2015 is drawing to a close. What did it turn out to be for Azerbaijan? What problems did a young independent country manage to solve in the past year and what are the goals planned for the future? The presidential aide of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the head of the Department of Social and Political Issues of the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan, Ali Hasanov, spoke about this all in an interview to ‘Rossiyskaya Gazeta’.
- The calendar is counting down the last days of 2015. What did it turn out to be for Azerbaijan and the inhabitants of the country?
- Against the background of the difficult and controversial social, economic and political processes taking place in the world, during the past year Azerbaijan managed to achieve relatively successful economic development, that became possible due the deliberate and consistent policy of President Ilham Aliyev. It should be stated that in these difficult modern conditions the Republic once again demonstrated its political and macroeconomic stability to various threats and disasters. Speaking of the current positive trends, I would rather note that in the first nine months of this year GDP increased by 3.7%, industrial production grew by 2.1%, while the non-oil industry grew more than 10%. Continuing to operate the figures, I want to emphasize that we achieved a significant reduction of unemployment and poverty rates, which are now at the level of 5%. The general well-being of the population increased.
The country continues to implement the major energy and transport projects, the foundation of the pipeline TANAP was laid, the first test container train came from China to Azerbaijan by the Trans-Caspian route, construction work in the Azerbaijani section of the international transport corridor ‘North-South’ were accelerated, and others. There were significant changes in production infrastructure, innovation and social spheres. In short, there was creative work. The best evidence of the country's development are the assessments of the world's leading rating agencies. For example, in the ranking of the Global Competitiveness Index, compiled by the World Economic Forum, Azerbaijan ranks 40th among 140 countries, the international rating agency Fitch affirmed the country's rating as BBB with a stable outlook. We have been among the leaders of the CIS countries for the 7th year. Moreover, not so long ago the International Monetary Fund raised its forecast of the economic growth in Azerbaijan to 4% this year. Overall, despite the adverse external economic and financial factors which have adversely affected the processes in Azerbaijan, our economy demonstrated its capacity and ability to grow in difficult conditions.
- There is such a saying ‘a blessing in disguise’. The fall in world oil prices, of course, had a very negative impact on solving many economic and social problems. But, at the same time, it forced the Azerbaijani government to diversify the economy more vigorously, to develop entrepreneurship, to get rid of the energy dependence factor. What was done and what remains to be done in this regard?
- The sharp drop in oil prices on the world markets was a kind of test for the countries that have large reserves of natural resources. Of course, to find a way out of this difficult economic situation, which led to a decrease in income, it was necessary to implement a set of measures. And, accordingly, Azerbaijan took the necessary steps, which contributed to the fact that the country did not feel any serious negative effects. Today's reality is such that, despite the raging global crisis, there is a trend of economic growth in the country. It is important to emphasize that this was made possible due to the diversification of the economy. The share of the non-oil sector in the gross domestic product of the aforementioned period reached 70%, which is indicative of a gradual reduction of dependence of the budget on the oil revenues. In fact, we actually managed to reduce the dependence on the energy resources of the republic, which is very important. In order not to become a hostage of those who dictate the price of oil, Azerbaijan plans to continue to implement the economic reforms, as a result of which the priority will become such areas as the non-oil industry, agriculture, tourism, the information and communication technologies. Taking into account the actual situation, to influence the reduction of the oil revenues we plan to make some adjustments to the scheduled plan on socio-economic development. It is about strengthening financial discipline, implementation of priority investment projects, increasing the social orientation of the Government's policy.
- President Ilham Aliyev declared 2015 the Year of Agriculture in Azerbaijan. What achievements were made in the development of the country's most important sphere in the current year?
- In connection with the Year of Agriculture an action plan was approved, which included work on support for agricultural production, capacity building in the field of agriculture, improvement of scientific support and training, and so forth. These measures effectively contributed to the improvement of agriculture. And not to be unfounded, we give some statistics, again, for the first nine months of 2015. To begin with, the volume of agricultural production increased by 6.7%. A large number of large farms were created, tens of thousands of hectares of previously unused land were introduced for production. This year we achieved the highest grain yield – 50-60 quintals were harvested per hectare. In terms of the average yield, a record value was reached – more than 30 quintals per hectare. I think you will agree with me, that at this pace we will be able to meet our food security fully in the near future.
- For a long time Azerbaijan has had a reputation as a sports country. Baku holds major international competitions annually. But the apotheosis of sport hosting became the first-ever European Games that Azerbaijan hosted, literally with a bang. Let's briefly go back again to this truly historic event.
- The First European Games, held in Baku, opened a new page ib world sport. They were prepared in record time – two and a half years and at the highest organizational, technical, sporting level, they demonstrated the growing authority of our country and, of course, its huge potential. This bright and grand event, the Organizing Committee of which was headed by the First Lady of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva, was attended by about 6000 athletes from 50 countries, who competed for 253 sets of medals. Sports facilities were built or renovated, upgraded with the latest modern technology for this event. They would open their doors for international competitions, planned in Azerbaijan, for many times. The necessary infrastructure was also created. It is gratifying that the Azerbaijani team, showing good results, ranked second in the medal standings, second only to the Russians. It is also very nice that Baku set the standards of the European Games, which are very high, and precisely in the temple ‘Ateshgah’ will the torch of the next Games be lit. And further. In my opinion, the Games will be remembered not only for the sporting achievements of the athletes or the colorful opening and closing ceremonies, but also for the fact that many, many people in the world discovered the country, located on the historic Silk Road, which has a rich history and culture, where multiculturalism is elevated to the level of state policy.
- Unfortunately, the Baku authorities had to face another diametrically opposed kind of ‘European Games’ this year. Certain circles in the West, annoyed by the independent political course of Azerbaijan, launched something like a ‘crusade' against Baku. In retaliation for the fact that in our country there are gross violations of human rights. In your opinion, what is the real reason for such unprecedented pressure of the heavyweights of international politics on the young independent country?
- All defamatory statements that were spoken previously in the address of the republic are attempts by some Western circles to exert pressure on the country and dictate the rules of the game. The fact is that the independent policy pursued by the President of Azerbaijan, based on the will of the people, is not profitable to them, and they, of course, oppose it. Unfortunately, the success of modern Azerbaijan causes great concern and open hostility on the part of certain forces that do not want development of our country and the strengthening of its image. If Azerbaijan was a country in a state of dependence, for them, of course, it would be easy to manage and manipulate. But we do not build our policy to please anyone, and no one has the right to specify or try to impose their views. Here, as Ilham Aliyev said, everything is decided by people, not by inciting foreign circles.
-The high rates of development of Azerbaijan in socio-economic terms and in other areas have already been perceived as a self-evident fact around the world. However, the country could develop even more rapidly if the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh was solved. Can we say that in the past year it was managed to achieve real preconditions for a peaceful settlement of this conflict?
- Alas, today the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been going on for more than twenty years and it is a serious threat not only for our region, but also for the safety of the whole of Europe, and it has not been resolved yet. Armenia continues to ignore the UN Security Council's four resolutions related to the unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from the occupied territories, as well as the relevant decisions and resolutions of the OSCE, PACE, OIC and other international organizations. The talks, held under the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group, have yielded no results yet, but we do not lose hope. Anyway, on December 19th a meeting of the Azerbaijani and the Armenian heads of state in Switzerland confirmed their willingness to continue cooperation on the proposals for a settlement of the conflict, as well as commitment to the format of the OSCE Minsk Group. Speaking about Azerbaijan's position, I note that the conflict should be resolved only within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in accordance with international law.
- The Russian readers, of course, are not indifferent to the state of Russian-Azerbaijani relations. I think that Baku has something to say on this topic. Especially in view of the sharply increased intensity of the meetings of the business circles of the two countries this year.
- Relations with Russia are traditionally a priority direction of the foreign policy of Azerbaijan. It is noteworthy that every year the political, economic and trade, cultural and humanitarian ties are becoming intensively stronger. The interregional cooperation is also developing. At the current stage of the Azerbaijani-Russian relations a strategic partnership has been acquired. The policy of both countries is aimed at broadening and deepening multilateral cooperation, which is based on deep mutual respect and trust.
We actively cooperate and support each other in the international arena, including in the framework of international organizations. It is sufficient to recall last year's situation in the PACE, when the Azerbaijani delegation opposed the sanctions against Russia at full strength. As President Aliyev said in an interview with the TV channel ‘Russia-24’, our country ‘set an example to those who in every corner position themselves as ab ally of the Russian Federation, but when it comes to demonstrating their position in the PACE, as they say, they prefer to go into the bushes. In this complex and difficult time, Azerbaijan demonstrated how a reliable friend and ally should act. I recall one important fact: during the national holiday – the Day of Russia – President Vladimir Putin was in Azerbaijan, participating in the opening ceremony of the first European Games. Is not this evidence of the high level of the relations between the two countries ?!
- And, finally, the main political events of the year were the elections to the Milli Majlis of Azerbaijan. Do you think that the parliamentary elections adequately reflect the level of social maturity, democracy and civil liability in the country?
- These were the fifth elections to the Milli Majlis in the history of the independent Azerbaijan, that, as stated by the foreign and local observers, conformed to the generally accepted international standards and democratic principles. An important feature of them was the increased activity of the electorate taking advantage of their constitutional right to freely express their will in an atmosphere of political pluralism. This year the turnout was almost 6% higher than in the previous parliamentary elections. This fact is primarily evidence of the stability of the political power and stability in the country, as well as, of course, it demonstrates not only civil consciousness, but an increased political, legal culture. The Azerbaijani people voting for the ruling party ‘Yeni Azerbaijan’, which received the most seats in the parliament, approved and supported the policy pursued in the country.