President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has received a group of participants of the 5th News Agencies World Congress.
President Ilham Aliyev said:
We met yesterday. As I mentioned yesterday in my remarks it is a big honor for us to host this important global event. It is very important that representatives of so many leading news agencies of the world are in Baku. It is a good opportunity for us to present our country. As I said yesterday Azerbaijan is young as an independent county, but it is a country with rich history, traditions, culture. So I hope you will have a chance to see around, to visit some historic places of Azerbaijan and to know more about the country because we still need to do more, to work hard to present ourselves. Twenty-five years is not enough time for that. Of course, we organize different events around the world, cultural events, events related to presentation of our economic potential but the best presentation is when we host our guests here. Especially the guests who work daily to inform the world community about what is happening in the world. Therefore from this point of view I think this Congress in Baku is of great importance for us.
President of the News Agencies World Council, CEO of Press Association Clive Marshal:
- Thank you very much, Mr President. Represented at this round table today we have news agencies from every corner of the world, and we selected a number of them to ask you questions. I think I speak on behalf of everybody when I say that we were impressed with your speech yesterday. We were particularly impressed with your command of English. It is fantastic.
Many of us have come to your country on a number of occasions over the last three years as we prepared for this event. And it has been a privilege to see both the developments in Baku, and some of us also had a chance to visit some of the small villages. May be my pronunciation will be wrong, one village was called Khinalig where we were welcomed by villagers, and they served us breakfast. This gave us a different insight into your country.
President of the News Agencies World Congress, President of Saudi Press Agency Abdullah bin Fahd Al-Hussein:
- Mr. President I would like to thank you for organizing this important event. Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia enjoy great relations. We have to strengthen the bilateral relations between our friendly countries.
President Ilham Aliyev:
Thank you. I agree with you. We have very excellent relations, and I paid an official visit to your country last year and was shown great hospitality by His Majesty the King. Relations between our countries are excellent. We are good partners and friends.
President of the European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA), CEO of TT news agency Jonas Olof Eriksson:
Thank you very much for this audience, Mr President. This is my first time here in Azerbaijan, in Baku. It is an impressive city and impressive country. Besides being CEO and manager of TT agency and president of EANA, I am also a father and have two children. They are 14 and 12. They live in Stockholm. I have a question for you, Mr President. For me it would be fantastic if my children decide that they would follow me in my footsteps and take the line of work of journalism. When it comes to your children Mr President, are you expecting your children to go into politics and then follow you and your father in his footsteps?
President Ilham Aliyev:
It will depend on their aspirations and plans. I think so far they have been satisfied with their activities. They are very active in cultural, social affairs. Both of them, by the way, are also related to media. My elder daughter is editor in chief of Baku magazine, which for many years presents Azerbaijan to the Russian and international audience. It has two versions – English and Russian. You can see it in the internet. My second daughter also is engaged in issues related to journalism. She actually graduated as a journalist. She is involved in promotion of Azerbaijan as a modern country with rich history, also in documentaries, and other events. My son is a student. It is for him to decide what future he would like to choose. He is studying economics at a university in Baku. It is up to them. Azerbaijan is a country with equal opportunities. It will be their choice.
President of Yonhap news agency Park No-Hwang:
I am really honored to be here. I think I may be the first Korean journalist to meet you and to be here. Actually I was very glad to hear that many Azerbaijani people love Korean products, such as electric goods and Korean cars. I heard that linguistically Azerbaijani and Korean languages are similar to each other. So I may decide to learn Azerbaijani language as soon as possible. My question is that do you have any special idea about Korea, do you have any special plan to cooperate more deeply?
President Ilham Aliyev:
We have very good relations. I paid an official visit to your country several years ago. President and Prime Minister of Korea visited Azerbaijan. We have very good political contacts. Many Korean companies are working in Azerbaijan. Some of the new buildings, skyscrapers in Baku were designed by Korean architects. Korean companies are also working in Azerbaijan in implementation of state financial projects of new industrial sites. So they are very active. We have very good cultural relations. We organize culture days of Azerbaijan in Korea and of Korea in Azerbaijan. Our people have very deep mutual respect to each other. Therefore we are looking forward to expanding this partnership.
CEO of Australian Associated Press (AAP) Bruce Alan Davidson:
Thank you Mr President for welcoming us here. Australia is a long way from Baku and Azerbaijan. It is interesting that when I mentioned my friends and colleagues that I was travelling here, although many heard of Azerbaijan, no one in Australia really knows where exactly it is. One thing that I have certainly noticed is obviously architecture of Baku, very modern buildings that you are constructing. I noted, as someone coming from Sydney, that the new entertainment center seems to be taking some elements of Sydney Opera House. I don’t know if it was on purpose or not. But perhaps it is. I just guess to ask you about the benefits of the strategy of very modern, groundbreaking architecture to Baku, Azerbaijan.
President Ilham Aliyev:
Thank you for your comments. Baku is a historic, ancient city. Historic Baku was actually framed by the ancient city wall, which you can see today. By the way, the Inner City is protected by UNESCO as a world heritage. Of course, our main concern is to protect our historical heritage. Many historical buildings in Baku were built in the 19th century during the first oil boom in Azerbaijan. These buildings are also under state protection. But the city is developing and we need to create comfortable conditions for citizens. Therefore creation of new infrastructure and modern facilities, new buildings should be in harmony with historical look of Baku. I think that we managed to do it. I think there is no contradiction between modern and historical buildings. On the contrary, you can walk out from the Old City, cross the road and find yourself in modern environment on one of the longest boulevards of 16 km. We are very carefully watching and monitoring the constructional development so that new modern buildings are in line with the modern architecture. One of them is the Heydar Aliyev Center, where you were yesterday. It received many international awards. I, personally, consider it as the best piece of art by famous architect Zaha Hadid. It is in the world catalogues. Another new symbol of Baku is Flame Towers, which is also a masterpiece. And the building which you are referring to, which looks like Sydney Opera House may also seem like a new development. It is situated actually in the Caspian Sea as well as the newly constructed hotel, which is by the way designed by Korean architects. It is just next to Marriott hotel. This is demonstrating the development. I am very glad that absolute majority of the newly constructed buildings which you see in Baku are financed by private sector – local and foreign. This shows that there is a big interest in working here. There is potential, dynamics. Of course, I know that people in Baku are very proud that it became now one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
CEO of Italian news agency ANSA Giuseppe Cerbone:
Thank you, Mr President. I was quite impressed by your speech yesterday. My question is about TANAP project. How do you see the difference between TANAP and what Russia is doing to bring its gas to Europe? It is extremely important for Mediterranean countries.
President Ilham Aliyev:
Thank you. Oil, of course, is a big asset. But it depends on how you take advantage of this asset. We see the examples of many oil producing countries, which do not benefit from oil, and actually development of oil was a curse for them. When we started new projects with international oil companies our main objective was to provide maximum transparency in accumulation and spending of our financial reserves. For that purpose we created a state oil fund, which is considered to be one of the most transparent sovereign wealth funds in the world. All the accumulation of money from oil sales and also spending is transparent and internationally audited. We can spend money from the oil fund only through budget spending, which is approved by the parliament. That is why we managed to create very substantial financial reserves in Azerbaijan, which are now very close to our GDP. The state oil fund and our policy of transparency played a crucial role in this respect. We invested a lot of money from oil sales in infrastructure. We completely renovated infrastructure in the regions – highways, power generation, gas supply, sanitation, water supply. Today we export not only oil and gas, but also electricity, which we used to buy many years ago. Now we are implementing and leading the implementation of the project of Southern Gas Corridor, which I briefly referred to during my remarks yesterday. It consists of four separate projects. First is the development of one of the world`s biggest gas reserve fields Shahdeniz 2. Second is the expansion of the existing gas line from Azerbaijan to Georgia, which is called Southern Caucasus Pipeline. Third is Trans Anatolian Pipeline, which goes from eastern to western border of Turkey. And the last one, the fourth, is Trans Adriatic Pipeline, TAP, which goes from Turkish Greek border through territory of Greece, Albania, underwater entering Italy. The length of the integrated pipeline is more than 3,000 km. Seven countries are active members of this project, with Azerbaijan as the leader, which was confirmed this February during the second meeting of the Advisory Council of the Southern Gas Corridor. Declaration, which was also signed by vice president of the European Commission, special representative of the President of the United States as well as the members of the Southern Gas Corridor, clearly shows that Azerbaijan is the leading country in this respect. This project is needed for us because we need to export our gas to the biggest market, which is Europe. Europe also needs this project because they need additional sources of gas, because European development needs additional energy. Some of the existing reserves, which supplied Europe, are being exhausted. They need new reserves. Here is the Caspian, it is new, fresh. Proven gas reserves of Azerbaijan are 2.6 trillion cubic meters. It will be enough to supply European consumers with gas for decades. We never considered this project as a kind of alternative or kind of competitor to any other gas projects being implemented in the region. Our project is only aimed at the target, which I identified – to produce, to supply, to satisfy the needs of consumers, to make happy transit countries, and also to earn money for the country. So implementation of the project is on schedule. There were certain delays in Europe regarding some ecological concerns. But, as far as I know, they are being resolved. In 2018, TANAP project will be commissioned on time. And we hope that by 2020 the rest part of the Southern Gas Corridor will be implemented. But again I would like to say that we need to continue very close international cooperation between seven countries involved in the project, which are Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Italy. Two more countries of the Balkans – Croatia and Montenegro – expressed their willingness to join the project at a later stage.
Vice-President of the Associated Press John Daniszewski:
- Mr President, as we know several journalists in the country remain in prison. As Ali Hasanov has explained this was not for journalism charges particularly, but for other charges, hooliganism, tax charges. We also know that since Khadija Ismayilova was arrested Radio Free Europe has not been allowed to reopen here. I think there are other journalists outside the country who say they are being harassed. I think in your speech yesterday you made the point clearly that you want Azerbaijan to be understood by the world. Can you perhaps map out some steps you might take to reassure the world about Azerbaijan and press freedom?
President Ilham Aliyev:
- When you say the world who do you mean? You always like to speak on behalf of the world. That is what I have witnessed for 13 years of my presidency. But the world is much bigger than any country. Therefore when we talk about international community we hear a lot that international community is concerned. Then we need to identify who international community is. International community are members of United Nations – 200 countries. As I said in my remarks two thirds of these countries supported Azerbaijan as a non-permanent member of UN Security Council. As I said yesterday freedom of press is wholly provided in Azerbaijan. It is enough to look at the substance of this issue. When you have free internet, no censorship and 75 per cent of the population as internet users how can you restrict the press?! If you have two million people on social media, Facebook and Twitter, how can you restrict the press?! We do not have this political goal in front of us. Our goal is to continue to create a modern, developing, democratic society with all the freedoms.
This relates to all other freedoms, like freedom of assembly. Sometimes Azerbaijan is criticized for absence of freedom of assembly, which is completely wrong. It is enough to look at the rallies of opposition, which took place this summer. They did not gather many people, they were less than yesterday`s audience at the Heydar Aliyev Center. But they were free, there were no restrictions. Therefore freedom of press in Azerbaijan is fully provided. Some cases related to journalists should not be taken out of the context. It happens in many countries that journalists commit crimes and then they are prosecuted. We need to be objective here and look at the issues from the point of view of objectivity. If I may ask you a question? Azerbaijan is often criticized for this kind of things, but do you have any answer why Julian Assange is still in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London? He is facing extradition and then probably death penalty for some relations with some lady many years ago. And he is there for more than two years, and he is afraid of going out. Do you have any explanation? Is it democratic to treat a journalist like that? Or what kind of treatment is that?
John Daniszewski: I am not an expert on that case. But I believe he is free to go back to Sweden and talk to the prosecutors.
President Ilham Aliyev: But he will be arrested and extradited and probably face life imprisonment.
John Daniszewski: Hmmm. I`m… I`m not sure…May be my Swedish colleague…
President Ilham Aliyev: That is what I am saying. There are cases like that and they should be taken into account in the context. Specific countries should not be selected for attacks. No one is perfect and we need to treat all these issues in the context of reality.
President of Bulgarian news agency BTA Maxim Minchev:
Mr President, I was in Baku last year before the first European Games. Now one hour ago when we were coming here we saw many buildings, which are empty. What will happen with this large sports infrastructure in the future?
President Ilham Aliyev: Which buildings do you mean?
Maxim Minchev: Many buildings, they are empty now.
President Ilham Aliyev: No, I don`t think so. I don’t know which buildings you mean but most of them are working. As I said most of the new buildings, which you see in Baku, are private investments, therefore they cannot be empty. These are hotels, office centers and apartment buildings. As regards sports facilities, which we renovated and created on the eve of the European Games, they are functioning. For instance, our Olympic stadium is functioning, and we have football matches there. Our Aquatic center, which we built on the eve of the Games, is also functioning. And so are many other facilities. Azerbaijan is a very famous sporting country. We have very good results. By the way, being number two at the European Games in Baku was not because we were a host country. I think the Rio Olympics showed that once again. We got 18 medals. We were number 14 among all the countries participating with respect to the number of medals. We were number seven in Europe, number two among former Soviet Union countries after Russia, and number one in the Muslim world. So all these sporting facilities, which you see in Baku, are functioning as well as all the others. I cannot talk about every specific building because I don’t know which you mean, but most of them are working. Some of them are in the process of construction.
Maxim Minchev: After hosting Formula One, are you ready to invite the Olympic Games to Baku in the future?
President Ilham Aliyev: Actually there was an opportunity for us to bid for the next Olympic Games. But we decided not to do it because the European Games were held almost at the level of Summer Olympic Games. Next year we will have Islamic Solidarity Games and Formula One, which was a big success and which attracted a lot of attention. It has an audience of 500 million people, and may be one can draw a parallel with the Olympic Games. You have Olympic Games for two or three weeks. Then it finishes. But Formula One you have every year, and it continues. After Formula One and European Games we see an increase in the number of tourists coming to Azerbaijan. This was especially because Formula One was a city circuit. So people did not only see the race, but also the city. They wanted to see, to explore new destinations.
Maxim Minchev: Are you going to hold Formula One for the next 10 years?
President Ilham Aliyev: I am not sure about the duration, but I think the contract was signed for five years, with extension. There are probably only three city circuits - Baku, Singapore and Monaco.
Director General of Bahraini news agency BNA Muhannad Sulaiman Mohsen Alnoaimi:
I have heard about Baku for many years from the news. But the image was very different when we arrived here. In these three or four days, as I said to my colleagues, I am shocked by what I see here in Baku. It is very beautiful, modern. You are doing a great job. I want to say that visa simplification was excellent. We are glad that our government, our King has good relations with you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much for your kind words. As you mentioned after this easy visa regime for the Gulf countries the number of tourists from the Gulf countries increased 10 may be even 20 times. Especially in summer time there were many of our brothers here on the streets. In general, we are now introducing the new visa access regime, and it will be very easy to get electronic tourist visa within several days and to come to Baku. It is really safe, good climate, hospitable people, good hotels, infrastructure, good cuisine. You feel yourself at home. It is a very relaxing city with a lot of historical monuments. You mentioned that you visited one of the regions. We pay very big attention to the regional development. Regions of Baku also are developing very rapidly, with modern social infrastructure, highways, six international airports and hotels. We have nine climatic zones in Azerbaijan, in a relatively small territory. You can find yourself – within two or three hours` drive by car – in subtropical area, in Alpine mountains, in semi desert, on the shores of the Caspian, on the ski resort. It is really a country, which needs to be known more. I think the best way is your Congress. We can talk a lot about Azerbaijan during different presentations but when you are here you see, you feel, and you are spending here several days, not just one day. So you probably have the opportunity to meet people, to ask what they think about what is happening in Azerbaijan and in the world. I know that many of those who come for the first time want to come back.
Mr President, before I hand over to Sergei Mikhaylov, head of TASS, to bring our meeting to a conclusion I did want to give you a chance. You have here today people from all over the world, from Djibouti to Mexico, to Korea, to Australia, to the United States, to Canada, to Romania. Do you want to ask us any question?
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, I have one question. I think it is a question to all of us here, especially journalists. It is about the election in the United States. All the leading American newspapers, like the Washington Post, New York Times, agencies, and et cetera were predicting the victory of Madam Clinton. And we know about the press coverage. But what happened? Were all of them wrong? Or was their evaluation politically motivated? Was there any political interference into the media with respect to some guidance to press coverage? Or did they just make a great mistake and actually lost credibility to a certain degree? Probably the American representative can answer the question first.
John Daniszewski: I think that to some extent it proves that it is democracy. People go into a voting booth and make their choices. Unlike in some countries, you don’t really know who is going to win in the USA elections. Many news organizations were caught by surprise, their focus had been on a few states where they expected Latino vote and African-American vote. But they did not notice that Mr Trump was making a great headway in other parts of the country where people felt economically dissatisfied. There was not any particular mode of help to either candidate, but we tried to cover it fairly in a very contentious atmosphere. If one day the AP wrote a story that was deemed critical of Clinton, we would receive a lot of response of Trump supporters. And if another day we wrote a story that was deemed critical of Trump, we would get the same avalanche from Clinton supporters. I think everyone was surprised, perhaps putting too much reliance on polls, which proved not reliable. But there was not political control.
President of Spanish news agency EFE Jose Antonio Vera Gil: Mr President, I am president of EFE news agency of Spain. I would like to learn your personal opinion about Trump.
President Ilham Aliyev: My personal opinion is very positive. People of America showed him great support despite all the polls and expectations of the leading American media and despite aggressive campaign against him. He owns this election only to himself. He deserves great respect. We hope that relations between the USA and Azerbaijan will continue successfully during his presidency as they developed in the previous years. There is a lot of areas of cooperation, political, economic and other areas. There are great expectations in the world with respect to his policy. Therefore we in Azerbaijan wish him success. I think people of Azerbaijan appreciate what happened during the election.
President of Russian news agency TASS Sergei Mikhaylov:
Mr President, I don’t have any specific question to you because my first deputy is describing me the situation in Azerbaijan every single morning. That is why I know everything. Thank you again for hospitality, Mr President. We have just three working days here, and have already met you twice. I know exactly the secret of Mr President`s command of English. We graduated from the same university with him – Moscow Institute of International Relations. That is why his English is so good. Thank you once again for your hospitality, for the opportunity to be here.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much for being here. Once again, it is a big honor for us to host this important event. I am sure that you will return home with good impressions about our country.