We managed to cope with poverty which is now at the level of five per cent and unemployment, which is almost the same level.
Reliable international organizations have a very high ranking for Azerbaijan. For instance, Davos World Economic Forum ranks Azerbaijan 37th with respect to competitiveness of economy, which is one of the leading positions in the world. This shows that our economy is competitive first, diversified, and is not based on one source which is energy. Therefore further diversification of economy, economic reforms will create more opportunities for sustainable development of our country in the future. I am sure that Azerbaijan will become only stronger and stronger in the coming years.
We demonstrate a lot of efforts in order to create a broad regional cooperation based on shared mutual interests, particularly in the area of energy and transportation. Our initiatives already bring good results. Energy projects initiated by Azerbaijan in mid 1990s already brought a lot of prosperity to our region. We were the first country to connect huge energy resources of Caspian Sea with international markets. Connection between Caspian Sea, Black Sea, Mediterranean by a diversified pipeline system was one of the main achievements of Azerbaijan.
Today we work on a global energy project, which is called Southern Gas Corridor, which will allow us to be a reliable exporter of natural gas to many countries. The cost of this project is around 45 billion dollars. Azerbaijan plays a leading role in implementation of this project. Today we already established a very close cooperation between seven member countries of the project, and more countries will join in the coming years. This will allow us to satisfy our demands, to become a big gas exporter. It will allow transit countries and consumers to have additional sources of energy which all the countries need to develop their economy and industry.
Our energy policy is based on national interests and also cooperation. I think that in this area too Azerbaijan demonstrates a very responsible approach based, as I said before, on shared interests. Only in this case we can achieve our goal. All the members of the project must have their share of profit interest. We consider energy cooperation as an area which can unite, not alienate.
I think achievements in this area are already worth to be examined. The same can be applied to our initiatives to create reliable transportation corridors. Our geographic location is advantageous, but without infrastructure this location does not mean a lot. Therefore our efforts were aimed at establishing the regional cooperation on the areas of transportation, particularly East-West corridor, which is almost complete. And we already have some testing cargo trains crossing Azerbaijan from Asia to Europe. And North-South corridor, which is under implementation. Azerbaijan took very important measures and made steps in implementation of this corridor. If you look at the map, you will see that both these corridors will generate a lot of additional activity. It will stimulate growth, stimulate industrial development. It will allow companies and countries to export their goods saving time. For companies who send their cargo South-North and East-West corridors will save at least a two weeks` time.
This requires investments, of course. And we invest, and also provide financial assistance to other partners in order to implement this project. This is aimed, again, at regional cooperation, predictability, and also, of course, economic benefits, and security because without security in the region none of the projects which I mentioned can be implemented. Security concerns are growing because situation around us becomes more and more tense. New sources of concern, new threats, bloodshed, confrontation, wars – all this is of big concern.
Our policy has always been aimed at reduction of risks. I think what we have today in Azerbaijan demonstrates that this is a right policy not only for our country, but also for the region.
Of course, talking about 25 years of independence we need also to mention our efforts in social protection area, creation of social infrastructure. One of the main areas of social projects was resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons. 250,000 were provided with new apartments and flats. We also invested largely in educational infrastructure. More than 3,000 schools were built in Azerbaijan. We can be proud that Azerbaijan is a country with hundred percent literacy. This will allow us to develop because development in the modern world is not based on natural resources, it is based on knowledge, technology, education. Therefore we are trying, and I think we manage, to transform natural resources, wealth into human capital. Education always was and is one of our top priorities.
Talking about Azerbaijan, of course, I would like to mention the international events, which we organize, and which are also aimed at partnership and friendship. Azerbaijan is a host country for many important international events. Among them I would like to mention two sporting events which just go beyond sports. The first was the inaugural European Games, which were organized in Baku last year. It was symbolic from two points of view. The first is that never before the European Games were held unlike other continental games. And the second is that the first European Games were held in the Muslim country. This was a very important sign of mutual understanding. I am grateful to our European partners for selecting Azerbaijan as the host country for the first European Games , which were held on the level of Summer Olympic Games. That was a real festival of unity and friendship.
And next year we will host Islamic Solidarity Games. So in one city in two years European and Islamic games are organized. This again brings me back to what I said before. Communication, cooperation, multiculturalism, mutual understanding, and mutual respect – this is what we are trying to promote. Of course, we will not be successful without strong media support in this area. Of course, I am not going to speak about what media should do. You know better, it is not my business.
But as a head of state and politician I am sure that there must be a very serious, detailed analysis of the role of the media in international events because the role of the media is growing day after day, and so grows responsibility. Therefore we have witnessed many times that some events which happen and which are covered create a lot of tension, bloodshed, confrontation. Therefore seeing support from the media, news agencies and other media in the promotion of values of cooperation is very important. It will give politicians more chances to advocate for universal values. It will give a chance to all of us to be more consistent and active in promotion of these values because sometimes what we read and what we see in the media is different from reality. I can tell you from my personal experience. Of course, president of any country has enough sources of correct information. But sometimes reading or watching different international media I find out that the same event is interpreted completely differently with respect to who is presenting this event. Therefore we see a lot of politically motivated coverages of the same events. Whether it is the Middle East, wars, Europe, post-Soviet area the same event is interpreted completely differently. Here, of course, we can see political motivation and also probably to certain degree interference of political circles in framing the agenda, in what can and should be presented, and what should not be.
Therefore I think today`s gathering and your Congress will also address these important issues. We all are in favor of the free media, we all need to have true information, especially, countries like Azerbaijan that for 70 years lived in Soviet Union where there was only one official policy, one ideology, and we did not have access to any information. So countries like us and also other countries and people have the right to know what is really happening. I am sure that you will address these issues and Baku Congress will be an important step in your activity.
Once again I would like to welcome you to our country. I am very glad and proud that we are hosting such a globally important event. I wish the Congress success.
Thank you very much.