- Dear fellow countrymen.
Year 2017 is drawing to a close. All the goals we set ourselves at the beginning of this year have been achieved. Stability has been established in Azerbaijan. The source of this stability is the unity between the people and the government. The unpleasant developments unfolding in the world, the bloody clashes, wars and conflicts show that there can be no development in the absence of stability. The people of Azerbaijan lived in the conditions of stability in 2017.
Our international relations have expanded further this year. A growing number of countries are interested in cooperating with us. Azerbaijan has asserted itself as a dignified and reliable partner in the world. Our relations with neighboring countries have risen to an even higher level. Such relations are important for any country. Our friendly relations with neighbors are based on mutual respect and contribute to regional stability.
Azerbaijan has taken an active part in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation this year and has made a valuable contribution to the development and strengthening of Islamic solidarity. As you know, 2017 was declared a Year of Islamic Solidarity in Azerbaijan, and a number of important events have been held both in and outside the country this year. At the same time, our relations with the European Union have also advanced to a new level, as talks have started on a new agreement. As you know, last year was a Year of Multiculturalism in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is playing a valuable role in the development of a dialog between religions and cultures, and I believe that our country has become one of the global centers in this area.
I have paid more than 20 visits to foreign countries this year. During these visits, I defended the national interests of Azerbaijan. I can say that our relations with foreign partners show once again that Azerbaijan has a very positive image and reputation on a global scale.
The key issue of our foreign policy is the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Although there are no results in this direction, I believe that 2017 has further reinforced our positions. First of all, let me say that the so-called “referendum” conducted by the separatist regime was not recognized by the world community. This trumped-up “referendum” was not recognized by neighboring countries, the European Union or any other country. This is further evidence that the entire world community recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan. And this is only natural. Nagorno-Karabakh is our historically native land. The people of Azerbaijan have lived, built and created on this land for centuries. Our insidious neighbors have simply destroyed our historical and religious monuments, and these lands have been under occupation for many years.
I think that the second most important issue is that Armenia has joined the negotiations without any preconditions, although it did put forward conditions. None of the preconditions put forward by Armenia after the April defeat was accepted. The negotiations were resumed without any preconditions. I do hope that we can achieve a settlement of the issue through negotiations. Of course, our strong economic and military potential further reinforce our position in the talks. Armenia has yet to recover from the April defeat. I think that this defeat should be a good lesson for them. It should demonstrate to the whole world again that Azerbaijan will never put up with this occupation.
Following our victory in April, the Azerbaijani flag flies on the lands in Agdara, Jabrayil and Fizuli Districts, which were once under occupation. There will come a time when our flag will fly on all of the currently occupied lands, including Shusha. This is underpinned by the unbreakable will of the Azerbaijani people and the policies of the Azerbaijani leadership.
After a long break, life has returned to the village of Jojug Marjanli this year. The development of Jojug Marjanli is a symbol of our unbending spirit. Residents of this settlement lived in other places for many years. But after the government of Azerbaijan built a settlement there, they returned to their native lands. The restoration of Jojug Marjanli is a source of pride for us. A beautiful settlement of 150 homes has been established there now. There is a school, a medical center, a kindergarten and the Shusha mosque – a mosque reminiscent of the Shusha mosque destroyed by our barbarous neighbors.
Let me also say that another important and even a historic event has taken place in the field of addressing the problems of internally displaced persons. A settlement for 1,170 families has been set up in Shikharkh settlement, which also used to be under occupation. On the one hand, this important event shows that the problems of internally displaced persons are always in our spotlight. On the other, this shows that Azerbaijan is building a new life in the lands liberated from occupation, establishing new buildings, public facilities and homes, and thousands of internally displaced persons are returning to these lands.
Our military potential has also been in the spotlight this year. We have provided the army with everything it needs. All international ratings show today that the Azerbaijani army is ranked among the strongest armies not only in the region but also in the world. The enemy knows and should know that. Everything will continue to be done for army building. New hardware, weaponry and the most sophisticated means of combat will continue to be purchased.
Of course, a strong economy is required to meet all our objectives. We have worked very hard in this direction this year. 2017 will go down in history as a year of deep, profound and effective economic reforms. Even though the oil price is still at a low level and oil production in Azerbaijan is reducing, Azerbaijan has managed to come out of this difficult situation with dignity. This is also acknowledged by reputed international organizations. According to the calculations of the Davos World Economic Forum, Azerbaijan is ranked in 35th place in the world in terms of economic competitiveness. This, first of all, shows that the very serious reforms under way in our country are producing excellent results. This year, the non-oil sector of the economy has increased by more than 2 per cent, the non-oil industry by more than 3 per cent and agriculture by over 4 per cent. I believe that this is a very good results under the current circumstances. I am sure that these figures will be even higher in 2018. At the same time, we are also using our currency reserves very effectively. Although the oil price has dropped, we have managed to increase our foreign exchange reserves, and by a lot – our foreign exchange reserves have increased by more than 4.5 billion dollars. These are our strategic reserves. This is one of the factors providing and strengthening our both economic and political independence.
The regions of Azerbaijan have developed fast this year. I have visited more than 30 districts this year. The development and landscaping work under way everywhere is pleasing to the eye.
Some historic events have also taken place in the oil and gas sector this year. The issue of extending the life of the “Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli” field has been resolved. The contract will remain in effect until 2050 and fetch billions of dollars in profit to our country. The bonus paid to Azerbaijan alone exceeds 3 billion dollars. It is possible to say that the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor has entered its final stages. The opening of the TANAP project is expected next year. This is also a historic event. Azerbaijan is turning into a very important partner in ensuring the energy security of Europe.
There was another historic event this year – the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway was opened in a ceremony in Baku. This railway project links continents. Baku-Tbilisi-Kars will be the shortest and the most reliable link between Asia and Europe. Azerbaijan will derive both economic and political decades from this for decades to come. Azerbaijan is turning into an important transit country. If we also look at the North-South transport corridor, we can see that Azerbaijan is becoming a strategic transport hub of global proportions, even though we do not have access to the world ocean.
Our athletes have delighted us with great victories this year. Azerbaijani athletes finished in first place at the Fourth Games of Islamic Solidarity held at the highest level in Baku. It is a great historic achievement to finish first in the Muslim world. If we also recall the 2015 European Games, the Azerbaijani team also finished in second place there. In other words, it shows again that Azerbaijan is a strong sporting nation.
This year was a Year of Islamic Solidarity in Azerbaijan. As always, Azerbaijan contributes to the cause of Islamic solidarity in every issue. This year has been no exception.
In short, 2017 has been a successful year for our country. I am sure that next will also be successful. It is the Day of Solidarity of World Azerbaijanis today. I want to take this opportunity to wish all Azerbaijanis of the world happy holidays.
Dear fellow countrymen, I sincerely congratulate you again. On the occasion of the New Year and the Day of Solidarity of World Azerbaijanis, I wish you good health and happiness.