Dear ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to all our guests for being with us today. It is a big honor to host such distinguished delegations from more than 50 countries. Nizami Ganjavi International Center, in a relatively short period of time, transformed into a global international institution with very high reputation and with very high level of performance. Baku Global Forum is one of the initiatives of Nizami Center. And first of all I would like to express my gratitude to the co-chairs of Nizami Center, Madame Vike-Freiberga and Mr. Ismail Serageldin for their outstanding contribution to transforming the center into one of the really most important international centers. For the sixth time the center organizes Baku Global Forum, which also transformed, in a relatively short period of time, into a very important platform to address important issues on global agenda.
Among our guests, as I said, we have representatives from more than 50 countries. Among them are more than 450 guests, 47 acting and former heads of state and government, prominent politicians, statesmen, scientists, representatives of civil society. During the work of the forum, I am sure, that we will broadly discuss the issues, which are high on agenda of international relations. I am also sure that there will be important recommendations in order to provide security, stability, predictability, and cooperation in the world.
Azerbaijan has already hosted many international events. Among them are traditional Baku Humanitarian Forum, regular World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, World Religious Leaders' Forum, Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, inaugural European Games in 2015 and fourth Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017. All these events serve the cause of cooperation. These events build bridges, establish a greater understanding between representatives of different countries, different religions, different views.
This year we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of Baku Process, which has now full support from the United Nations, and which is a unique platform for cooperation between member countries of the Council of Europe, and members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Azerbaijan as a member of both international organizations initiated a meeting of the ministers of culture of both organizations in Baku in 2008. And this process continues. Now Baku Process embraces very broad activity in order to create a better understanding between international organizations and peoples.
As I said before, all our efforts are aimed at strengthening security, stability, predictability and peaceful co-existence and understanding between peoples. Multiculturalism is a state policy in Azerbaijan, it is our lifestyle. We are proud of a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional society, and representatives of all the religions and all ethnic groups live in Azerbaijan as one family in peace and dignity. In today's world, I think, it is a big asset and we also want to share our experience. I think development of modern Azerbaijan illustrates that this is the only right policy.
Inclusive society is now one of the issues on global agenda. Of course, all our efforts, as I said, are aimed at strengthening security, which we all need in the world, especially in our region. Azerbaijan, unfortunately, suffered from aggression from neighboring Armenia, which occupies almost 20 percent of our territories, brutally violates international law norms, committed an ethnic cleansing policy against Azerbaijanis as a result of which more than one million Azerbaijanis became refugees and IDPs. Armenia committed war crimes, including Khojaly Genocide, which is now recognized by more than 10 countries, and as a result of which 613 innocent people, among them 106 women, 63 children were killed. More than 1000 are still missing. So this is a crime against humanity. And this was part of the policy of aggression against Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh is our ancient land and for centuries Azerbaijanis lived and created on that territories. Now on our occupied territories everything is destroyed. Our historical buildings, monuments, graves, religious monuments are destroyed. And this is reflected in two OSCE assessment missions to the occupied territories. This is also a genocide against our cultural heritage. The conflict's resolution must be based on the laws and principles of international law, United Nations Security Council resolutions, four of them were adopted early in the 1990s, demanding immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian troops from our territories. Unfortunately, these resolutions are not implemented, and no sanctions were imposed on Armenia, the country, which has been violating United Nations Security Council resolutions for more than 20 years. Other international organizations like OSCE, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, European Parliament, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Non-Alignment Movement adopted similar resolutions. So historical truth, international law is on our side. The only reason why the conflict has not yet been resolved is because Armenia doesn't want to liberate occupied territories. Not only Nagorno-Karabakh, but seven districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh are now under occupation. All Azerbaijani population have been ethnically cleansed.
Status quo is unacceptable, it is not sustainable. This is not our position, this is the position of the leading countries of the world, particularly those, which have a mandate from OSCE to be mediators of the conflict – the United States, France and Russia. Their presidents, on many occasions, openly stated that the status quo is unacceptable and must be changed. To change the status quo, the occupying forces of Armenia must start immediate withdrawal from occupied territories and allow the Azerbaijani people to return to their homeland. This conflict is not only the biggest injustice in modern history, it is also a source of permanent threat and instability in our not very stable region. Therefore, the soonest resolution of the conflict based on principles of international law, United Nations Security Council resolutions, Helsinki Final Act must be achieved and then peace will come to our region.
Despite the conflict, Azerbaijan continues to develop. Our economic and social development is reflected in figures, it is reflected in today's appearance of our cities and villages. We invested largely in human capital. By the way, Azerbaijan is among three cities now bidding for Expo 2025, and our agenda was the human capital. We concentrate on this issue and we always stated publicly that it is the people of Azerbaijan who are in the center of our policy.
During the past 15 years a lot has been done in order to reduce poverty and unemployment, which are now at the level of around five percent both. This was, I think, one of the biggest achievements of our government because we all remember the difficult times in the beginning of the 1990s and serious economic and social problems in our country. Now with respect to the level of poverty and unemployment Azerbaijan is among the leading countries of the world. We invested largely in education and healthcare. More than 3100 schools were built during the past 15 years, more than 600 hospitals.
Azerbaijan is a country where people are getting annual medical check-ups free of charge. More than five million people every year have this opportunity, and this is also our policy, social policy, which is based on our vision and which is also based on developing economy because only intentions and policies are not enough. You need to have means to deliver the service. Therefore, our concentration in the previous years was to achieve economic independence, not only in order to be able to better meet the needs of the people, but also in order to strengthen our political independence. Because it's clear that when the country is dependent economically, the abilities to conduct independent foreign policy are limited. In our case, our rapid economic growth allowed us to conduct an independent foreign policy, a policy, which is based on the interests of the Azerbaijani people, and which is based on universal values.
Our economic growth during the past 15 years was more than three times. Economy grew exactly 3.2 times. I think this is kind of a world record. Our reforms are highly valued by leading international financial institutions like World Bank, EBRD and others. Davos World Economic Forum ranks Azerbaijan number 35th with respect to global competitiveness. And, I think, this is a historical achievement. So we are among the 35 most competitive countries in the world. For a country, which is independent for only 26 years, I think, this is really a big achievement. Another Davos assessment refers to inclusive development index. In this segment, Azerbaijan is number three among developing countries. Ahead of us are only 30 developed countries and two developing. So, this is the assessment of the leading international political and financial institutions of our reforms. Our reforms bring good results, and as a result of the reforms we are among the leading countries with respect to direct foreign investments per capita. The total amount of investments in our economy during the past 15 years was more than 230 billion dollars. Half of that is foreign investments, and half is local investments. So economic policy of Azerbaijan already proved to be successful and, of course, it allows us to invest not only in the country, but also in the region and to create a better platform for regional cooperation.
Of course, Azerbaijan is famous for its energy resources. By the way, the first oil well in the world was drilled in Azerbaijan, in Baku. It is maybe 15 minutes from this hotel, and that historical well is now part of an open museum.
Azerbaijan today is a country, which opened its energy potential to the world. We are the first country, which invited foreign oil companies to work in the Caspian. This cooperation, which lasts for already 24 years, also brought good results to us and to our partners. We implemented together with our neighbors and friends, Turkey and Georgia, important transportation projects, like Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline. Both are bringing our hydro carbons to international markets. Azerbaijan already became a transit country for transportation of oil from other segments of the Caspian. Today we are working closely with our partners in a broader format on one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the world in energy sector – Southern Gas Corridor – which is also a historical project. It now unites seven countries and with the potential of having more countries involved in this project. This is a 40 billion dollar project of production, transportation, distribution of natural gas from Azerbaijan. The integrated pipeline system length is 3500 km. It starts in Baku and ends in Europe. So this is really a big contribution to the energy security of the region, Europe. Energy security is part of national security of many countries. Today, oil from Azerbaijan makes about 40% of the energy balance of some European countries. Azerbaijani gas also will strengthen energy security of European countries.
This year we will inaugurate one of the most important segments of the Southern Gas Corridor project, particularly the first gas from Shahdeniz field. The inauguration of the South Caucasus pipeline, which connects Azerbaijan with Georgia, and Trans-Anatolian pipeline, which is a pipeline on the Turkish territory. So these are the most important parts of the Southern Gas Corridor. Everything is going according to the plan. Hopefully soon we will celebrate historical inauguration of these projects.
Regional cooperation between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey is not only serving for the benefit of our countries, but is also important to the whole region. Energy corridors, which we have established for many years, are transforming into transportation corridors. And again three countries demonstrate unity, solidarity, commitment. Last October we inaugurated another historical project – a railroad connection between three countries, but actually between the continents because this railroad connection is the shortest transportation route from Asia to Europe. It will take two weeks instead of more than one month to bring goods from Asia to Europe and from Europe to Asia. And the inauguration of Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad project last October is an event of global importance. I am very glad that in a relatively short period of time, less than six months have passed since the inauguration, we see growing interest in this project. We see new partners in Asia, in Central Asia, in Europe, which are looking at this project with a big interest and big hopes. Now we are at the stage of cooperation, enhanced cooperation on coordination of our efforts because we need not only to have the shortest route, which we already have, but also we need to have an economically competitive route so that we can attract cargos not only because of the time, but also because of the costs. So that is now what we are working on very actively. So this is actually the most important part of our activity, which has international importance.
Contribution of Azerbaijan to international cooperation has many dimensions. As I said, one is creating bridges, cultural bridges, our efforts to create a greater understanding between Asia and Europe, between Europe and the Muslim world. Our energy and transportation projects, which bring benefits to peoples, which create tens of thousands of jobs and thus help to develop countries. Our role as a stabilizing factor in the region also is appreciated. Therefore, we see the benefits of this policy. Our policy always was through cooperation, through mutual support towards prosperity, stability and predictability. That is what we need. I think the relations Azerbaijan has established with its neighbors can be a good example of good neighborhood.
Today, in Baku, for the first time, there will be a meeting of ministers of foreign affairs of four countries of the region – Azerbaijan, Iran, Georgia and Turkey. Before that, we already had and have a trilateral format of cooperation between Azerbaijan-Turkey-Georgia, Azerbaijan-Iran-Turkey, Azerbaijan-Iran-Russia. All these formats serve the cause of stability, peace and economic development. Energy and transportation projects, which we now are implementing serve the benefits of all the countries. Only in this case we can achieve success. You will never be able to become a transit country without neighbors. If you don't have good relations with the neighbors, no matter how much you invest, you will fail. Therefore, good neighborhood, relations is very important for every country.
Azerbaijan has very strong positions in international organizations. Next month we will host a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Non-Alignment Movement. Azerbaijan is a relatively new member of this important international organization, but it already got very strong support. And this ministerial meeting is one of the reflections of that. So with other international organizations, with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation we have very active participation. Azerbaijan is a member of Eastern Partnership program of European Union. We are now working with the European Union on a new partnership agreement. It will be a very comprehensive document, which will cover many areas of political, economic cooperation, security, energy, transportation, cultural diversity.
So this is shortly how we see our role in our region, in the world and what we have achieved pursuing these noble goals. Again, our policy is aimed at cooperation, at friendship, at partnership. As I said, the results of modern Azerbaijan demonstrate that we are on the right track.
In a two months' time we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. We are very proud that it were Azerbaijanis who created a democratic republic for the first time in the Muslim world, which we can be now proud of. For the first time in the Muslim world, the Azerbaijani people demonstrated that they want to live in a free society, they want to live in a society where all the rights of all the people are protected. The role of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in development of today's Azerbaijan is very big. At the same time even 100 years ago they made very important decisions, which we are proud of. One of them was granting the right to vote to women, much earlier than in many European countries. Unfortunately, the life of the first Azerbaijani Democratic Republic was short – less than two years. The tragic end of the republic also is a good lesson for all of us.
It's much difficult to preserve real independence rather than to obtain it. Today's Azerbaijan is a fully and truly independent country, a country, which has a very clear vision for the future. I think that if the founders of the first Democratic Republic had a chance to see how Azerbaijan develops today, they would have definitely been proud of us. We are proud of them. We demonstrate, first of all, to ourselves and also to the world that only during independence people can achieve success. Only when their destiny is in their hands, when they are the masters of their fate they can be successful. Today's Azerbaijan is a good demonstration of that. I wish the forum success, and thank you very much again for being with us.