- Dear fellow compatriots.
2021 is now in the past. 2021 was a successful year for our country. We have achieved all the goals we set for ourselves during the year. Azerbaijan has developed successfully, and a stronger Azerbaijan is known in the world today.
We have strengthened our standing in the international arena. Our international reputation has enhanced and we have successfully operated within several international organizations. As you may know, as a country chairing the Non-Aligned Movement, we have defended the interests of all member states, defended the norms and principles of international law, and it is no coincidence that all member states of the Non-Aligned Movement unanimously extended Azerbaijan's chairmanship for another year. The second largest organization to the United Nations, numbering 120 members, it has once again unanimously expressed its support for Azerbaijan.
This year, we have successfully completed our chairmanship of the Turkic Council. As you may know, the Organization of Turkic States was established at the November summit, and this organization has always supported Azerbaijan in our just cause – like the Non-Aligned Movement.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation is an international organization that traditionally supports the rightful position of Azerbaijan. This year, we have felt this support, and I appreciate the work of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for accepting the consequences of the war.
At the same time, I had successful visits to NATO and the European Union in December. During the summits, NATO consistently adopted resolutions supporting Azerbaijan's sovereignty and territorial integrity. These resolutions were adopted by nine summits. This support was expressed again this time. The final document adopted at the end of the EU Eastern Partnership Summit once again supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of countries.
In other words, the whole world accepts the results of the second Karabakh war. I think that the post-war processes have once again proved to the whole world that we are right. This is very important. Because baseless accusations were voiced against us during the second Karabakh war. None of those unfounded allegations have been substantiated, and the post-war period has shown this again. Therefore, I think that accepting the realities of the war, the post-war realities, can be viewed as a very important event from a political point of view.
As for our activities in the international arena, I must say that our relations with neighboring countries have developed successfully. These relations are traditionally based on friendship and cooperation. The Shusha Declaration signed with Turkey this year officially raises Turkish-Azerbaijani relations to the level of an alliance, although in fact it was already an allied relationship. However, it has already been officially confirmed and, of course, the signing of this declaration in Shusha had a special meaning.
Our relations with Russia are developing successfully. I am confident that in the forthcoming period, our relations with Russia will be officially raised to a higher level.
Friendly and partnership relations have been further developed during regular contacts and exchanges of views with other neighbors, Iran and Georgia. A platform for multilateral cooperation is already being formed in the region, and, of course, this is in our interests.
Speaking of neighbors, of course, I never included Armenia in this category of countries. I still do not include it today. But I do hope that one day neighborly relations with Armenia will be established. In any case, by accepting the results of the second Karabakh war, Armenia can also increase its role in the regional framework. The meetings held in Sochi and Brussels in November and December are at least encouraging, and I hope that the agreements reached at these meetings will be reflected in real life in 2022.
We must never forget the second Karabakh war. We must not and will not forget the atrocities committed during the occupation. We will always keep the memory of our martyrs in our hearts. May Allah rest the souls of all our martyrs in peace! It is thanks to their heroism and the heroism and professionalism of thousands, tens of thousands of Azerbaijani soldiers and officers that we have put an end to the occupation, liberated our native lands and won this historic Victory. And this Victory will remain in our history forever. The people of Azerbaijan are already known in the world as a victorious people, and the Azerbaijani state is recognized as a victorious country. I must also say that this year the traditional support and respect for Azerbaijan has increased, and the main reason for that has been our victory in the second Karabakh war, our observance of all the rules of war during the war and our post-war dignified behavior.
At the same time, we will continue to increase our military strength. In 2021, tangible steps have been taken in this direction, new weapons and equipment have been purchased and will continue to be purchased. At the same time, great importance is being attached to the training of our military units. In the second Karabakh war, the whole world saw the military power of Azerbaijan. The special forces of the Ministry of Defense are already recognized all over the world. Their heroism, selflessness and professionalism have become an epic. I must also say that a new military unit has been established in Azerbaijan this year – the Commando Forces. These Commandos are ready to perform any military task, and their number is constantly growing and will continue to grow. Thus, the creation of a new agile, professional armed force with great capabilities gives us reason to say that we must be ready for the protection of our lands and borders at any moment. Some incidents on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in 2021 showed that Azerbaijan retains the upper hand.
Extensive construction and restoration work has begun on the liberated lands this year. I can say that in the history of world wars, no reconstruction work has been carried out at this speed after a war. Azerbaijani citizens are regularly updated about this work. If I start talking about it, it will probably take a few hours. Everything is clear. Our main task is to return the former IDPs to their ancestral lands as soon as possible, and we will achieve that.
At the same time, development is in evidence in all regions of Azerbaijan. The regional development program is being successfully implemented. This year, I have made effort to find additional opportunities through numerous visits to the regions, and my visits are of regular nature. I visited the regions of Azerbaijan 47 times this year, 32 of which were visits to liberated lands. I went to Shusha alone seven times. We have started large-scale construction work in Shusha, and naturally, the largest-scale restoration work among the liberated lands is being carried out in Shusha. At the same time, large-scale work is being and will be carried out in other cities and villages.
Of course, in order to achieve all this, our economy must develop successfully. Everyone in Azerbaijan and indeed the world knows that Azerbaijan is doing this alone, without receiving a single manat or a dollar from the outside. Work done in all liberated lands is carried out at the expense of the state budget of Azerbaijan. We have not received any assistance, we have not received any loans, so we are doing this work on our own. Of course, if economic development does not go fast, it will not be possible to do it at this speed. As a result of the work done, we can say that we have already entered the post-crisis period. Azerbaijan's economy grew by 5.3 percent in the first 11 months of this year, while the non-oil economy grew by 6.4 percent. Industrial production increased by 5.5 percent and in the non-oil sector by 20.7 percent. Our foreign exchange reserves have increased by $2.2 billion. The positive balance of our trade relations is $9.4 billion. Our external public debt accounts for only 17 percent of our gross domestic product, and this year the external public debt has decreased, both in absolute terms and in relation to GDP.
In other words, any country would be proud of such indicators. But for us it is natural. Because the people of Azerbaijan see that economic development is envisaged as a result of the implementation of a long-term and correct strategy. At the same time, economic reforms, transparency and the fight against corruption and bribery are bearing fruit. Thanks to the tax authorities alone, 1.4 billion manats have been transferred into the treasury in addition to the forecast, and using this money we are implementing large-scale social initiatives. From 1 January, salaries, pensions and benefits will be significantly increased. The total amount of this social package, which covers two million and one hundred thousand people, is 1.5 billion manats. As you can see, tax authorities have attracted 1.4 billion manats into the treasury in addition to the forecast, and all of that, in excess, is aimed at addressing social problems. I have said before that as additional funds are raised, we will first channel these funds into social projects. At the same time, work done in the liberated lands is socially oriented. Because the vast majority of this work is of social nature, it is intended to return the former IDPs to those territories as soon as possible.
I think that good results have been achieved in the fight against COVID this year, and the pandemic is under full control. Azerbaijan is one of a handful of countries where the situation in this area is acceptable. At the same time, the large-scale vaccination policy and vaccination work are proving helpful. About 50 percent of the population has already received two doses of the vaccine. As for the population over 18 years of age, this figure reaches 62 percent. In total, more than 11 million doses of vaccine have been administered, and we will continue to fight this scourge in the new year.
In 2022, we will celebrate the 270th anniversary of Shusha. Panahali Khan laid the foundation of Shusha in 1752, and we will celebrate this anniversary with great solemnity in the coming year. Taking into account this glorious history and in order to accelerate the restoration of Shusha, I declare the new year a “Year of Shusha”.
As you know, it is the Day of Solidarity of World Azerbaijanis today. I am sure that Azerbaijanis around the world are celebrating this holiday with great enthusiasm. It is the second year they have been celebrating with such enthusiasm. Because I know that this period of occupation and the issues related to the occupation had caused great suffering to the Azerbaijanis living abroad. Because, in communicating with the Armenians in different countries, I know that their arrogant looks had been offending the Azerbaijanis of the world. The situation is completely different now. We have never been arrogant, but we have always felt our strength. Today, I am sure that the Azerbaijanis of the world, whatever country they may live in, are keeping their head high, are confident and are justifiably proud of their historical homeland Azerbaijan.
Dear fellow compatriots, as I said, this year has been successful for our country. I am confident that 2022 will also be successful. Because the unity, solidarity and beautiful atmosphere in the country will provide us with this reality. As President and Commander-in-Chief, I will always stand guard over the interests of Azerbaijan, do my best for the comprehensive development of our country, increase its military power and make the lives of our citizens even better.
I heartily congratulate you. Happy Holidays!
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