Speech of the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in the Oath Taking Ceremony - Heydar Aliyev Palace, October 24, 2008

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

Distinguished guests,

First, I extend my deep gratitude to the Azerbaijani citizens, who elected me a President. I want to assure my nation that I shall further serve the development of my country. At the same time, I am grateful to the New Azerbaijani Party for initiating my presidency and to its activists who were vigorously involved in the election campaign. Furthermore, I express my gratitude to the opposition members as well. I hope that these elections and election campaign will serve strengthening new political culture in Azerbaijan. Moreover, it will bring new traditions, and eventually political struggle will be conducted in a civil way. Having used this very opportunity, I extend my gratitude to other candidates for their congratulations.

When I took my oath five years ago I pledged my nation that I will actively work for the development of Azerbaijan. I promised that I will pursue Heydar Aliyev's policy because this is the only policy for today, for tomorrow and for the future. This policy rescued Azerbaijan from severe disasters. Under the presidency of Heydar Aliyev Azerbaijan passed a great breakthrough. Azerbaijan made a big step forward from chaos, crisis and anarchy to development and stability. Tradition of statehood has been established under his leadership, and furthermore, Azerbaijan has strengthened its independence, stability has been ensured and development has been launched. Today I reiterate that I shall pursue this policy in the forthcoming five years.

There was much progress in all aspects in the past five years. Azerbaijan enhanced its position in the region. State building processes were swiftly conducted and independence was strengthened. Political and economic reforms have been efficiently carried out. Democratization is successfully under way.

Azerbaijan is a country that looks forward to the future with great hope. Azerbaijan has strengthened its place in the international arena. Our regional initiatives bring great success. Regional projects do not only strengthen Azerbaijan, but also develop regional cooperation. Our policy is based on the underlying principles. Philosophy of Azerbaijanism is our moral support. Main reasons of our success are independent policy, defence of our national interests, national pride and national and religious tolerance. All minorities coexist in Azerbaijan peacefully. I am so happy that our ideological support was further strengthened; solidarity and stability have been established entirely in the past five years. Our society does witness that Azerbaijan makes much progress. Our policy is clear-cut. I reiterate that the fundamental principles of this policy are the defence of the national interests of Azerbaijan. And we have achieved a great success in this regard. Our policy has just one target. That is, to strengthen Azerbaijan, to set up robust economy, to further implement political reforms, and ultimately, to establish safety and welfare of our nation.

In addition, we have done much, indeed, in dealing with international issues. Azerbaijan strengthened its position in the region. We are interested in further expanding bilateral relations with all countries. Azerbaijan made an enormous breakthrough in foreign policy in the past five years. Our regional initiatives do not only serve the regional cooperation, but also the interests of Azerbaijan. I am sure that our partners are satisfied with this cooperation. All our initiatives have aimed to consolidating peace and stability, accelerating economic cooperation, and eventually, setting up an environment where all regional countries coexist in peace, stability and friendship.

Moreover, Azerbaijan has gained more partners around the world. Our partnership has entered to a new stage - strategic cooperation. Our bilateral relations are very successful. We are all interested in pursuing friendship with all countries. We have equal partnership that serves the interests of both parties.

Additionally, we have further strengthened our cooperation with international organizations. Azerbaijan has actively participated in international organizations of which is a member. Thus, our international stance is strong enough. Our active engagement resulted in strengthening our position in international organizations and in having decisions in our favour. I believe that our foreign policy will strengthen our stance in the international arena in the years to come.

Undoubtedly, the focal point of our foreign policy has been the Azerbaijani-Armenian, Nagorno- Karabakh conflict. Unfortunately, we have not achieved an ultimate result yet. However, we made much progress in strengthening our stance and in presenting underlying principles that received enormous value. The essence of negotiations is based on the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Nobody doubts it. The measures taken by us consolidated our position and activated the parties engaged in these issues. Everybody understands clearly that frozen conflicts are the main impediments on the road of development in the region. The settlement of the conflict can be only possible within the norms and principles of international law. Territorial integrity of Azerbaijan has to be restored. The territorial integrity is not, has never been and will never be the topics of discussions. The Nagorno- Karabakh will not be granted independence either today or tomorrow, or in 10 or 50 years. Azerbaijan will never recognize such an independence. Thus, the major principles of international law are to be applied in the solution of the conflict.

The Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan is under way. As a result of this aggression and ethnic cleansing 20 per cent of our territory is still under occupation. Over a million Azerbaijani people can not return home as a consequence of the ethnic cleansing. This is an indescribable crime and tremendously unfair. Yet again, we are interested in negotiations, indeed. We consider that the negotiations will lead a fair solution of the conflict. This settlement is clear-cut and the Azerbaijani people do bolster this position. I reiterate that the Azerbaijani government will give up the ancient land of Azerbaijan - Nagorno- Karabakh under any circumstances. We shall restore our territorial integrity by reinforcing our independence.

The norms of international law are in our favour. Four resolutions of the Security Council of UNO have been adopted on the withdrawal of the Armenian military forces from the Azerbaijani territory. A decision of similar significance has been adopted in the UN General Assembly recently. Other international organizations suppport as well. In short, international law and justice firmly support us. I stress once more that the Nagorno- Karabakh is historically an integral part of Azerbaijan.

Furthermore, we have great economic potentials. Political situation in the region strengthens the position of Azerbaijan due to the fact that we are vigorously involved in political discourse and we are often the authors of initiatives. Azerbaijan forms the basis of economic and regional cooperation in the region. And our position is obvious to everyone. Cooperation with Armenia is impossible unless our territory is freed from occupation. I think that Armenia has to reconcile with the reality by examining all the factors. The reality is that it is difficult, I would say, impossible to compete with Azerbaijan. Political, economic and military capacity, as well as international principles support our position. I am sure that all the factors mentioned will lead to the liberation of our territory.

Five years ago, I promised that no refugee camp will exist any longer. I am glad that we achieved this objective not in 5, but in 4 years. The state program on improving the well-being of IDPs is being successfully implemented. Camps have been removed and they have been replaced by modern buildings, houses, schools and medical stations, 36 new settlements have been constructed and ten thousand people, severely suffered from occupation, have been settled. We will continue this program further. Additions were made to this program in 2007 and I am sure that this will enormously improve the well-being of IDPs.

Simultaneously, the army construction process is swiftly under way. This was one of my proposals presented before the elections in 2003. Then I emphasized that the robust military is a must. I emphasized that I will do every thing possible to build a strong army. I am proud to say that the military might of Azerbaijan has strengthened in the last five years.

Professional military training of has been increased. I have been to frontier several times and have met soldiers and officers. I have witnessed what they are capable of and observed that their fighting spirit is immensely high. The army building process will swiftly continue in the years to come. At the same time, much work has been done so far towards strengthening the material-technical basic of the army. In this regard, I present two figures to your attention. The military expenditure in 2003 was 163 million USD, whereas in 2008 it reached 1 billion 850 million USD. This figure will be increased in the forthcoming years. In 2009, the amount will be much greater. Thus, we come up to the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by building a mighty army.

All the factors mentioned play a key role. The Armenians must know that Azerbaijan is a powerful country. We have economic and political power. Under no circumstances any issue - political, economic and so forth -can be solved without Azerbaijan in the region. Along with this, Azerbaijan possesses modern, strong and mobile military. We have done all thanks to the support of the Azerbaijani people. I have taken all steps having discussed then with my nation. I have had an opportunity to witness the mood of people during my visits to different regions. I am fully aware of the situation in the regions. Any measure taken and initiative made have been bolstered by our nation.

Azerbaijan has passed a long way by conducting political reforms. I have mentioned before and I reiterate that political system is to be improved and positive experience of developed and democratic countries has to be applied in Azerbaijan. It is one of the directions of our cooperation with international organizations. Favourable experience, relevant and beneficial to the Azerbaijani people, has to be adjusted in Azerbaijan.

That is, the country is becoming modern. Modernization is not measured by implementing new projects nor is it by economic rise. Our political system is to be improved. I am glad that a favourable environment has been set up and significant measures have been taken toward the development of democracy and implementation of political reforms. The recent presidential election is clear-cut evidence. I am confident that our policy will be pursued successfully in this regard and the development of Azerbaijan will be ensured in all respects.

Both political and economic reforms are conducted simultaneously and I think the main reason of our success lies in this very fact. We carry out political reforms on a strong economic foundation. It we lack an economic foundation, it will be difficult to conduct political reforms. If we have a look at the experience of the developed countries, we shall see that they all have developed economies. Our target, ultimately, I believe is to reach the same level of the developed countries. We have potentials to materialize it: educated people, transparent policy, political reforms, economic power, natural resources, and favourable geographical location. I am sure that the policy we have pursued so far will give us this opportunity in the long run.

We shall try and not be satisfied with our achievements. Despite our great achivements, we should look forward. We have to work hard to ensure rapid development of the country, and eventually, safety and security of our nation. All of us, I mean all, should contribute. We do have solidarity in Azerbaijan. Our success is supported directly by the Azerbaijani people they take part in it. I reiterate that the very source of our success is the will and activity of the Azerbaijani nation.

In short, we will shall conduct reforms in the political sphere. The work we have done in the past five years indicates that we shall take further steps. As regards the economic reforms, I underscore that, economic and political reforms conducted at the same time have brought us great successes. Immense economic programs are implemented since 2003. There is not a single area where a special program is missing. We properly function in conformity with the schedules developed in advance in each field. Furthermore, these programs have appropriate maintenance and functional mechanisms. Concisely, a favourable environment has been set up for all-round development of Azerbaijan.

During the past four years, Azerbaijan was the first for the economic growth in the world. In the last four years because of the economic growth, that is the rise of GDP, Azerbaijan was the first. This is an enormous achievement. Overall, the Azerbaijani economy, GDP, increased 2.7 times in the last five years. I assure that it is an unprecedented results in the world. According to results of 2008, GDP per capita will be roughly 6 thousand USD. This is a good result and it will enhance in the upcoming years. It is good that along with the GDP industrial production has also increased. Industrial production has risen 2.7 times in the last five years. State budget increased more than 10 times in the last five years. In 2003, the state budget was 1.2 billion USD, whereas in 2008 it is 15 billion. A huge increase is expected in 2009. Currency reserves of Azerbaijan have immensely increased. In 2003, our currency reserves is 1.6 billion USD. According to the information of October, 2008 currency reserves are 17 billion USD. This figure will rise in the years to come. 44 billion USD has been invested in the last five years. This is 77 per cent of the whole investment since the independence achieved. That is, Azerbaijan attracts foreign investors on the one hand and local investment is increasingly growing on the other. Obviously, state investment forms the great part of it; however, local private investment plays a key role as well. This is very significant factor, because it will lead to all-round development and to establishment of robust entrepreneur class in Azerbaijan. Establishment of middle class is a reality. Further development of Azerbaijan will be measured by these very factors.

Great breakthroughs have been achieved in non-oil sector as well. We are proud that today the Azerbaijani economy is diversified. We supply ourselves with food products, and the Azerbaijani products are exported to other countries. Most of them have been awarded with a European certificate. It means that the Azerbaijani economy will not depend only on energy, and today it is not depend either. Constructions and opening new working places are practical outcomes of what we have done so far.

Huge allocations to the development of entrepreneurs, providing favourable credits, subsidies allocated to the development of agriculture, equipments, generally, moral-political and practical support to entrepreneurs by the President served to the upgrade of non-oil sector. I am sure that much work will be done in this regard in the next five years. Repercussions of the work done will be effective in the nearest future.

In short, we are proud of the achieved success in economy. I am glad that Azerbaijan entirely maintains its independence in terms of economics. Additional measures have been taken to ensure food security. We provide ourselves with food products nearly 90-95 per cent. We shall completely supply ourself with food in a short period of time.

I am pleased that efforts and achievements in economy are approved and appreciated by international financial institutions and world community. A clear example in this regard is a the report of the World Bank for 2008. Azerbaijan is known as a first reformist country in the report. This is very important. This is an appreciation to our policy and efforts because these reforms have been conducted in non-oil sector. These reforms create a favourable environment for the development of business and serve the liberalization of economy in Azerbaijan. These reforms serve the welfare of our people. We attach a great importance to this appreciation.

At the same time, transparency is ensured in Azerbaijan. This is extremely important for a petroleum producing and exporting country. Last year the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan was awarded for transparency by the UN. The Azerbaijani people are aware of its incomes and expenditures.

To sum up, we shall pursue this policy in the sphere of economics. All projects will be realized. The last five years indicate that we have implemented, even sometimes earlier, whatever we have set out. Moreover, much attention has been paid to social problems. As we know from history, welfare of people worsens in transition countries, where fundamental economic reforms are under way. Furthermore, it affects the life conditions temporarily. However, in Azerbaijan is on the contrary. Along with the underlying economic reforms, we have done much in resolving social problems. Minimal sum of pension has been increased four times, whereas minimal wages 8, and average wages 3.6 times. The number of those who receive direct social aid from the state are 600 thousand in number. The state assists to improve the well-being of citizens who are in need. And we will continue pursuing this policy. The decrease of poverty in Azerbaijan pleases me.

In 2003, the number of people living under poverty was 49 per cent, whereas in 2007 it fell to 16 per cent. As to predictions this figure will fall down towards the end of the year more. It clearly shows that successful economic development, economic reforms and oil strategy initially serve to improve life conditions of our people. Furthermore, it shows that stratification is not the case in Azerbaijan unlike other rapidly developing countries. Conversely, middle class emerges in Azerbaijan. New working places open in Azerbaijan, and I consider that reduction of poverty is our target. Our economic growth is quite fast and we became the leader in the world in just four years. I am confident that we shall preserve our place in the years to come.

Great infrastructure projects are being implemented. Four international airports have been constructed. Eight electric power stations have been built. Roads of thousand kilometres have been constructed. Gas supplying of regions is successfully under way. In 2003 only 62 per cent of Azerbaijan was supplied with gas, while today it is 85 percent. Water pipelines are laid. All these projects strengthen Azerbaijan. Moreover, I attach much attention to the improvement of the welfare of the Azerbaijani people, because our policy at improving the life conditions of people.

I further note that it is pleasing to witness the outcomes of what we have done. I recall that in my election campaign in 2003 I promised my nation to open 600 thousand new working places, and entirely resolve the problem of employment in Azerbaijan. I am proud to declare that 741 new working places have been created and 531 thousand of those are on permanent basis. These new working places do not only improve the well-being of people, but also advance the development in the regions. Sometimes, those who are not well-informed or are willing to cast a shadow on our achievements endeavour to relate our successes only with oil. Definitely, oil production has increased and its portion is great in GDP. Each country must have some resources for the development. For us, indeed, it is our natural resources, however, let us have a look at indices of our regions. Economic growth was more than twice in most regions in the last five years. GDP has grown 2.5, 2.7, and 3 times in some regions. We do not have any oil production in the regions. This growth is due to new working places, new factories and plants, and to investments. Whoever wants to find a job can easily do that in Azerbaijan.

Today, we face another problem - illegal immigration. The number of immigrants is tremendously increasing day by day. State Migration Committee has been set up in order to deal with this issue. This is the reality of Azerbaijan. Our policy from 2003 to 2008 has yielded an enormous result.

If I keep talking on our successes we shall need several hours. Simply, I want to draw the attention of the Azerbaijani people to such moments. 1600 new schools have been constructed in Azerbaijan in the last five years. 1600 schools! Hundreds of schools have been reconstructed. Totally, there are 4500 schools in Azerbaijan. Dilapidated schools have been destroyed and replaced by modern schools. All schools are being computerized and connected to the Internet. Five years ago there was one computer per 1000 pupils, whereas today it is one per 29 pupils. This is our future. Our young generation must be educated and patriotic. Diligent, patriotic and professional personnel are priority for the future of Azerbaijan.

I want to highlight what has been done so far in terms of health care. More than 240 medical institutions have been set up and most of them meet world standards. Establishing high standard medical service not only in Baku, but also in the regions is a contribution to maintaining health of the Azerbaijani people.

Today, we are about to successfully solve the problem of fresh water. Constructing water filtering facilities and building water pipelines will improve the quality of life and health of people. We have always to pay great attention to our future generations. We have to create conditions that will enable people to be healthy, physically and healthy morally. 14 modern olympic-sports complexes have been built in the last five years in all the regions of Azerbaijan. Roughly 20 sport complexes are being built. Children are engaged in sports in these sport complexes. There are open, close playgrounds and swimming pools. This is the future of Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani youth should make use of these opportunities.

I repeat that the comprehensive and successful development of Azerbaijan is a reality. I am confident that we shall strengthen our achievements further and will lead Azerbaijan towards new successes in the forthcoming five years.

Issues related to energy security have been dealt with in order to successfully pursue the internal and foreign policy. Azerbaijan has entirely solved the issues involving energy security. As you know, it is an issue of utmost concern. Oil strategy initiated by the national leader Heydar Aliyev in the mid of 1990s is being successfully implemented and brings huge success to Azerbaijan. All issues have been handled, despite the difficulties. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline is operating. Construction of the pipeline has been completed in the last five years. The Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline is successfully functioning. From gas importing country Azerbaijan gas exporting country in the last five years. Today we provide ourselves with gas, and furthermore, we export it to other countries. We have embarked on constructing the Baku-Tbilisi-Gars railway as a rational outcome of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum oil and gas pipelines. This project is a milestone for us, for our neighbours, for the region and for the world wholly. We have launched this enormous project at our initiative and at the initiative of all participating countries. Once the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum, Baku-Tbilisi-Gars projects were on paper. They were simply ideas and intentions. Others considered them a legend. Today, however, this is a reality. Who realized these projects? We did. We have maintained successful measures with our policy, within the regional cooperation and with active participation of neighbouring countries. These projects ensure lasting, successful and sustainable development of Azerbaijan.

Oil-gas production has risen in the last five years in Azerbaijan. In 2003, oil production was 15.4 million tons, whereas this year it will be more than 50 million tons. In 2003, gas production was 5.5 billion cubic meters, while toward the end of the year it will be more than 20 billion cubic metres. This is a tremendous increase within a very short time. We have mobilized our efforts - political, economic, and technical. We have set a goal and have been successfully heading toward it. We have expanded oil export. Azerbaijan possesses seven oil and gas pipelines. All of them properly function. It is possible to export our natural resources to any direction via these pipelines.

Our energy policy gave us economic independence. It enabled us to successfully implement construction work and infrastructure projects. Our success does prove that we shall further prosper as an independent country. Independence is an enormous wealth and has immense value for us. However, to achieve independence is much easier than to maintain and strengthen it. Today, Azerbaijan is an independent country, indeed. We pursue independent policy both inside and outside the country. Our policy serves the interests of the Azerbaijani people. Supporting interests of the Azerbaijani people, strengthening the Azerbaijani state, consolidating state independence are the main duties and goals for me and for each Azerbaijani citizen I believe.

Dear friends, today, in the oath taking ceremony, I extend my gratitude to my nation for their support and trust. I want to assure my nation that I will do my best to prosper and develop Azerbaijan, and furthermore, I will serve my nation.

Glory to the Azerbaijani nation!

Long Live Azerbaijan!

Baki, 24.10.2008