Dear Mr. President Ashraf Ghani,
Heads of Delegations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I welcome distinguished representatives of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process participating and supporting and organizations in Baku for the 7th Ministerial Conference.
I express my gratitude to His Excellency, Honorable President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani for accepting my invitation to inaugurate the Baku Ministerial meeting together.
Azerbaijan regards the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Conference as a valuable mechanism of dialogue and cooperation towards attaining peace, reconciliation, security and economic development of Afghanistan. Since joining the Process in 2012 we have been actively participating in this multilateral platform.
Respect for and adherence to the norms and principles of international law, most notably the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of the internationally recognized borders of states, respect for sovereign equality and non-interference in internal affairs is a cornerstone for ensuring regional and international security, providing stability and predictability. These principles constitute the basis of our relations and cooperation within the Istanbul Process and it has been reaffirmed in the Heart of Asia Ministerial Declarations.
Azerbaijan’s security has been seriously challenged from the very beginning of the restoration of its independence by military aggression of Armenia. As a country suffering from the continued occupation of the one fifth of its territories and the forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of its citizens, Azerbaijan fully realizes the value of peace, security and stability.
For more than 20 years Armenia occupies almost 20% percent of the territory of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and 7 other regions of our country. More than one million of Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced persons. Armenia conducted the policy of ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijanis in Armenia, in Nagorno-Karabakh and 7 other regions of Azerbaijan.
The situation in the occupied territories is known to the international community. The OSCE has twice sent fact-finding and assessment missions to the occupied territories, and their reports indicate that facts of vandalism have been committed on these lands. Our cities and villages, buildings, graves, cemeteries and mosques were destroyed by Armenia.
In 1993, United Nations Security Council adopted 4 resolutions demanding immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops form the territory of Azerbaijan. The status quo is unacceptable. This is stated not only by Azerbaijan, but also by OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries. The presidents of these countries have repeatedly stated that the status quo must be changed and is unacceptable.
Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict must be resolved on the basis of international law, relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be completely restored.
Azerbaijan is among the first and most active supporters of Afghanistan in its endeavors to overcome the ongoing challenges. We remain committed to supporting the stabilization, peaceful reconstruction and development of Afghanistan through bilateral efforts as well as active participation within the multilateral platforms.
Well-being and prosperity of Afghanistan, economic growth and regional cooperation are interlinked and dependent on the overall security environment in the region. It is crucial that while focusing on the reconstruction and economic development of Afghanistan, we continue addressing the security challenges the country faces to maintain the progress made so far.
Thus, it is of utmost importance to continue our joint efforts in fighting the security threats emerging from terrorism, violent extremism and separatism in all their forms and manifestations, and enhance regional cooperation to that end.
Azerbaijan remains committed to sharing its experience with Afghanistan also through bilateral channels and providing training assistance in spheres of good governance, military, law-enforcement and demining. We are contributing to the post-ISAf “Resolute Support Mission” by providing troops, multimodal transit, training and financial assistance.
Transparent, zero tolerant to corruption and bribery the Azerbaijani State Agency for Services and Social Innovations to the Citizens – “ASAN Service” is actively cooperating with Afghanistan. This cooperation is aimed at improving the state services of Afghanistan through establishment of “one stop shop” centers providing public and private services to the citizens.
Azerbaijan is also engaged in cooperation with Afghanistan with a view to facilitate its integration into the regional economy and reviving trade with its neighbors and beyond through increased regional connectivity.
The ongoing regional connectivity projects initiated by Azerbaijan, including such strategic backbone components as the recently inaugurated Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, the new Baku International Sea Trade Port, logistics center on the shores of the Caspian Sea, linking up railway networks of Azerbaijan and Iran represent qualitatively new achievement in developing trans-regional infrastructure with multi-module capabilities along the East-West and North-South axes. These projects will facilitate Afghanistan’s access to global market and provide connectivity in the region, capable of handling cargo and containers in a much shorter, faster, efficient and cost-effective way.
The recently signed Lapis-Lazuli Route Agreement by Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Turkmenistan is a major international trade and transport corridor deal that will connect Afghanistan directly to Europe. It is a milestone in Afghanistan’s efforts to achieve connectivity through improvement and building of infrastructure for increased trade across Eurasia. Being part of this Agreement Azerbaijan is glad to contribute to providing multiple options for Afghanistan in terms of transit and transportation.
In view of Afghanistan’s role as an important hub for regional trade, transit and transport, the role of the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) in sharing the benefits of this geographical location and supporting the sustainable development in Afghanistan is very important.
Helping Afghanistan is not only a matter of human solidarity. It is about providing security and unlocking the huge potential of this country in terms of regional economic cooperation for the benefit of the entire region. The subject of the Baku Ministerial meeting, “Security and Economic Connectivity towards a Strengthened Heart of Asia Region” is particularly chosen with the aim of holding strategic debates around these two essential dimensions of providing peace, security and prosperity in the Heart of Asia region. We are confident that with its suitable geographic location, determination of its people and efforts of its Government, Afghanistan will be transformed into an important player of regional trade and connectivity in the Heart of Asia.
I believe, our joint efforts to support Afghanistan in the transformation decade of 2015-2025 is an important pillar of Afghanistan’s aspiration to become what it deserves to be – a secure, unified, prosperous country, at peace with its neighbors.
I would like to reiterate Azerbaijan’s support for Afghanistan’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence and wish the Government of National Unity every success in its efforts towards achieving a unified, peaceful and prosperous future for the friendly and brotherly people of Afghanistan.