- Dear fellow countrymen, I sincerely congratulate you on the occasion of Novruz. Novruz is a favorite holiday of our people. The people of Azerbaijan have been celebrating Novruz for centuries. We are celebrating this holiday with good results. Azerbaijan is developing successfully and comprehensively. All our objectives are being met. The Azerbaijani state rests on deep national and moral roots. Novruz is our national asset.
Many important events have taken place since the previous Novruz. Presidential election was held in April and the people of Azerbaijan showed great confidence in me again. I am grateful to my people for this support and confidence. I regard this support as a recognition of the work carried out in recent years. At the same time, I see this as support for the new stage of reforms that were announced in the run-up to the presidential election. Large-scale reforms were launched after the presidential election. The results of these reforms are already evident and will continue to be seen by the people of Azerbaijan.
Two months after Novruz, a very important event occurred in the life of our country. The official opening of the Southern Gas Corridor took place in May. This is a historic project. The implementation of this project will ensure long-term and sustainable development of our country, will protect our political and economic interests. Also in May, another major project was commissioned. We celebrated the opening of the Alat international trade seaport. The launch of this port and of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway in 2017 turned Azerbaijan into an important international transport center in Eurasia. Today we are giving a successful impetus to the activities of the East-West and North-South corridors. Azerbaijan is successfully involved in both projects. I can say that more than 10 countries participate in these projects, but only one country, Azerbaijan, takes an active part in the North-South and East-West transport corridors. We are the author of many initiatives.
In June, another historic event took place – the TANAP gas pipeline was inaugurated. The implementation of this project is the key prerequisite for the launch of the Southern Gas Corridor as a whole. We successfully marked this historic event, and additional volumes of Azerbaijani gas are now transported via the TANAP pipeline to world markets.
Last year, we launched our third satellite into orbit, thereby demonstrating again that Azerbaijan is successfully and rapidly developing in technological respect. The development of the space industry is one of our top priorities.
Last year we ensured the implementation of the third state program on the socioeconomic development of the regions. The program was exceeded, and the execution of three programs has led to great changes. We have reconstructed practically all our infrastructure. In terms of infrastructure, Azerbaijan is developing at a very high pace. Suffice it to say that within the framework of the three programs we have begun to export electricity. Provision inside the country is complete, although in previous years we depended on imports. We have brought gasification to 95 percent, which is one of the highest and best indicators on a global scale. Clean drinking water lines have been laid in most of our cities, and this process continues. Fifteen thousand kilometers of new roads have been built, and according to the Davos World Economic Forum, Azerbaijan is in 34th place on a global scale in terms of the quality of the road infrastructure. Social infrastructure facilities have been built, more than 3,200 schools and over 640 medical institutions have been built or reconstructed. More than two million jobs have been created. The population has increased by 1.6 million people.
Our international positions are strengthening. Today, Azerbaijan has established very effective and businesslike bilateral relations with many countries. In many cases, Azerbaijan has been the initiator of a multilateral cooperation format. Our relations with neighboring countries have entered a new phase. For any country, relations with neighbors are of particular importance. I am very glad that we have managed to establish fruitful and businesslike relations based on mutual respect with our neighboring countries. Our relations with Muslim countries are developing, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation appreciates the activities of Azerbaijan in this area. Our contribution to Islamic solidarity is highly appreciated throughout the Muslim world.
Last summer, a document on the priorities of partnership with the European Union was initialed. This is a very important document, especially if we consider that it contains special paragraphs, special thoughts concerning the territorial integrity, sovereignty and the inviolability of the borders of Azerbaijan. Of course, this is a very important issue, which is of paramount importance especially for the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
As far as the settlement of the conflict is concerned, the position of Azerbaijan remains unchanged. This conflict must be resolved only within the territorial integrity of our country. Nagorno-Karabakh is our historical land, and the earliest possible resolution of the conflict must be based only on the norms and principles of international law. As you know, the Armenian side has raised questions about changing the format of the negotiations. However, Azerbaijan certainly cannot accept this. At the same time, the ambassadors of the Minsk Group co-chair countries, representatives of the United States, France and Russia, have issued a serious statement, noting that the format must remain unchanged. Similar statements have been made by high-ranking officials of the European Union. So this is definitely a serious signal for Armenia. It is also evidence that the position of Azerbaijan gains even greater support.
Conflict resolution will lead to peace and stability in the region. Of course, Azerbaijan seeks and will strive to seek a solution of this issue only on the basis of the norms and principles of international law and within the framework of the territorial integrity of our country.
Along with this, of course, we are increasing our military capability. The two military parades held last year demonstrated our military power to the world. This year and beyond, we will do everything necessary to build up the army. The absolute majority of our military units have been reconstructed. The Azerbaijani army has the most modern equipment and our combat effectiveness is growing with every day. Today, the Novruz holiday is also celebrated in Jojug Marjanli. The construction and restoration of Jojug Marjanli and the return of life there are our historic achievements. Today, Jojug Marjanli is evidence of the unbending spirit of the Azerbaijani people.
As you know, Azerbaijan has entered a new stage of reforms. They are comprehensive. The economic reforms allow us the opportunity to generate additional revenues, and our budget revenues have increased. In January-February of this year, our budget revenues increased by 150 million manats. This has enabled us to channel these funds into social projects. As I have already noted, work on serious reforms began after last year's presidential election. Today, a very serious social package has been approved. As a result of these social initiatives, more than 3 million people have improved their material, financial situation. As you know, the minimum wage and minimum pension have been increased by almost 40 percent. On average, social benefits have doubled. The allowance paid to IDPs has been increased by 50 percent. Scholarships for students, allowances paid to martyr families and other social benefits have been increased. A decree related to the documentation of multi-apartment buildings has been signed. A very serious decree has been signed concerning problem loans. I can say that this decree is unprecedented in the world and covers 800,000 people. So the Azerbaijani state once again demonstrates that it always stands by its people.
As our economic power grows, social issues will be addressed on an even broader scale. Economic growth is evident. In two months of this year, the gross domestic product increased by 3 percent. This is the highest figure in recent years. Industrial production has increased by 4.6 percent. This is also a good indicator. However, the largest increase relates to industrial production in the non-oil sector. It accounts for 15.5 percent. I believe that this is a world record and the result of deliberate and serious economic reforms pursued in recent years.
The reforms will be further deepened. There is no alternative to that. Political reforms, economic reforms, reforms in the social sphere, reforms in the judicial system – relevant instructions have already been given. A package of documents is being prepared – in the fields of education, healthcare, etc. Azerbaijan has embarked on a new phase in all areas. Azerbaijan is renewing, increasing its power and modernizing. We have built a strong state based on deep national and spiritual roots. Never before has Azerbaijan been as strong as it is now. But this does not mean that we should be content with this progress. It inspires and encourages us to look into the future with even greater optimism.
I am absolutely convinced that we will complete this year successfully. From now on, Azerbaijan will follow exclusively the path of development and progress. The social status of our people will improve with every year.
Dear fellow countrymen, let me once again heartily congratulate you on this wonderful holiday of spring and wish you health and happiness. Happy holidays!
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