The 100th anniversary of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, the first democratic republic in the Muslim world, is widely celebrated in our country. Describing this event as one of the landmark and glorious pages in the history of our nation, President Ilham Aliyev said: “We are rightfully proud of the fact that the Azerbaijani people founded a first democratic republic in the Muslim world. This is yet another evidence that the Azerbaijani people are freedom-loving and progressive people.” The head of state has always had a great respect for the history of the Democratic Republic and its founders. Under presidential decrees, a monument in honor of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was erected in the center of Baku a few years ago, 2018 was declared "The Year of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic". We will not be mistaken if we say that the greatest sign of President Ilham Aliyev’s respect for the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and its founders is that he has preserved their ideas, realized their dreams of democracy and reliably safeguarded the independence and sovereignty of Azerbaijan…
We will mark the 27th anniversary of the restoration of Azerbaijan’s state independence in a few days. The middle and old generation well remember how hard the first years of independence were. On the one hand, separatism emerging in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan further intensified before the collapse of the USSR, 20 per cent of our lands were occupied as a result of Armenia’s aggression, nearly a million of our fellow countrymen became refugees and internally displaced persons. On the other hand, traditional economic and trade relations were disrupted, the country plunged deeper into an economic and political crisis. Only in 1993, after Heydar Aliyev’s return to power, the country gradually came out of this crisis, public and political stability, national civil unity was ensured, and reconstruction got underway in all areas of life. Seeing the national leader’s political line as the only right path, our people supported Mr Ilham Aliyev as a worthy successor of this policy and elected him as their new President with 76.8 per cent of votes in October 15, 2003 elections. Mr Ilham Aliyev’s brilliant governance skills, which he has been demonstrating since assuming power, his resolute domestic and foreign policy based on national interests, and his saying "I am going to be the president of every Azerbaijani" during the pre-election campaign earned him a great deal of popularity, endless confidence and trust of the people. That is why Ilham Aliyev won a confident victory in the 2008, 2013 and 2018 presidential elections. October 15 marks the 15th anniversary of President Ilham Aliyev’s activities as the head of state. In this regard, I would like to share some of my reflections on the 15th anniversary of Mr Ilham Aliyev's activities in the post of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
If we analyze in general, in 15 years of his presidency, President Ilham Aliyev, relying on a civil unity platform, the foundation of which was laid by national leader Heydar Aliyev, first of all strengthened internal public and political stability, ensured security of the population, fundamental rights and freedoms of the people, tranquility in the country, and succeeded in gradually improving well-being of citizens. We can say without hesitation that Azerbaijan takes the first place in the post-Soviet area thanks to internal national civil unity and strong public and political stability factor, which is based on the broader public support for the government's policy. Apart from this, Azerbaijan has reinforced its position in the top three in the region over the last 15 years on a number of other key parameters of internal development, including macroeconomic stability, rapid economic development, dynamics of public and moral security system, positive demographic situation, effective government control of migration and urbanization processes and effective public administration.
Secondly, the successful domestic and foreign policy pursued by President Ilham Aliyev and his effective public administration system has increased Azerbaijan`s regional and international influence, and its geopolitical, geo-economic and military-geostrategic position in the Caspian-Black Sea basin and the South Caucasus has been reinforced over the past 15 years.
Azerbaijan is currently in the top three among the regional self-sufficient states for its rational use of natural resources, geographical location and material, moral and human resources, for the successful regional policy and the right choice of position in the field of transnational transport, communications and energy corridors, independence of domestic and foreign policy, for sustainability and dynamics of socio-economic development, for its future development potential and a number of other parameters.
If we analyze achievements in separate areas, we can see that a consistent policy aimed at strengthening democratic institutions, ensuring political pluralism, human rights and freedoms and cementing civil society institutions has been pursued in Azerbaijan under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev over the past 15 years. Thanks to this policy, 55 political parties, more than 3,000 non-governmental organizations (more than 4,000 non-profit organizations), more than 5,000 media outlets as well as trade unions that bring together about two million people, are today freely operating in the country. In accordance with the amendments made to the “Law on Political Parties” in 2012, funding is annually allocated from the state budget in order to finance the activities of political parties. Political parties are actively involved in the elections held in a free, transparent and democratic fashion. This is indicative of the formation of political pluralism and multi-party democratic political system in Azerbaijan.
Great importance is attached to increasing independence and financial capabilities of civil society institutions, including non-governmental organizations in the country. The Concept of state support to non-governmental organizations was approved, and the Council of State Support to Non-Governmental Organizations was established as an entity specializing in this field under the presidential orders in 2007. The Council has been supporting public initiatives and funded thousands of projects of NGOs since it started its activities in 2008.
Ensuring the freedom of speech and information, formation of democratic, pluralistic press constitute key priorities of the state policy in Azerbaijan. Over the past years, President Ilham Aliyev has adopted numerous decisions, signed relevant decrees and orders to improve the financial resources and infrastructure of the media and strengthen social security of journalists. The total number of media outlets in the country exceeds 5,000 and the number of the websites registered in the Az. domain is more than 20,000. About 80 percent of the nearly 10 million Azerbaijani population are Internet users and about 3 million are social network users. There are 11 nationwide, 4 satellite, 13 regional, 17 cable, 25 internet (IP) television and 16 radio stations in Azerbaijan.
In 2005, the Public Television and Radio Broadcasting Company was established on the basis of the second state channel.
In 2008, President Ilham Aliyev signed an order to approve the “Concept of state support to the development of media in the Republic of Azerbaijan", and in 2009, the head of state signed another order to establish the Fund of State Support to the Development of Media under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. A total of 60 million manats have been channeled to the development of media through the Fund so far. Apart from that, under the orders of President Ilham Aliyev, two residential buildings with 410 apartments were built for media representatives and were given out to journalists. The construction of the third 225-apartment building is now ongoing.
President Ilham Aliyev`s years in power have seen the country make great strides in the economic area just like in the political one. The consistent and purposeful economic policy pursued under his leadership in the past 15 years has ensured the completion of the transformation from the planned socialist economy to the market economy in Azerbaijan. During this period, the share of the private sector in the GDP has exceeded 80 percent, macroeconomic stability has been strengthened and Azerbaijan has climbed to the first place in the CIS in terms of competitiveness. Three state programs on socio-economic development have been executed from 2004 to 2018 in order to diversify the country`s economy, boost the non-oil sector and ensure sustainable development of districts. Preparations are now ongoing for the adoption of the fourth program.
The country`s non-oil industry has been continuously developed, thousands of technology-based enterprises, which are of crucial importance to Azerbaijan's economic potential, have opened over these years. Under the State Program for Industrial Development for 2015-2020, approved in December 2014, numerous industrial parks, districts, and technoparks (Sumgayit, Balakhani, Mingachevir, Garadagh, Pirallahi, Neftchala, Masalli etc.) have been created, serious steps have been taken towards expanding production areas, increasing export opportunities of non-oil industry and developing innovative production in the country. Commissioned those years, the aluminum, carbamide, and plastic processing plants, polypropylene and high density polyethylene plants of SOCAR Polymer (investment in these plants exceeds $800 million) in Sumgayit, a household waste recycling plant in Balakhani, Baku shipyard, automobile plants in Ganja, Nakhchivan and Neftchala, gold and copper plants in Sumgayit, Gadabay and Dashkasan, an aluminum semi-finished products factory in Ganja, agricultural machinery factories, and other industrial enterprises play an important role in strengthening the country's economic potential.
Reforms carried out in the agrarian sector, concessions and assistance to agricultural manufacturers have paved the way for the continuous development of this sector of the economy. The amount of funds allocated for irrigation measures in 2003-2018 has increased 6 times, while capital investment in this area has seen a 21-fold growth. Four large water reservoirs (Takhtakorpu, Shamkirchay, Goytapa and Tovuzchay), 4,000 kilometers of irrigation canals, 2,400 kilometers of collector-drainage networks have been built and restored, water supply of 360,000 hectares of land, irrigation has been improved in 264,000 hectares of land, 219,000 hectares of new irrigated land have been put into agricultural service. Initiated by President Ilham Aliyev, the work carried out in a number of traditional agricultural fields, including in cotton, grain, sericulture, viticulture, tea, and citrus fruits growing, revival of rice growing and beekeeping, and the expansion of hazelnut, almond, date, olive and pomegranate gardens, has significantly increased the country's export potential.
Azerbaijan`s economy has grown 3.2 times, while the non-oil sector 2.8 times, industrial output 2.6 times, agriculture 1.7 times, non-oil export 4.1 times over the past 15 years. Azerbaijan`s exchange reserves have increased from 1.8 billion dollars in 2004 to 46 billion dollars in 2018. 250 billion dollars have been invested in the country`s economy from 2003 to 2018. About half of the investment, which accounts for 93 per cent of the funds invested in Azerbaijan during the years of independence, has come from domestic sources.
Huge transnational energy and transport projects have been implemented in Azerbaijan under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev. The 1,767km-long Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan major export oil pipeline, connecting the Caspian Sea with the Mediterranean Sea, was commissioned in 2006, while the 980km-long Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum major export gas pipeline was launched in 2007. On September 20, 2014, the foundation of the Southern Gas Corridor, which is going to play a key role in ensuring the energy security of Europe as well as Azerbaijan`s perspective development and economic interests, was laid. This global project, which stretches 3,500 kilometers and costs more than $40 billion, has been rapidly implemented and the inauguration of the Southern Gas Corridor was held on May 29, 2018, while TANAP pipeline, which is part of the corridor, was inaugurated on June 12 in Baku. The implementation of the TAP project is going on schedule. The term of the Agreement on joint development and production sharing for the Azeri and Chirag fields and the Deep Water Portion of the Gunashli field located in the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea (Contract of the Century) signed on September 20, 1994 in Baku, was extended until 2050 on September 14, 2017. Under the new terms, the share of SOCAR will increase from 11 to 25 per cent, and the share of Azerbaijan's profit oil will be 75 per cent. In addition, foreign investors will pay Azerbaijan a bonus of $3.6 billion within 8 years. The extension of the contract allows Azerbaijan to maintain a stable oil production level for many years to come and to ensure foreign investment in the oil sector.
Great work has been done on President Ilham Aliyev`s initiative to establish the East-West and North-South international transport corridors, which connect Europe and Asia. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway, the foundation of which was laid in 2007, was inaugurated on October 30, 2017, in Baku. New highways have been built along the borders with Russia, Iran and Georgia. All works on the implementation of the North-South transport corridor project in the territory of Azerbaijan was completed with the launch of a 204km-long Alat-Astara-Islamic Republic of Iran state border highway on September 18, 2018. Being involved in these international transport corridors of vital political, economic and strategic importance, Azerbaijan has grown into one of the key transit and logistic hubs of Eurasia.
Mr Ilham Aliyev`s years in power have seen the country join a handful of space states. Azercosmos OJSC was established in 2010, and 2013 was proclaimed the Year of Information Technologies in Azerbaijan. On February 8 of the same year, Azerbaijan’s first telecommunication satellite Azerspace-1 was put into orbit. In 2014, Azersky, high resolution optical Earth observation satellite, was launched. And this September another telecommunication satellite Azerspace-2 was put into orbit.
Socio-cultural and economic infrastructure has been completely renewed in Azerbaijan over the past 15 years. More than 3,100 schools and 642 medical facilities have been built or renovated over this period. Hundreds of historical buildings, museums, theatres and libraries have been reconstructed, all higher educational institutions in the country as well as institutes and enterprises of Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences (ANAS) have been renovated and supplied with new equipment. 15,000 kilometers of roads and 443 bridges have been built in the country over the past 15 years. Four new metro stations have been put into operation and several other metro stations reconstructed in Baku. The largest international seaport in the Caspian Sea - Alat Sea Trade Port - has been launched. Seven airports have been completely reconstructed and put into service. Six of them (Baku, Ganja, Nakhchivan, Lankaran, Gabala, Zagatala) received the status of an international airport. The Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku has become one of the nine airports globally to be awarded 5-Star Airport Rating.
During 2003-2018, 30 power stations with a total generating capacity of 2500 MW have been constructed and put into operation, making Azerbaijan an electricity exporting country in the region. Another 400MW power station (Shimal-2) will be put into service by the end of this year. As a result of extensive gasification measures carried out in the regions, natural gas supply has increased from 51 per cent to 95 per cent in the country. Huge Oghuz-Gabala-Baku water pipeline was commissioned, the world`s largest ultra-filtration water purification facility complex was built in Jeyranbatan, numerous sub-artesian wells were drilled in the regions, hundreds of small modular water purification facilities were built along rivers, and the continuous supply of the population with drinking water was ensured.
Serious measures have been taken on President Ilham Aliyev`s initiative in order to strengthen the social protection of population in Azerbaijan. For this purpose, citizens’ debts (327 million and 294.2 million manats) for the use of natural gas, water and sewerage services were completely written off and one billion manats were paid off to citizens in compensation for the Soviet-era savings. Over the past 15 years, 1.9 million new jobs have been created, salaries have been increased more than 5 times, while pensions more than 8 times, unemployment rate has been reduced to 5 per cent and poverty from 49 per cent to 5.4 per cent in the country.
During Mr Ilham Aliyev`s presidency, serious institutional reforms have been carried out in the field of public and social services. In 2012, under his relevant decree and order, the State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan was established, “ASAN xidmət” centers have been set up, gathering the services provided by public bodies to the population in a single system. These centers have received about 24 million requests and citizen’s satisfaction coefficient reached almost 100 per cent. Recognized as the Azerbaijani brand in the world, the “ASAN xidmət” is already being used in other countries too. In August, 2018, President Ilham Aliyev set up the Agency for Sustainable and Operational Social Security (DOST) under the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population to provide flexible and innovative services relating to employment, labor and social protection of the population.
President Ilham Aliyev always takes special care of the families of martyrs, war veterans and disabled people. Over the past 15 years, more than 5,500 individual houses and apartments and more than 6,000 cars have been given out by the Azerbaijani government to the families of martyrs and the war disabled. By the end of the year another more than 500 people from that category will be provided with new apartments. The President of Azerbaijan allocated 20 million manats from the Presidential Contingency Fund for this purpose.
During 2003-2018, large-scale measures have been taken to address the issues relating to IDPs, all refugee camps, Finnish-type residential settlements have been eliminated in the country, and 265,000 people have been resettled in more than 100 settlements and cities. Security was ensured in the village of Jojug Marjanli (Jabrayil district), the village was restored in a short period of time and a settlement consisting of 150 houses was built and the displaced people returned to their native lands. At the same time, a new settlement for 1,170 families was built in Shikharkh settlement (Tartar district). In nine months of this year, 2,900 IDP families were provided with new houses and apartments. By the end of the year, another 2,800 families will be provided with new houses and apartments. It is not a coincidence that in 2015 Mr Ilham Aliyev was honored with the UN’s South-South Award for his tremendous contributions to the successful implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.
Continuous measures have been taken under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev to increase the Azerbaijani army`s combat capability, improve its financial resources and infrastructure. The enterprises of the Ministry of Defense Industry of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which was established in 2005, manufacture 1,200 types of military products. The Azerbaijani army is among the fifty strongest armies in the world. In April, 2016, the Azerbaijani army faced the Armenian military provocation on the frontline, launched a counter-offensive, dealt powerful strikes on the aggressor to retake, in a short period of time, 2,000 hectares of land in Aghdara, Jabrayil, Fuzuli districts, and also improved its capability of controlling the occupied lands. Over 11,000 hectares of land in Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, including Gunnut village in Sharur district were liberated from the enemy in May, 2018. The Azerbaijani army retook advantageous heights along the state border, took control over Yerevan-Gorus-Lachin highway.
President Ilham Aliyev expressed his principled position on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: “Azerbaijan will never reconcile itself to the occupation of its territories and will never allow a second Armenian state to be created on its lands. Territorial integrity of our country must be fully restored and Azerbaijanis must return to their native lands.” Along with the negotiations held within the OSCE Minsk Group in 2003-2018, Azerbaijan has achieved the adoption by influential international organizations of important decisions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The fact of the Armenians` resettlement in Azerbaijan’s occupied territories and fires they set on these occupied territories was condemned and the importance of fulfilling the UN Security Resolutions No 822, 853, 874 and 884 was emphasized in the resolutions "Situation in the Occupied Territories of Azerbaijan" adopted at the UN General Assembly's 60th (2006) and 62nd (2008) sessions. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) resolution 1416 “The conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference” 2005, European Parliament resolution of 20 May, 2010 on the need for an EU strategy for the South Caucasus, Joint Declaration of the EU’s Eastern Partnership Summit (2017) and EU-Azerbaijan “Partnership priorities” agreement (2018), 14th (Tehran 2012) and 17th (Margarita, 2016) Summits of the Heads of State and Government of Non-Aligned Movement, final documents of 11th (Senegal, 2008) and 12th (Egypt, 2013) summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), joint declaration of the 13th Economic Cooperation Organizations Summit (Islamabad, 2017) expressed respect for Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, sovereignty, and inviolability of its internationally recognized borders and emphasized the necessity of settling the conflict on the basis of these principles. At the same time, the final communiques of NATO summits held since 2006, including the summits of Newport (2014), Warsaw (2016) and Brussels (2018), emphasize the principle of conflict resolution in the South Caucasus based on the territorial integrity, sovereignty of the countries and according to the Helsinki Final Act. And this meets Azerbaijan's interests.
Thanks to President Ilham Aliyev’s foreign policy, which is based on national interests, Azerbaijan has been recognized as a state with its independent standing, and its international influence has gradually increased. In 2011, Azerbaijan was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council with the support of 155 countries, and became a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, which includes 120 countries. Azerbaijan will chair the movement in 2019-2022. Azerbaijan has established the relations of strategic partnership and signed relevant documents with nine EU member states.
President Ilham Aliyev has ensured the preservation and development of national and moral values, freedom of religion, confessional and ethnic diversity, and the traditions of multiculturalism and tolerance. More than 220 mosques, churches, and synagogues have been built or reconstructed in Azerbaijan over the past 15 years. Bibiheybat mosque and sanctuary complex, which is of great religious, moral, historical and cultural significance, as well as Tazapir, Ajdarbey, Icherisheher Juma and Hazret Mohammad mosques were restored and renovated. The Shamakhi Juma Mosque and the religious and cultural monument "Imamzade" in Ganja were completely overhauled and the largest mosque in the Caucasus Heydar Mosque (2014), Haji Javad Mosque (2018) and the Synagogue for Mountain Jews (2011) were built in Baku. At present 2,250 mosques, 14 churches and 7 synagogues operate freely in Azerbaijan.
Baku International Multiculturalism Center was set up in 2014, and 2016 was declared the “Year of Multiculturalism” in Azerbaijan under the decrees of President Ilham Aliyev. Azerbaijan has hosted numerous international events and put forward a number of global initiatives on intercivilizational dialogue, tolerance and humanitarian cooperation. Ministers of culture of Islamic countries were also invited to the meeting of the ministers of culture of the Council of Europe member states in Baku in 2008. At the forum, the President of Azerbaijan put forward "Baku Process" initiative aimed at developing dialogue and cooperation among civilizations, peoples and cultures. The following years saw the implementation of numerous international events and projects in this format.
President Ilham Aliyev has approved three state programs for 2005-2021 in order to address the social, educational, career and cultural development issues of youth. At the same time, thousands of young people have been sent to study at the leading foreign educational institutions under the “State Program on Education of Azerbaijani Youth Abroad in the Years 2007-2015". In order to assist the implementation of youth projects in the fields of science, education, culture and other areas and stimulate their activities, the Azerbaijani Youth Foundation was set up in 2011 and the Presidential Award for Youth was established in 2013.
Thanks to President Ilham Aliyev’s care and attention the country has experienced rapid development in the field of sports and physical education, great achievements have been gained in the country. 43 Olympic sports complexes, numerous sports facilities, stadiums and other sports grounds have been built, the existing sports facilities have been reconstructed in Baku and districts. Azerbaijani sportsmen improve their performance year by year and achieve great successes. Our sportsmen won 5 medals (1 gold, 4 bronzes) at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, six medals (1 gold, 1 silver and 4 bronzes) at Beijing 2008 Olympics, 10 medals (2 golds, 2 silvers, 6 bronzes) at London 2012 Olympics and 18 medals (1 gold, 7 silvers, 10 bronzes) at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. Azerbaijan ranked 14th in the world, 7th in Europe, 2nd in the CIS and first in the Muslim world for the total number of medals won at the last Olympic Games.
In 2015, Azerbaijan hosted the first ever European Games. During the first European Games, which featured 6,000 sportsmen from 50 countries, Azerbaijan ranked second in the overall standings and won 56 medals, including 21 golds. Azerbaijan ranked first in the overall medal table of the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games held in Baku in May, 2017. Since 2016, Baku has been hosting Formula One race, which enjoys an annual global audience of 500 million viewers.
Under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, who is successfully continuing the strategic development course and a multifaceted program of reforms launched by national leader Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan passed the development stage, which some of the advanced countries had been going through for decades, to become the first former Soviet republic to complete the transformation period. The World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development recognize the reforms carried out in Azerbaijan. According to the Davos World Economic Forum, Azerbaijan`s economy is ranked 35th in the world in terms of competitiveness and 26th in terms of the infrastructure development (2017). In the Forum`s Inclusive Development Index (2017), Azerbaijan climbed to the 3rd place among 80 developing countries.
In fact, anyone who visits Azerbaijan and is even unaware of reports and ratings of leading international organizations, can see – just by looking at the capital city of Baku - a great leap forward the country has made in the last 15 years. Thanks to the renovation and construction work carried out during 2003-2018 under the development concept defined by President Ilham Aliyev, Baku has transformed into one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a business and cultural center of the region and an attractive tourist and leisure destination. The historical appearance of the city is completed with modern and tasteful buildings, Baku`s new landmarks such as the Heydar Aliyev Center, Flag Square, Flame Towers, Baku Crystal Hall and other construction complexes have been included in the list of the world's architectural pearls. The city's public, cultural and transport infrastructure has been adapted to modern requirements, new streets, bridges and pedestrian crossings have been constructed, green areas and parks have been created, environmental situation has been improved and the seaside boulevard has been expanded from 3.5 to 16 kilometers. Modern town-planning projects have been implemented at the sites of industrial enterprises, which were relocated from the capital.
Over the past 15 years, which marked fundamental changes in all spheres of state and social activity, the people of Azerbaijan have always relied on their leader and strongly supported him. While speaking about the rapid development of Azerbaijan and its achievements, President Ilham Aliyev always proudly states that behind these achievements lies a healthy socio-political environment in the country and unity between the people and the government. Undoubtedly, in these conditions of mutual confidence, President Ilham Aliyev will continue to lead the Azerbaijani people towards even higher accomplishments and great victories for many years.
Azerbaijani President's Assistant for Public and Political Affairs-department head, professor