Responsibility for the fate of Azerbaijan and its people fell on Ilham Aliyev in his young years. He was 42 years old when he was elected President. If you look at modern history of the world, you can hardly find a head of state at such a young age. There were doubts: can he manage? He managed. He coped with the mission assigned to him by the command of the time and the choice of the people with incredible success.
The life of Ilham Aliyev is a chronicle of success. Years of study in Moscow, challenging negotiations on oil issues, 16-year presidency every month and every year of which went down in history…
This can also be regarded as charisma, an innate leadership talent. In addition, he went through the school of Heydar Aliyev where his moral and political views were shaped. He comprehended the science of management from a brilliant politician, the founder of our modern independent state, the great leader of our people, Heydar Aliyev. The principle of continuity in politics runs like a golden thread through all the speeches of President Ilham Aliyev. The main thing that sets him apart from other world leaders is his constant contact and communication with the people. In one of the interviews, he said, “This live communication allows me the opportunity to keep my feel the people’s pulse, find out what worries people and, of course, control the implementation of decisions.”
Let’s look through some pages of the life path of our President, who went down in history as a reformer and author of a developed Azerbaijani state.
Youngest graduate and teacher of MGIMO
Parents sent him to school when he was not even 6 years old. He finished school before he turned 16. They did not give a passport at this age, so Ilham Aliyev left for Moscow to enter the institute with a certificate. From the first try, before even reaching his 16th birthday, he became the youngest student of one of the most prestigious universities – Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). Here he accumulated the first experience of independent life and communication. After graduation, he received a referral to one of the USSR embassies abroad but he preferred to stay at MGIMO. He entered the graduate school, defended his thesis and began to work as a teacher in alma mater at age 23.
In general, 15 years of Ilham Aliyev’s life are associated with MGIMO. Describing that period as an unforgettable time, Ilham Aliyev said in an interview with Russian television channels, “Student years are special for everyone. These are the years of formation, the years of entry into independent life. These years have given me both knowledge and communication experience. It was the first experience of an independent life.”
This interview of President Ilham Aliyev reminded me of the words the great leader had said about his political successor 16 years ago. “He is a highly intelligent, energetic and enterprising person with pragmatic thinking, well versed in modern world politics and economics.”
The knowledge and experience Ilham Aliyev acquired at MGIMO and the overall atmosphere that existed there played an important role in his subsequent political activity, the formation of a mature statesman. And this prestigious university, in turn, is proud of Ilham Aliyev – the first President among its graduates.
While doing my research, I came across the words of the former MGIMO rector Nikolay Lebedev which he addressed to Ilham Aliyev: “I always gave you excellent grades. You deserve this assessment also as the leader of a prosperous state.”
I think it is difficult to find another concise expression that would characterize Ilham Aliyev’s student years and presidential activity with such accuracy and succinctly.
Complicated oil talks and the art of convincing opponents
In the early years of independence, Azerbaijan experienced a severe economic crisis. Those who were in power before Heydar Aliyev left behind a difficult legacy. The state treasury was empty. Under such circumstances, it was impossible to carry out any work, and all hopes were pinned on the bottom of the sea.
The great leader, showing great foresight, tried to attract foreign companies to the production of Caspian oil. However, Azerbaijan was considered a risky country at the time. One of the historical merits of the great leader to the Motherland and the people was the ability to convince foreign investors that investment in Azerbaijan would not be in vain.
Those were difficult negotiations. Every party advocated its own interests. Having started in Baku in March 1994, the negotiations subsequently continued in Istanbul and Houston. The opposite side put forward extremely difficult conditions. There was even a condition that if Azerbaijan did not agree with Russia and resolve the issue of the legal status of the Caspian, the talks would be suspended. The status issue was not a matter of one or two years. Having received this information, the great leader sent Ilham Aliyev to Washington. He was vice president of the State Oil Company responsible for external relations at the time. He held very useful meetings on the other side of the ocean and resolved the issue.
Long-term observations show that Ilham Aliyev does not like to emphasize his personal contributions. He rarely talks about participating in the oil negotiations. In a recent speech at the ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the “Contract of the Century”, he only said that the negotiations in Houston had lasted more than a month and played the crucial role: The leadership of the State Oil Company – our late friend Natig Aliyev, Khoshbakht Yusifzade, Valeh Alasgarov, myself and a few other colleagues tried to convince investors that it was possible and necessary to invest in Azerbaijan and that whoever invested in Azerbaijan today would benefit greatly tomorrow. And it so happened. Investments made in the implementation of the „Contract of the Century” paid off in full. Foreign investors earned billions of dollars in revenues. The income of the Azerbaijani state has exceeded one hundred billion dollars.
Khoshbakht Yusifzadeh, who was involved in the talks, recalls: “It should be noted that in Azerbaijan, which had just embarked on the path of independence at the time, oil specialists did not have sufficient experience in negotiations with foreign companies. However, the excellent knowledge Ilham Aliyev had received graduating from the Institute of International Relations in Moscow, his degree and then teaching experience at this institute, his command of the English language and international legal issues, his ability to establish direct contact with our partners, find a way out of difficult situations and eliminate tensions manifested themselves at meetings with competent individuals in Washington.”
Thus, this oil contract, labeled as the “Contract of the Century”, put Azerbaijan to the path of development and played the key role in the subsequent fate of the oil industry and the country as a whole. The production of 500 million tons of oil from the Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli field so far and the extension of the contract until 2050 two years ago confirm the correctness of the decision made in 1994.
Requirement of time and the wise choice of the people
Sixteen years ago, when Azerbaijan was faced with a new challenge of the time, our people once again made a wise choice by entrusting their fate to Ilham Aliyev, the political successor of great leader. Of course, this choice was not only a consequence of the success of Heydar Aliyev’s policies – it was dictated by the faith and trust in his successor.
How can we characterize the period of Ilham Aliyev’s presidency? In one sentence, during these years there was no other country that would develop like Azerbaijan: from socioeconomic and political points of view, in terms of improving the governance system and the dynamism of reforms.
If we approach this from a different angle, we can see that over these years Azerbaijan has modernized and entered a qualitatively new stage. All spheres of the country’s life have been improved and changed beyond recognition. This renewal was accompanied by a steady increase in the well-being of the people and solution of a significant part of accumulated problems. The government and the people have united around a single platform.
What has made this inconceivable development possible – oil, gas, fertile lands? No! There are countries where there is much more oil and gas than in Azerbaijan, but they live in poverty and are suffocated in a whirlpool of conflict.
First of all, we are talking about the crucial role of a leader. Pragmatism, flexible and thoughtful policies, a systematic and consistent approach, foresight and integrity, a high level of governance and humanism are the leadership qualities inherent in President Ilham Aliyev. The development of Azerbaijan, protection and promotion of national interests have become possible thanks to the highest qualities of the head of our state. He has managed to masterfully adapt Azerbaijan to the challenges of time.
President Ilham Aliyev sees his main objective in serving the people and demands the same from all government officials. His policy is centered on the people of Azerbaijan and their concerns. That is exactly why the people have always supported and still support their leader. This was vividly confirmed by opinion polls conducted over the past year.
Confidence rate and constantly growing rating
If we turn to world practice, we can see that after presidential elections, the rating of leaders usually starts falling. This is explained by the fact that heads of state may not fulfill all election pledges or take steps that do not meet the interests of society. Their approval rating is usually no higher than 50-60 percent at best.
President Ilham Aliyev’s rating remains stable and quite high. The Opinion Way (April 2019) poll conducted by the French Social Research Institute a year after the last presidential election in Azerbaijan showed that more than 85 percent of the population supports the work carried out under the leadership of Ilham Aliyev. 75.6 percent of respondents answered positively to the question of how they evaluate the president’s progress on the fulfillment of election promises. The head of the institute, Bruno Jeanbart, acknowledged that the survey unequivocally confirmed: the Azerbaijanis are very pleased with their political leadership.
Another opinion poll related to the activities of the President of Azerbaijan was recently conducted by the Center for Social Research. During the survey, 1,316 people were asked to evaluate the activities of Ilham Aliyev in October. Of these, 77.5 percent noted that faith and trust in the President of the country had increased and 18.1 percent said that faith and trust in him had remained unchanged: this adds up to almost 95,6 percent.
Quite interesting were answers to other questions. For example, the socioeconomic activities carried out in Azerbaijan and the reforms implemented by the President in this area over the past year were positively assessed by 90.5 percent, and the development of the regions by 93.1 percent of those polled.
More than 80 percent of those polled view the preservation of public, political and socioeconomic stability in the country as the most successful result of President Ilham Aliyev’s activities. This high assessment is quite understandable: despite the negative processes in the region and the world, Azerbaijan continued its dynamic socioeconomic development, all necessary steps were taken, consistent measures were taken in the interests of peace and well-being of the people.
Among the key contributors to the positive image of President Ilham Aliyev, experts highlight structural and personnel reforms carried out from April 2018 to April 2019, the serious steps aimed at improving efficiency and ensuring transparency of public administration, eliminating negative phenomena that were causing concern.
Unity of word and deed
As we have already noted, the most important factor directly affecting the ranking of heads of state is the degree to which campaign promises are fulfilled.
75.6 percent of those polled answered positively to a related question from the Opinion Way Social Research Institute. This assessment, of course, is due to the unity of word and deed: not a single promise made by President Ilham Aliyev has remained unfulfilled. If you remember, even at a time when oil revenues fell sharply and the world was faced with a global financial recession, all social programs in Azerbaijan were implemented. Ilham Aliyev was able to successfully complete all the work that had been started. If we add to this the transnational energy and transport projects implemented on the initiative and with the participation of Azerbaijan, the entry of our country into a small club of space faring nations, the picture will become even clearer.
The President, who is in direct contact with the population, has demonstrated solidarity with the people in all issues of concern and taken prompt measures to resolve the problems being raised. Many will remember that when elected president for the first time in 2003, Ilham Aliyev promised to create more than 600,000 jobs. At that time, some thought that it was a fantastic figure. The president has kept this promise too. Today, unemployment in our country has dropped from 45 to 5 percent and poverty from 50 to 5 percent.
In the early 2000s, energy, gas and water supply, roads, the condition of schools and hospitals in the regions were unsatisfactory. The President said that these issues of concern to the population would soon be resolved. And it wasn’t long before this happened. Currently, 95 percent of the country’s territory has gas supply. Over 16 years, about 16,000 kilometers of roads have been built. More than 3,000 schools have been built, over 600 medical facilities have been rebuilt or renovated. During this time, more than 30 power plants have been commissioned. Azerbaijan has become an exporter of electricity.
From day one of his presidency, Ilham Aliyev promised that he would continue the policy of great leader Heydar Aliyev. He said that he would be the President for every citizen. These and other promises were confirmed by specific deeds.
Azerbaijan has never been as powerful, independent and free in its entire history. Powerful, truly independent and modernizing with every day, Azerbaijan is the creation of Ilham Aliyev.
Answer to skeptics: work and result
Usually, when a new idea or initiative is put forward, many treat it with suspicion, especially if such an idea is advocated by an emerging country like Azerbaijan. just remember the skepticism with which Heydar Aliyev‘s idea of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline was met at one time. Skeptics considered the construction of a pipeline from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean a dream. It was even described as a legend of three seas.
Or take the Southern Gas Corridor project, which is the idea of President Ilham Aliyev. Similar skepticism was displayed in relation to the TANAP pipeline initiative. If you noticed, there were numerous conversations, articles were published about its impossibility.
This did not escape the attention of a Chinese television correspondent. Answering a question from a Chinese journalist about this, Ilham Aliyev said: After a pipeline about 2,000 kilometers in length was built between Baku and the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, everyone saw that Azerbaijan had beaten the skeptics all to pieces. When the project began, Azerbaijan was not as strong as it is today and depended on external financial support in many respects. Despite this, the project was successfully completed.
As for the Southern Gas Corridor, this is an even larger project: about 10 international banks, numerous companies participate in the project worth $40 billion and covering seven countries. “We started this project. There were many skeptical opinions regarding resources, pipeline construction, technical challenges, financial difficulties and other issues. But we said: if we have started this, we will finish it. Now this project is close to completion. Therefore, we must respond to a skeptical approach not with words, but with the steps taken and the work done,” the President of Azerbaijan said in the interview.
Today, the voices of skeptics can’t be heard, of course. In particular, the opening of the Europe link of the TANAP gas pipeline as part of the Southern Gas Corridor once again demonstrated the strength and determination of Azerbaijan.
In general, all projects launched by Azerbaijan or with its participation have been implemented. Two years ago, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway line connecting Turkey and Azerbaijan, Central Asia and China was opened in Baku. It is possible to say that the implementation of another important project with the goal of establishing a speedy and viable trade link between Europe and Southeast Asia has been completed as well – the creation of a section of the North-South transport corridor passing through Azerbaijan.
A skeptical and biased approach was also displayed on the eve of important international events hosted in Azerbaijan. The answer to such people was given by hard work and successful results again. The list is quite long and multidimensional: the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, the Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, the Summit of World Religious Leaders, as well as the first European Games, the Fourth Islamic Solidarity Games, Formula 1 events…
Finishing the topic, I also consider it necessary to note that the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement recently held at a high level in Baku has reverberated in the world and become another weighty response to both skeptics and ill-wishers.
The word spoken in the right place and on time
Over the past 16 years, we witnessed bold and deeply logical speeches of our President from many international platforms. Ilham Aliyev courageously criticizes double standards and resolutely defends national interests. As a result of the determination and strong will of our leader, Azerbaijan does not bow its head to anyone even in the most difficult situations and openly expresses its position.
The word spoken in the right place and on time, of course, is more compelling and effective. No need to go far – just remember the two recent events. Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan expressed absurd thoughts about who Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to. The President of Azerbaijan was in no hurry to respond to him and waited for the right moment.
And such a moment finally arrived. Ilham Aliyev said his word in Russia, from the lectern of the Valdai Discussion Club: “Karabakh is Azerbaijan, an exclamation mark.” These words spoken in a live broadcast from an authoritative platform were heard by the whole world. It once again became clear to everyone that Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan. The leader of Azerbaijan will not step back from his fair position related to the conflict.
Another statement revealing and exposing the true essence of the Armenian leadership was made at the summit of the heads of state of the CIS in Ashgabat a few days later. The President of Azerbaijan drew attention to the monument erected in Armenia to Nazi accomplice Garegin Nzhdeh. He said that the erection of monuments to fascists was unacceptable in the CIS and the monument in Yerevan should be dismantled. Discussions around this opinion by Ilham Aliyev are not abating as the position of the Armenian leadership is being widely condemned.
Ilham Aliyev chastised the growing Islamophobia in the world and called for Muslim and Islamic solidarity. His words about this in one of the recent speeches were received with great approval: “I have repeatedly appealed to Muslim countries. I openly addressed them saying: how do you hug Armenia? How do you invite their leaders? Can’t you see that they have razed our mosques to the ground? Can’t you see that they have desecrated our mosques? Take a look, there are pictures! What have they done to the Aghdam mosque, Shusha mosques and mosques in other occupied lands? After all, these mosques belong not only to us, but to the entire Muslim world. How can you turn a blind eye to that?”
Revolutionary reforms and “ASAN xidmət” brand
Today, the world knows and accepts Ilham Aliyev as a reformer president. The Doing Business-2020 report of the World Bank ranks Azerbaijan among top 20 reforming countries. The report of the Davos World Economic Forum ranks our country 10th in terms of long-term government strategy and fifth in terms of focus on reform.
Azerbaijani citizens are direct witnesses to the reforms, which are a conscious choice of the country’s leadership. They feel these positive results in their daily lives. In the last year, the reforms acquired a deeper and revolutionary character. The head of state announced them in April 2018, on the eve of the presidential election. “In the future, our main task will be to further improve governance, increase the efficiency of our activities, create more favorable conditions for entrepreneurs and diversify the economy.”
Stressing the importance of reforms in his speech at the centennial of Baku State University, President Ilham Aliyev said that even more significant steps would be taken in this area. After some time, fundamental reforms and personnel reshuffling were carried out in the public administration system. Following this, the Milli Majlis of the fifth convocation was dissolved and new parliamentary elections were called.
Every reform serves the development and well-being of the people, and this is evident. Suffice it to look at one fact only: as a result of recent economic reforms, in 10 months of this year alone, the budget received additional revenues in the amount of more than 850 million manats. These funds are spent on the social sphere, the well-being of the population. The large social package has had a positive impact on the budget of more than 4.2 million people. The minimum wage has doubled and the minimum pension has been increased by 70 percent. A significant increase was registered in benefits for the internally displaced persons.
There is another aspect that attracts attention: the President himself is the initiator of comprehensive reforms that are perceived with great interest in the world. One of Ilham Aliyev’s important initiatives, “ASAN xidmət”, has gained worldwide fame as the intellectual brand of Azerbaijan. “ASAN xidmət”, which has put up a barrier to corruption, bribery, bureaucracy, and red tape in the services sector the population is in daily contact with, is not an ordinary project, but a radical reform that has caused satisfaction throughout the country and creating revolutionary changes in people’s mindset. According to recent opinion polls, popular satisfaction rating of this service is 99.4 percent. Today, “ASAN xidmət” with a gradually expanding network of centers has received more than 34 million applications. The solution rating and the number of requests are evidence of great efficiency of the project.
Family and path to success
In one of the interviews, President Ilham Aliyev said that he spends his free time with his family and draws energy from it. “I am the person who happily goes to work and happily returns home,” he said.
Ilham Aliyev and Mehriban Aliyeva have been together for many years. First lady Mehriban Aliyeva, who plays an active role in the public, political and cultural life of Azerbaijan, is highly intelligent, principled and kind person, has won great love and sympathy of the people. The Heydar Aliyev Foundation she has been heading for 15 years makes a valuable contribution to the development of our country with its important programs and grandiose projects. Over the years, as part of the “A new school for a renewing Azerbaijan” program, more than 3,000 schools have been overhauled or rebuilt. Thousands of people have been treated through and with the support of the Foundation. The Foundation also plays an indispensable role in preserving our material and spiritual heritage. Therefore, the appointment of Mehriban Aliyeva as First Vice President was met with approval and a logical result of the work done.
Mehriban Aliyeva is the closest ally of the President. Deeply aware of the responsibility of the mission entrusted to her as first lady, she provides the head of state with enormous support in resolving crucial issues for the country. She believes that everyone who works in the government agencies should be guided by such spiritual values as “philanthropy, mercy, mutual respect, kindness” in their daily activities. Only in this case can you achieve the brightest victories and rise to the highest peaks.
In my opinion, Ilham Aliyev’s path to success originates precisely in the ideal family hearth. He grew up in the family of one of the brilliant political figures of our time, Heydar Aliyev, and outstanding scientist Zarifa Aliyeva. He was raised by them. Subsequently, destiny linked him with such a noble wife with a sensitive soul and a rich spiritual world as Mehriban Aliyeva. Their views coincide and complement each other, and this is one of the factors determining the success of Azerbaijan. The successful visit of First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva to Moscow in November this year, the negotiations with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are an indicator of her international authority.
The great leader once passed his own experience to his successor step by step, taught him how to act in a given situation. As a result, the new leader of Azerbaijan in the 21st century, Ilham Aliyev, emerged as a strong personality with a strong character, well ahead of his era, his time, and this is manifested in every step of the President both in domestic and foreign policies. He has transformed Azerbaijan, which is located in a troubled region, into an island of security, a country with a modern economy and enjoying authority in the world. In particular, the implementation of TANAP, a giant transnational project, has further enhanced the fame of President Ilham Aliyev. Just pay attention to the thoughts regarding his leadership that were voiced in the past month alone.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: We can’t forget the leadership of my brother Ilham Aliyev in the implementation of TANAP.
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili: The merits of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, in the implementation of the TANAP project are invaluable. He is one of the most successful leaders of our time.
King of Jordan Abdullah II: You are playing a very important role in the international arena. I express my gratitude to you for this role in the region and the world. I always count on your leadership, kindness and support towards our country.
It is very nice to hear these words from world leaders. Our people and every grateful Azerbaijani is proud of their President, one of the most successful leaders of our time who plays an important role in the international arena. Because the path of victories which began 16 years ago leads Azerbaijan from one top to another…
Chairman of the Board of AZERTAC,
Vice-President of OANA