- Trend News Agency) BAKU, Azerbaijan, December 9.
President of the
Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by Euronews
channel on November 23. The interview was broadcast on Euronews on
Correspondent : Hello, Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Hello.
Correspondent: Azerbaijan and the countries of
the Central Asian region experience significant economic growth in
2023, according to the estimates from the European Bank for
Reconstruction and Development. This strong growth is attributed to
a high-level of migration and the remittances originating from
Russia, which is under sanctions. Additionally, there has been an
increase in regional export and imports, including business with
China. The outlook for 2024 shows the same positive trend. What
does this growth mean for your country?
President Ilham Aliyev: As far as Azerbaijan is
concerned, our economic development and growth are mainly generated
by our reforms rather than those factors, which you mentioned. We
managed to diversify our economy, and to reduce the dependence on
oil and gas sector, though, oil and gas sector continues to be the
main part of our economy. This year, our economic growth is a
little bit modest, because of the slight decline of the oil
production. But if we look at the past years, the GDP of Azerbaijan
grew more than four times for the last 20 years, and that was a
very remarkable achievement. At the same time, we managed to
conduct a very sophisticated, social policy. We managed to reduce
the level of people who lived in poverty during the last 20 years
from almost 50 to 5.5 percent. This demonstrates that the wealth
generated by energy projects was fairly distributed between all
segments of our population.
We also worked actively in order to reduce the level of foreign
debt, and now, it is below 10 percent of our GDP. The target for
that is 7 percent of GDP next year. So, this actually demonstrates
the sustainability of Azerbaijan's economy. Next year, we hope that
the growth of economy will be higher. But, those figures do not
actually reflect 100 percent of the economic performance or the
living standards of the people. We know the countries, which had
very low economic growth, but the very developed economy.
So, the bigger your GDP is, the more difficult it is to add to
that growth, especially in today's geopolitical situation, where
two of our neighbors and main trade partners Russia and Iran are
under the sanctions. Therefore, we need to take that into
But our target and our strategy of 2030 is based on our own
resources, our own financial capability, as well as foreign and
local investments in the areas, which will provide economic growth
in the coming years.
Correspondent: What are your future areas of
development and investments?
President Ilham Aliyev: As far as our
governmental policy is concerned, our state investment program will
be mainly directed to the liberated areas of Karabakh and Eastern
Zangazur. First, because we need to resettle former refugees as
soon as possible. We plan to resettle more than 140,000 people by
the end of 2026. For that, we need to invest largely in
infrastructure, housing projects and social infrastructure project.
At the same time, this area, which has been for 30 years under
occupation, possesses a big potential in the area of agriculture,
hydro energy, solar and wind energy and tourism. That will be a
main area of the state investment program.
With respect to foreign investments, of course, investments in
fossil fuel project will continue. Because there is a big potential
in Azerbaijan with respect to resources and big demand for
Azerbaijani gas in Europe. It is a growing demand, but very
remarkable development is related to renewable sources of energy. I
think, this will be the main direction of direct foreign
investments. We already inaugurated last month the 230 MW solar
power plant, the biggest in the region, fully invested by foreign
investors. Up to 10 gigawatts of solar and wind power generation is
planned to be implemented within next five-six years. I think,
these will be the main areas of investments along with our agenda
on digital transformation.
Correspondent: Do you see competition in your
region or rather a cooperation?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, as far as
Azerbaijan is concerned, I see cooperation. That is mainly because
of the policy of our country. We always wanted to protect
Azerbaijan from any kind of a rivalry, from any kind of a
geopolitical struggle or battle between big powers, and I think we
managed to achieve that. Azerbaijan is considered as a reliable
partner to many big international actors, and we see a real result
of that cooperation. If you look at the energy development in
Azerbaijan, you'll see a broad international presence. If you look
at the transportation sector, you'll see that both corridors -
East-West and North-South – cross our country and our neighbors and
many countries in different regions are benefiting from that.
If you see the situation with respect to the political
development, Azerbaijan is also a country with the independent
foreign policy, which conducts its policy based on national
interests. One of the important factors is not to transform your
country into the area of confrontation or competition but rather to
protect the state from bad influence and attempts to interfere into
its domestic affairs. So, we successfully managed to diminish these
risks. And, that's why Azerbaijan now is a country with big
international potential, good international reputation, and a
country, which managed to attract more than 300 billion US dollars
of investments during the last 20 years.
Correspondent: Energy supply has been a major
topic for Europe over the last two years. What is your outlook for
your country's energy business?
President Ilham Aliyev: Our energy development
transformed from oil to gas. At the same time, oil production and
export still is an important part of energy security for many
countries. Completed almost three years ago, the Southern Gas
Corridor, the major gas infrastructure project, which is an
integrated pipelines system of 3,500 kilometer in length, created
an opportunity for Azerbaijan to increase the geography of its gas
supplies. Today, we export gas to Georgia, Türkiye, Greece,
Bulgaria, Italy, Romania, and we signed contracts with Hungary and
Serbia. Albania will also be part of our gas distribution
So, you see how many countries in Eurasia, mainly European
countries, are our partners, and demand for Azerbaijani gas is
growing. We positively responded to the request from the European
Commission to increase the gas supply to European continent with
respect to the sanctions on Russia. This will continue to be
important part of our business.
At the same time, I already mentioned the renewable sources of
energy. We have a very windy weather today in Baku, which is
actually the normal weather condition and we have a huge potential
of wind, especially in the Caspian. So, 10 gigawatts of solar and
wind power generation projects have already been signed as
contracts and MoUs. That will allow Azerbaijan to have a very
smooth transition from fossil fuels to renewables, at the same
time, to provide European consumers with the green energy.
Correspondent: What are your concerns about the
risks to your country's economic development?
President Ilham Aliyev: Frankly speaking, I
don't see any risks. Because, our economic development was so far
very positive, even in a much more complicated geopolitical
situation, even during the times of occupation, our economy grew.
And now when we totally restored our territorial integrity and
sovereignty and we are implementing large-scale economic reforms,
which allow us to accumulate more funds into our budget. We have
conducted very successful reforms in the customs and taxes
administration issues. We created a corporate management system in
all our state-run companies, and we see the benefit of that.
Of course, a lot of wealth will be generated from the
connectivity projects. As I already mentioned, we expect additional
tens of millions of cargo through North-South and East-West
transportation corridor crossing Azerbaijan's territory in
different directions. It means employment, it means additional
funds, and it means geopolitical importance of Azerbaijan. If you
look at the map of our region and Eurasia, you'll see that all the
major transportation routes cross our territory. We've developed
the most modern transportation infrastructure. That will create
additional opportunities. Plus, liberated territories of Karabakh
and Eastern Zangazur, where we plan to resettle hundreds of
thousands of former refugees, will also be an additional driver.
So, frankly speaking, I don't see any potential risks neither in
economic area, nor in any other area of our country.
Correspondent: No risks at all?
President Ilham Aliyev: For today, I don't see.
Maybe potential risks may come from beyond our borders. Inside
Azerbaijan, we don't have it. We have a very stable political
system, we have the very well based unity of our people, especially
after liberating our occupied territories in the historical
Victory. Our economic performance is successful. Our economy is
self-sufficient, we do not depend on foreign loans. As I said, next
year it will be 7% of GDP only. If you look at our hard currency
reserves and foreign debt, you'll see that our hard currency is 10
times bigger than the debt. So, in other words, we can within one
month level our foreign debt. Not many countries in the world can
do this. The self-sufficient economy with good political
connections, with major international actors and the political
stability and unity in the country – all these factors demonstrate
that internal risks we do not have. External, yes, but that will
depend on the situation beyond our borders. We have war beyond our
borders to the North, we have an unstable situation in the Middle
East, we have potential tensions in the neighborhood. So, it could
be a potential risk for Azerbaijan. For that purpose, we need to
pay more attention to the protection of our borders, but our
borders are open for friends and closed for those who want to do
Correspondent: How SPECA Programme is important
for the economies of the participating countries?
President Ilham Aliyev: SPECA Programme today
commemorates the 25th anniversary, and I'm grateful to our
colleagues from Central Asia for supporting our initiative to hold
the Summit, which is the first Summit in the history of the SPECA
Programme. Actually, this programme is based on the economic
interaction between Central Asia and Azerbaijan, and today we see
the new dimension of that interaction. If you look at the economic
data, if you look at the dynamics of the bilateral visits, you will
see that during the last two years, active interaction between
Azerbaijan and all the Central Asian countries as well as between
Central Asian countries is an unprecedented level high. So, this is
a new reality, and we need to capitalize on that.
We have excellent relations with all countries of SPECA. We have
a lot of investment projects now - Azerbaijani investments in
Central Asia, Central Asian investments in Azerbaijan. We have
connectivity projects of the East-West Trans-Caspian transportation
route, which for Central Asian countries is now one of the most
attractive transportation connections with the Black Sea, with the
Mediterranean and with Europe through the integrated connectivity
projects. We see a lot of positive dynamics on the political track,
because countries of SPECA in this difficult geopolitical situation
today demonstrate stability. This is one of the most important
factors. Because without stability, there is no investments, no
economic development and no security. If you look at today's SPECA
members, you will see that Central Asia and Azerbaijan is an area
of geopolitical stability, though the risks are just next door. For
countries of Central Asia, these risks are even higher than for
Azerbaijan. So, this might be taken as an important factor of
success of these countries.
25 years ago, all of us, we were in a completely different
situation with respect to the economic development, large-scale
social problems, and also we were just in the first phase of our
journey on the path of independence. Now, we can already report
about the success. We organized an exhibition in Baku Expo Center.
I think it is very illustrative to demonstrate what our country is.
It is a small part of our achievement, but nevertheless, very
illustrative demonstration for what we have done. One of
Azerbaijan's foreign policy priorities is more active cooperation
with the countries of Central Asia, and we consider the SPECA
Summit in Baku as one of the factors, which is part of that
Correspondent: With its strategic geographical
position between East and West, Azerbaijan places itself in a
pivotal location. What is the country's strategy on the
President Ilham Aliyev: We will continue to
conduct independent policy on international stage. We are chairing
for the fourth year the second largest international institution
after the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement. According to
the overall opinion of many member states - 120 member states -
Azerbaijan played an important role in bringing a new dimension and
dynamics to the Non-Aligned Movement. We made a lot of steps on
institutional development of the Non-Aligned Movement creating a
parliamentary platform, youth platform, working on the creation of
the women`s platform. We were very active on COVID pandemic issue
providing assistance to more than 80 countries. So, our
championship in the Non-Aligned Movement allowed us to demonstrate
our policy, our capability, and, by the way, our chairmanship was
extended for one year by unanimous decision. 120 countries, not all
of them are in good terms with each other, but when it comes to
Azerbaijan, all of them unanimously supported us. So, this is the
best demonstration of international support. Sometimes when some
politicians talk about international community, they mean only,
maybe, several dozens of countries. But, international community is
more than 200 countries, and majority of those countries support
Azerbaijan. This is only one dimension.
Our relations with our neighbors are well balanced and based on
friendship and mutual interest. Our relations with European
institutions also have its own positive dynamics. I already
mentioned energy projects, how we support Europe, when Europe asked
us to provide that support. We did it, because we always try to
help those who ask us for that. Our relations with the Muslim
countries is an example of solidarity and partnership. Azerbaijan
is considered as one of the most active members of the Organization
of Islamic Cooperation. So, this covers actually almost all the
members of international community and our policy was always aimed
at providing support when somebody needs it, and to demonstrate a
friendly approach to all the countries. And now - after restoration
of our territorial integrity and sovereignty, the ability of
Azerbaijan on international arena, of course, will be much bigger.
International reputation of Azerbaijan, a country, which on the
battlefield defended its territory, its dignity, and implemented
the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council itself, is,
of course, skyrocketing now.
Correspondent: In an interview with the
Euronews back this summer, you said that you had hoped that peace
between Armenia and Azerbaijan but nevertheless could be achieved
by the end of the year. Do you still maintain this position that
peace can be achieved, especially after tens of thousands had to
leave their homes and what is next for the dynamics of this
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, I was optimistic
about the timetable, because we exchanged several times with
Armenia the comments on the original draft peace treaty, which
Azerbaijan elaborated itself. After that, there have been six times
of exchange of comments between the two countries, and when I was
talking about that the last time to Euronews, I hoped that Armenia
will not prolong the process of evaluation of our comments. We
submitted the last comments to them on September 11, and received a
response from them only two days ago. So, almost two months and a
half, they had been evaluating the draft, which consists of several
pages. What does that mean? That means that they want to
artificially delay the process. Now, we are talking at the end of
November, and the hopes for achieving peace and signing peace
treaty by the end of the year are not very optimistic. But, I think
that the timetable is not so important. Important is the agenda of
both countries. It was Azerbaijan, who suffered occupation and
ethnic cleansing. Million Azerbaijanis were deported by Armenian
government. Devastation of the territory of almost 15,000 square
Nevertheless, we were the country, which made a proposal to sign
a peace agreement, and to start working on the delimitation. So,
Armenia, now after Karabakh portfolio is closed, I think, will be
more willing to come to an agreement with us. Because after the
restoration of our sovereignty and elimination of the illegal
separatist regime in Karabakh, I think, the main factor, which
prevented Armenia to be more courageous on negotiation track, don't
exist any longer.
So, we will evaluate their latest proposals, which as I said, we
received two days ago, and will comment on that. In the meantime,
we are maintaining the contacts on the working-level between
different officials and through different channels. I think there's
no alternative for peace. If peace agreement is not signed that
will be very bad for the whole region. We want a region of the
Southern Caucasus to get rid of any risks. Of course, we want
Armenia, today and in the future, never put under question our
territorial integrity, and abandon completely any territorial
claims to Azerbaijan.
Correspondent: So, what are the conditions for
peace to be achieved finally?
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, we elaborated
five basic principles, which should be the basis for peace
agreement: mutual recognition of each other's territorial
integrity; no use of force; no territorial claims to each other;
opening of the communications between both countries and
normalization of relations; and several other important factors.
All of those have been based on international law. During almost
three years of negotiation process, Armenia always wanted to
incorporate into peace agreement a provision with respect to the
Armenian minority in Karabakh. Our position was that this is our
internal business. If they want to reflect the issue of Armenian
minority in Azerbaijan, then, let us reflect the issue of
Azerbaijani minority in Armenia, which was expelled thirty years
ago. And, there were much more Azerbaijanis in Armenia than
Armenians in Azerbaijan - almost 300,000. So, our position was that
it must be reciprocal. Either we reflect these two issues of
national minorities, their rights and security, including the right
to return not only Armenians to return to Azerbaijan, but
Azerbaijanis to return to Armenia. It doesn't matter that
Azerbaijanis were expelled 30 years ago, and Armenians decided to
leave two months ago. The fact is just it must be reciprocal, or we
do not comment in our peace agreement about this issue. So, until
now, we did not get from Armenia any clear understanding on that.
So, if Armenia agrees to have either the same language for both
national minorities or not to reflect it at all, then the peace is
reachable, because this was a main obstacle for Armenia, when they
were negotiating with us. So, we will see how it goes. Frankly
speaking, I don't see now any serious obstacle to sign a peace
agreement from a logical point of view.
We say we need to sign it, they say it, but we need to deliver.
Our proposal was made public. Those famous five principles, which
I'm talking about, we made it public. It is known. There is no
objection from any responsible international actor, because all
these principles are fundamental principles of international law.
Armenia just need to comply with that. They should put an end to
all those attempts to contest our territorial integrity, and to
sponsor separatism on our territory, because Karabakh is part of
Azerbaijan, and all, including Armenia itself, recognize this. The
Armenian Prime Minister is the person who in 2019 in Khankendi at
the big rally said:“Karabakh is Armenia”. That was the end of
negotiation process, because after that, there was nothing to
negotiate. So, actually, the reason for the Second Karabakh War was
exactly Armenian government. Now the same person says“Karabakh is
Azerbaijan”. So, it's good, it's evolution. We always support
evolution, but now saying“Karabakh is Azerbaijan”, they need to
put a signature under that, and we are waiting for that.
Correspondent: And what about those people who
have left their homes?
President Ilham Aliyev: As to those people who
left their homes, first of all, that was their own decision. Our
public communications with Karabakh Armenians, and what we did
after, demonstrated that we wanted them to stay. We openly
announced that and I, during my appeal to Azerbaijani people after
the end of anti-terror operation, said that they could stay. We
opened the electronic portal of registration. All of those who want
to come back have this right. Their property is duly protected. All
the historical and religious sites are duly protected.
In order to come back they need to comply with certain
regulations, and I was saying that many months before the
anti-terror operations, those who want to stay need to apply for
the Azerbaijani citizenship. Because how can people live in
Azerbaijan being a citizen of another country? Either citizenship
or work permit, or residence permit. They cannot live in Azerbaijan
saying that they live in so-called“nagorno-karabakh republic”.
Because so-called“nagorno-karabakh republic” doesn`t exist. They
invented it in their dreams in their mythology. If they want to
live in Azerbaijan as citizens of Azerbaijan, of course, they can.
Azerbaijan is a multi-ethnic country, multi-confessional country.
We have many ethnic groups in Azerbaijan. Some of these ethnic
groups, the number of these ethnic groups, people who belong to
them is much bigger than Armenian population in Karabakh. All of
them live in peace, they enjoy all the rights and security. In our
proposal to Karabakh Armenians, which was, by the way, published,
we also covered their rights. Their right for their language, for
their education, religion, municipal rights. They can elect their
representatives through municipal elections and continue to live
there. The decision to leave was their own decision, and according
to information, which we now have access to, that was a deliberate
act of former so-called“leaders” of so-called“nagorno-karabakh
republic”. There was no need for them to leave, but when they
decided to leave, we could not stop them. We provided maximum
comfort for them to leave in peace, unlike Azerbaijanis, who were
either killed 30 years ago or deported, tortured, arrested, and
some of them had to cross high mountains, and were just frozen to
death in those mountains. All that was documented en route. All
that was also documented when Armenians of Karabakh region entered
Armenia. So, all was done in line with humanitarian standards. But
again, coming back to the question, they can come back.
Of course, they need to register in the electronic portal, which
we opened and which is available, that they want to come back, they
want to take Azerbaijani citizenship. Several of them already
applied for citizenship, and it is now in the process. Some
Armenians decided to stay in Karabakh, and now they've been taken
care of by our Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of
Population and Migration Service, they are registered. Not
completely everybody left. But in order to live in Azerbaijan, for
instance, if you want to live in Azerbaijan, what should you do?
You should get a work permit, residence permit if you want to live
for a long time or citizenship. So, how can you live in Azerbaijan
being a citizen of other country? It's not possible. The same is
If an Azerbaijani refugee, who was expelled from Armenia wants
to come back there, how he will come back? He will not come back
and say I'm here resident of Western Azerbaijan Republic. No. He
will come and apply for citizenship or work permit. Why should it
be different here? And that's how it will work only. Through
municipal elections, they can elect their representatives, which
will be in charge of municipalities. All this information was
delivered to Armenian representatives of Karabakh just after the
anti-terror operation, and then when we realized that they did not
make it public to the population of Karabakh, we made it public, we
So, this is a legal process based on international norms and
standards. Again, I'd like to say that Azerbaijan is a multi-ethnic
country and no ethnic group in Azerbaijan ever had any concerns or
any problems based on their religious or ethnic grounds. Anyone who
knows Azerbaijan can confirm this. By the way, today, we have
Armenian population living in different parts of Azerbaijan without
any problems. Armenians and Azerbaijanis are living side by side in
Russia, living side by side in Ukraine, and even in the same
villages in Georgia. Why they cannot live in Azerbaijan or in
Armenia? I think they can.
Correspondent: Thank you very much, Mr.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you.