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A reception was hosted for members of the Olympic family on the occasion of the First European Games VIDEO

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Baku, June 14, AZERTAC

President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and his wife, chairperson of the Baku 2015 First European Games Organizing Committee Mehriban Aliyeva have hosted a reception for members of the Olympic family on the occasion of Baku 2015 First European Games.

The head of state addressed the reception.

Then President of the European Olympic Committees Patrick Hickey made a speech.

Speech by President Ilham Aliyev:

- Dear President of the European Olympic Committee Patrick Hickey.

Members of the international and European Olympic family.

Ladies and gentlemen.

I want to welcome you all to Azerbaijan again. I am glad to see you in this beautiful hotel today, and I hope that you are enjoying your time in Azerbaijan.

Two days ago we witnessed the opening of the First European Games. The ceremony made a deep impression on all of us. For our guests it was an opportunity to get more information about Azerbaijan, its culture, music and traditions, and for our audience to see Europe's top athletes, representatives of the entire international and European Olympic family and feel proud for their country. You can imagine that after the opening ceremony our citizens sent me numerous addresses saying how proud they are of their country.

In connection with the organization of the First European Games in Azerbaijan I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the European Olympic Committee, Patrick Hickey, for the decision dictated by his views inherent in an outstanding statesman, which was then supported by the European Olympic Committee. The decision made on 12 December 2012 was historic. We have received the opportunity to organize the second largest international sporting event to the Summer Olympic Games. For European sport it was a decision that restored justice because, as you know, other continents have been conducting their games for many years, and only Europe never had Games of its own. So I think that it was a manifestation of justice, because Europe is the birthplace of the Olympic movement, Olympic ideas and Olympism. The Olympic movement began in ancient Greece, and later Baron de Coubertin revived it. Now justice has been restored, and we can be proud of the work done.

We have worked hard to organize Games of this level. They will be remembered by our citizens, visitors and the whole of Europe. Taking this opportunity, I would like to congratulate the Azerbaijani people and the peoples of Europe on this great event once again. I wish all the athletes success and victories.

We already have winners and champions. We are proud that the Azerbaijani athletes have already won several medals, including three gold. If we consider that even today some of our athletes have advanced to the finals, we will have a chance to win more medals. You can understand the importance of this great sporting event for Azerbaijan – a young country that has been independent for less than 24 years. This is a sporting event, an event of friendship. To us, it provides an opportunity to show the Europeans our history, literature and music. I am sure that after the Games more and more visitors and tourists will want to come to Azerbaijan from Europe, and Europeans will have more complete information about Azerbaijan.

Our country has ancient traditions, a great history and historic figures. But as an independent country we have existed for only 24 years. In 1991, we regained our independence, but the first independent democratic republic was established in 1918, after the collapse of the Russian Empire. It was the first democratic republic of the Muslim world. The application of a republican system in Azerbaijan was a choice of the founding fathers of the republic at the time. Women were granted the right to vote, which happened earlier than in many European countries. Azerbaijan created the first opera, the first ballet and the first theater of the Muslim world, and we are proud of that. Azerbaijan has always been a space of interreligious coexistence, multiculturalism, ethnic and religious diversity. It has always been an integral part of our identity. In the years of independence these positive trends the world needs grew even stronger, and I am proud of that.

Azerbaijani society is multicultural. I recently signed a decree on the establishment of a Center of multiculturalism in Azerbaijan, and a monument to tolerance has been unveiled in one of the most beautiful parts of Baku – not far from the Flag Square. All of this is part of our lives and policies.

Azerbaijan is a member of both the Council of Europe and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Both of these organizations include more than a hundred members. We play the role of a natural bridge between Europe and Asia. It is not only a geographical, but also a cultural, economic and political bridge. Thus, the years of our independence have been a period of reform. We had to create not only a state but also to transform it from one system to another. Our reforms led to the success and prosperity of our country. Today, Azerbaijan has the opportunity to hold such a large-scale event as the European Games. This is an indicator of the progress we have made in the past years.

Political reforms were supplemented by economic transformation. The priorities of our policy have been democratization, the rule of law, the protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights. All freedoms are guaranteed in Azerbaijan – freedom of the media, free uncensored Internet. Seventy per cent of our population are Internet users. There is freedom of political activity, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and conscience. At the same time, as a result of economic reforms we are pursuing an independent foreign policy, because if you are economically weak today, it is difficult to defend your position in the international arena. Today, Azerbaijan is a country enjoying great authority in the world. The most graphic evidence of this is the fact that Azerbaijan, whose candidacy was put forward for nonpermanent membership in the UN Security Council, the most authoritative structure in the world, was supported by 155 countries a few years ago. Azerbaijan was represented on the UN Security Council for the first time. It was the top of our political and diplomatic activity. Without economic reforms we probably could not have achieved this.

Today, despite the crisis, the Azerbaijani economy is stable, sustainable and growing. The last 10 years have been the years of unprecedented development of our economy. Our economy has tripled. We have managed to reduce poverty from 49 to 5 per cent. Unemployment is less than 5 per cent. Our foreign debt accounts for less than 10 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product. In January of this year, the Davos Economic Forum, where we made a presentation of the European Games together with President Patrick Hickey, honored Azerbaijan with 38th place in terms of global economic competitiveness. It is these reforms that have allowed us the opportunity to look to the future with optimism.

Of course, the work we have done over the last 10 years on the development of sport and the Olympic movement has positive results. I remember attending, together with President Hickey, the opening ceremony of an Olympic Center in one of our regions. The visit of the President of the European Olympic Committee to Masalli and his participation in the opening of a regional sports center were a good indicator for local athletes and the younger generation. After that we have built dozens of such centers. Today, Baku is a city with the most developed sports infrastructure in the region, perhaps even the world.

Dear friends. I want to thank you again for being with us these days. You know, I can talk a lot about Azerbaijan, the work we are doing and our plans for the future, because it is impossible to provide complete information about this in a short presentation. I can only add that we are committed to continuing our development. We know our goals for the future, we want to turn Azerbaijan into a developed country in the world. We are going to bring Azerbaijani criteria to the highest international ones. Also, we have tried to raise the standards of the First European Games as much as possible. I can honestly say that these standards have been set by the European Olympic Committee and the Organizing Committee. These standards could have been lower, but the European Olympic Committee and the Organizing Committee decided that we should apply standards that would reflect the dynamics of Azerbaijan.

These Games should be for Europe. As Mehriban said at the opening ceremony, these Games are being held for athletes, visitors and thousands of people coming to Azerbaijan. I am sure that these people will want to come back to Azerbaijan, because they are witnessing hospitality and respect here. Azerbaijan is proud of that. I am sure that the athletes feel at home here, and each of us enjoys the memorable days of your lives.

I would like to once again express my gratitude to the European Olympic family for the opportunity to introduce our country to Europe and the world. Thank you very much.

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