Today, we will traditionally discuss the results of nine months and talk about the work to be done before the end of this year and next year.
2016 has been a very difficult year for the global economy. Perhaps it has been one of the most difficult years in history. Crisis in the global economy continues. The crisis is affecting both countries rich in natural resources and consumer states. Of course, the sharp drop in oil prices has had a negative impact on oil-rich economies. At the same time, other countries performing their oil contracts in oil countries are also affected because the companies of these countries fulfill their contracts to a lesser extent. Therefore, this crisis is having a negative impact on these countries.
In 2016, the world is experiencing a political and military crisis. Bloody clashes and wars flare up in various regions of the world. There are growing risks and threats. I can say that the situation in the Middle East has reached a critical point. The confrontation observed in the Middle East can lead to a major catastrophe. We can all see the situation gradually escalating.
Look at the migration crisis in Europe. We can say that it is observed all over the world. I have repeatedly expressed my opinion about the migration crisis. I want to say again that these people are trying to save their lives and are not to be blamed. Their countries have been destroyed by outside interference. Their cities have been razed to the ground. Their close relatives, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. They head for Europe to save their lives, but in Europe they are sometimes met with barbed wire and bars. This, of course, if I may say so, is a sign of the current year, and it deals a huge blow to the relations between civilizations. We have been trying for many years to strengthen the intercultural dialogue. Our work has won great praise in the world. Unfortunately, this trend is moving in the opposite direction in different countries of the world.
The migration crisis, in turn, plays into the hands of radical parties in Western countries. They get more votes. First of all, this indicates that society is already providing them with more support. At the same time, if this trend continues into the future, these parties will come to power. It is no secret what their policies will be like after this. This will further deepen the confrontation between civilizations. Our society should be aware of all these realities. The regions we live in and the world have changed. And we must pursue our policy in accordance with that.
Our advantage is that we always go your own way, pursue our own policy and do not act on someone else's orders. This is why Azerbaijan is on the path of development and stability today. Some people keep saying today that we have to integrate somewhere. They probably do not understand themselves what this means. We have already integrated where necessary. Today Azerbaijan plays an important role and has won a lot of sympathy in various international organizations. Where are we supposed to integrate? Some people say that in order to please someone or justify the donor money, we have to integrate into Europe. The question is which Europe are we supposed to integrate into? Today's Europe is in front of our eyes. The top leaders of the European Union acknowledge that Europe is experiencing a deep crisis today. Are we supposed to integrate into a crisis?! Are we supposed to integrate into where they say “stop Muslims”?! Are we supposed to integrate into the society of those who apply double standards to Muslim refugees?! Are we supposed to integrate into the society of those who keep Muslims in cages?! This is the question, and we are talking about this. Therefore, in some cases we come under pressure, are subjected to campaigns and various calumnies. We should be aware of these realities.
We are going our own way and have established very close ties with Europe. We have signed various documents with the European Union. At the same time, we are working on another document now. On our initiative, a proposal we sent to the European Commission is being discussed. We are talking about a partnership format. We have documents on strategic partnership with nine EU member-states. For 15 years we have been part of the Council of Europe, and our positions there are getting stronger every day. We have even managed to create a watershed in this organization. Most deputies of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe already see that we were treated unfairly, were subjected to double standards, and the situation is quite normal today. Therefore, we have no problems with cooperation. We are open to cooperation. But cooperation is one thing, while integration is another. Those who do not know the difference between the two words should hear this again today and put an end to inappropriate speculation they have been engaged in for their own propaganda in order to please somebody.
Against the backdrop of such an international panorama, Azerbaijan is developing successfully. We host prestigious international events. The Fifth Baku International Humanitarian Forum has recently been completed. More than 400 well-known figures from nearly 80 countries participated in the forum. The forum praised the work we have been doing again, in particular related to multiculturalism. This year, our country also hosted other international events. Among them, I want to highlight the Seventh Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. The fact that this forum was held in Azerbaijan was a great assessment of the international community for the work we have carried out in this area.
We have held major sporting events in Azerbaijan, organized the Formula-1 competition with an audience of 500 million people. The leaders of Formula-1 indicated that the best Formula-1 event was held in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan held its first World Chess Olympiad, which was organized at the best level. This Olympiad brought together representatives from around the world – from nearly 200 countries.
Among the major international events, I want to emphasize the official visit of Pope Francis to Azerbaijan. It was a historic visit, as the Pope sent very open messages to the world from Baku. His valuable thoughts related to the state of multiculturalism in Azerbaijan reflect the truth and, at the same time, are a wonderful manifestation of the assessment of this work by the head of world Catholics.
This is what we are doing! Everything around us is on fire and ablaze. The risks are growing. We must and we do protect our happy life and happy future. Azerbaijan lives in peace, calm and security. People live in peace. Creative work is under way. Our cities are becoming ever more beautiful and landscaped. Everything is going very well.
This year we conducted a referendum, which is of great importance for our country. First of all, I must say that the referendum was conducted in a democratic, fair and completely transparent atmosphere. Over a hundred foreign observers monitored the referendum. Several international opinion agencies conducted an exit poll. Its results coincide with the official results. This is natural, because the referendum was held in a completely transparent and fair fashion. According to the latest data I have, the Central Electoral Commission has received a total of 20 or so complaints. We have more than 5,000 polling stations and there were only 20 complaints, maybe a little more. What does this mean? It means that the people of Azerbaijan support the results of the referendum. Their will is reflected in the results of the referendum.
The international organizations that conducted monitoring, in particular, representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, gave a very high assessment to the referendum. This is very important, because European organizations usually criticize us. They have often criticized us groundlessly. However, even the organization that is accustomed to criticizing us could not find any faults. This is one of the results of the referendum. It shows that no matter what people may say or invent, Azerbaijan is on the path of democracy. We conduct free elections and a transparent referendum. We can serve as an example for many countries, in particular those that regard themselves the cradle of democracy. Let them come and study our experience.
The second main result of the referendum is that the absolute majority of the Azerbaijani people supported the proposed changes. In fact, it means great popular support for our policies. I personally perceive it that way, because the proposed changes were initiated by us and the people of Azerbaijan, the overwhelming majority said "yes" in the referendum. Of course, this gives us additional strength. It was another test for us, a test in a year of crisis.
Of course, I already know the atmosphere in our country, what issues people are concerned about and what their attitude to our common cause is. I know it perfectly well. The referendum results once again demonstrated this throughout the country, to all our people and the world. The people of Azerbaijan support our current policy, are committed to it and see that there is no alternative to this policy. An alternative policy could be a disaster. It may lead Azerbaijan to an abyss again, turn it into an arena of bloodshed. The Azerbaijani people have supported our policy and said "yes" in the referendum. I would like to express my gratitude to the Azerbaijani people again for the great confidence and support. I want to assure my dear people again that I will continue to follow this path, ensure the development of Azerbaijan, so that no outside force can divert us from this path.
We have strengthened our international standing this year. Many international organizations have supported Azerbaijan again. Among them, I want to emphasize two organizations. One is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which, at its summit this year, established a contact group on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The contact group is already working. The summit expressed its support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan again. A recent the Summit of Non-Aligned Movement, the second biggest organization only to the UN, adopted another decision on the settlement of Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within the framework of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. This is our great diplomatic and political success.
We see these great trends in other organizations too. The European Parliament. The official statement recently voiced by the European Parliament demonstrates a fair position on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Azerbaijani public is well aware that Azerbaijan broke all ties with the European Parliament for one year and withdrew from Euronest. There are reasons for that and our people are aware. I simply want to say that it was not our fault. We are not to blame. We were subjected to an injustice. We were insulted. Words unacceptable in diplomacy were used in relation to us. We, of course, also had our say. The Azerbaijani Parliament issued a very sound and reasoned response, i.e. in line with the resolution of the European Parliament, at the same level. Our relations were frozen for one year, but the Azerbaijani people did not even feel that. I said at the time that it is good to have relations, but if they are not there, it will not affect our work in any way. What happened as a result? They came here to resume the relationship themselves. They were convinced that insults and pressure lead nowhere, even though they should have known long ago that this would not work. They came here to restore these relations. We also had some suggestions. These were received positively, and a joint statement was made in the end. The statement said that the European Parliament regrets that such actions were committed. It also pointed out that effort would be made to avoid the recurrence of such actions. We also demonstrated a constructive position, decided that this was acceptable and renewed the relations.
What do I mean? I do not want to praise ourselves. I never have done that although there are grounds for that. We are a country with dignity which has lived independently for 25 years. We will not allow anyone to insult us. We respond to every inappropriate action, we say your word, we are not ashamed of anyone, we demonstrate a principled position not only on issues that concern us but also in all matters. We have our own position on all the events happening in the world and, not afraid of anything, we express this position.
This year, more than 20 heads of state and government have paid official and working visits to Azerbaijan. I have paid 14 foreign visits. Before the end of this year, more visits by heads of state and government to Azerbaijan are expected. I will also pay several visits. So we have conducted a very active foreign policy, which asserts Azerbaijan as a model country in the world.
In April of this year, Azerbaijan won a great military victory. The April battles are a glorious page in our history. The Azerbaijani army has liberated parts of Agdara, Fizuli and Jabrail districts from occupation and raised the Azerbaijani flag on these lands. An area of more than 2,000 hectares has been cleared from occupiers, while a territory several times bigger has come under our control. We have gained full advantage of the line of contact and can destroy any enemy target today.
After the April fighting the mediators became slightly more active. You know that meetings were held in May and June, but it is already October. Armenia has employed its dirty tactics again and, relying on the support of the Armenian lobby, wants this issue to be removed from the world agenda. We must not allow that. This issue should be resolved quickly. But both you and the Azerbaijani people are well aware that the issue is not being solved not only because of Armenia. Armenia has great patrons. Some give it money, others provide weapons, others create a lobby, others advocate for it. This is why the issue remains unresolved. It is therefore necessary to clarify this issue. We are well aware that we are faced with double standards, and the unresolved status of this issue does not do any credit to the UN Security Council, as it has adopted four resolutions. These resolutions have not been executed for more than 20 years. Let them respect at least their own decisions. We can clearly see how Armenia violates international law.
We should become even stronger economically, politically and militarily, and we have this power. We simply want a peaceful solution to the issue and carry out a consistent policy in this direction.
You must have heard or read the latest statement from America. The people of Azerbaijan are aware of it. This statement is surprising, to say the least. To blame Azerbaijan for failing to resolve the conflict is at least unfair. On the other hand, how is this statement consistent with others?! After all, there is a thesis which has been repeatedly proclaimed by the Presidents of America, Russia and France: "The status quo is unacceptable." We welcome that. Nothing specific was done after these words, but the appearance of these words is a great success for us. With such a strong statement, to say that "both sides are to blame", that "parties are not ready" and that "this issue is more complicated the Palestinian-Israeli conflict" simply means support for the aggressive policy of Armenia. There can be no other explanation. Various statements are made now that these expressions were taken out of context and misunderstood. We understand everything – we live in an age of the Internet. Words said somewhere in the word immediately reverberate. We do not accept such statements. We believe that such expressions should be amended at the highest level and in the near future. Otherwise, the mediation mission may be in doubt. It was only a thesis expressed in an official manner. But there is so much talk behind closed doors! So much pressure is exerted on us for Azerbaijan to agree to the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh! We are not saying this because diplomacy has its own rules. However, the main reason of the campaign of slander and insult being waged against us by Western media and nongovernmental organizations, as well as the use of the "fifth column" which receives orders, is to force us to agree to the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. This will never happen! As long as we are in power, and the referendum has shown that we will stay in power for a long time, Insha'Allah, Azerbaijan will never agree to this. Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan, and we must restore our territorial integrity.
This year, our athletes delighted us a lot. Our team won 18 medals in the Summer Olympics in Rio. For the number of medals, we are in 14th place globally, in 7th place in Europe, second among post-Soviet republics after Russia and first in the Muslim world. There is no need for commenting on these figures.
Let’s look at the economy. As I have already noted, the oil prices have dropped, causing a reduction of public investment. Less funds were invested in the construction sector, which to some extent led an economic downturn. But it is encouraging that our industry is growing. Our industrial capacity is growing, albeit only slightly – by 0.2 per cent. The non-oil sector of our economy is growing. Industrial growth is 3.6 per cent, which is good. Agriculture has increased by 2.4 per cent, and I am sure that it will continue to grow because the work we are doing in the field of agriculture will produce even better results in the near future.
Social projects have been implemented. We have built 29 schools, 485 schools have undergone renovation, while 33 health facilities have been built and refurbished. We have implemented major road projects, projects of rural roads. In some of our cities, we have implemented drinking water projects. We are implementing infrastructure projects and have created 154,000 jobs, including 121,000 permanent ones. In the first nine months, 36,000 jobs were closed. Of course, we constantly analyze the reasons for the jobs being closed. We have created 121,000 permanent jobs and closed 36,000. This is an excellent indicator. I think it is quite a special indicator for a year of crisis.
Work in other directions is going according to plan. The Southern Gas Corridor project is being successfully implemented. Azerbaijan is becoming a very important transportation center. The cargo containers sent from afar are already passing through the territory of Azerbaijan. In other words, by creating a powerful transport infrastructure, we will secure long-term political and economic interests of our country.
We will now talk about the work to be done before the end of this year. I think that results of 2016 are generally good. We have done a good job. 2016 has been the most difficult and challenging year for the country’s economy in recent years. But, as I said, we will stay on the path of development.