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Azerbaijan 2016 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Elmar Rustam oglu Valiyev, Mayor of Ganja, on being selected as the European Youth Capital for 2016, tourism, and the developing of a technology park.

Elmar Rustam oglu Valiyev
BIOGRAPHY
Elmar Rustam oglu Valiyev was born in 1960 and graduated from the Azerbaijan Technology University in 1986. He later went on to study law at Baku State University, graduating in 2001. From 1989 to 1994 he worked at the Central Trade Unions Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan, going on to serve at the State Customs Committee. From 2004 to 2011 he was the Head of the Yevlakh City Executive Authority of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In 2011 he became the Mayor of Ganja.

Ganja has been selected as the European Youth Capital for 2016. How has this been achieved and what activities will be conducted in this regard?

On November 21, 2013, an authoritative international jury of the General Assembly of the European Youth Forum, the most prominent platform of youth organizations of the continent, passed the decision to declare the city of Ganja the European Youth Capital of 2016. Thus, during 2016, Ganja will be the focus of European youth. This will create opportunities to promote the history and culture of Azerbaijan, the traditions of multiculturalism and tolerance inherent in our society, and communicate the truth about Azerbaijan to the European public using the example of one city. At the moment, our city is preparing to host many international and local projects and activities. The Action Plan includes 43 projects (25 international and 18 local), and covers topics such as the elimination of unemployment among young people, the active participation of young people in society, volunteering, education, and social equality. The projects will mainly be carried out in the form of training, workshops, conferences, forums, exhibitions, and competitions. For the time being, the team of volunteers of the "Ganja-European Capital of Youth 2016" organization includes over 300 young people from all over the country. During the year, Ganja will host a number of activities of international and national significance: seminars and training courses on digital and social media, e-citizenry, first steps in volunteer activities, volunteering for the environment, youth camps for interreligious dialogue, and others. Job fairs for the youth and exhibitions of handwork items will be conducted as well. A variety of projects will be implemented, most of which will bring together young people from all over Europe. These include projects such as "Join the sport," "Ganja-a city dance," "European caravan to Azerbaijan through Georgia," "Thematic conventions on youth policies," "European voluntary service," "Social network for my city," "Activation of specialized school No. 45 of Ganja for disadvantaged children," "Women leaders," "A living library," "A culinary fair," "Model of secondary education for the youth of European capitals," "Models for studying human rights in secondary school," "Social entrepreneurship," the "European youth award," "Youth career bus career," and more. There will also be other projects of relevant ministries, the Youth Fund, as well as local and international youth organizations. In addition, the city will play host to the European Youth Festival, the International Festival of Youth Conventions and Relations, the European experience of volunteering in the Caucasus region, the "Story of volunteering," the First Ganja forum for young researchers, the International Conference of the Youth Research Fund, the Fine Art International Exhibition, an international marathon competition, the international “Europe and Ganja: a crossroads of cultures," festival, and more. I think that all of this will contribute to the further development of Ganja and raise the credibility of our country as a whole.

As the host of an international airport, how does Ganja work with different airlines for the development of tourism?

On the initiative of President Ilham Aliyev, a modern international airport was built in Ganja in 2006. It can receive aircraft of all makes and sizes, including multi-ton cargo planes. Using these opportunities, different foreign airlines operate regular and charter flights with a stopover in Ganja. This creates favorable conditions for the many tourists traveling to and through Ganja. This not only contributes to the development of tourism, but also enables the guests of Azerbaijan to get acquainted with our country in Ganja.

There are different companies operating in different spheres of life in Ganja. As we know from the state program on the development of districts, there are plans to set up a technology park in Ganja. How will that benefit the city?

Indeed, Ganja is one of the biggest industrial centers in Azerbaijan, where textiles, food, metallurgy, engineering, and other industries have developed for years. Over the last five years, industry has grown 3.3 fold. The gross domestic product of Ganja has doubled over this period. This is excellent performance. The state program on the development of districts envisages the establishment of a major technology park in Ganja. It will be set up with Det.Al Aluminum in mind and a future steel plant. The Executive Authority of the city has already allocated land for that. The commissioning of the technology park will lead to the creation of hundreds of jobs, which, in turn, will improve the wellbeing of thousands of households and fetch additional revenues for the city budget. There are also plans to resume the operation of one of the largest industrial centers of the city: the Alumina Company, which will offer 1,200-1,500 jobs to those living in and around Ganja.

How does Ganja benefit from the inaugural European Games held in Azerbaijan last year and the forthcoming European Grand Prix and other international events?

As evidenced by the First European Games held in Baku, numerous tourists and fans not only watched sporting events, but also traveled to Ganja to pay tribute to the great Nizami Ganjavi, who is known far beyond the borders of our country. At the beginning of this year, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, during a visit to our city, inaugurated Imamzade, a major religious and cultural complex that represents a valuable monument of the entire Muslim world. All this, as well as the 4,000-year history of Ganja proper and its numerous architectural, historical, and cultural monuments have always attracted, and I am sure will continue to attract, even more tourists attending various international events in Azerbaijan. I am sure that participants and fans of Formula One and other upcoming international conferences and festivals will also travel to our city. As a result, Ganja is getting closer to the world.

How does Ganja influence the development of the Azerbaijani regions?

First of all, I should note that Ganja is the center of the western region of the country, which is the biggest region in Azerbaijan. At the same time, it is one of the major industrial centers. The city is a concentration of enterprises producing aluminum and steel, automobiles, textiles, and food and employs not only the people of Ganja, but also residents of surrounding districts. In addition, Ganja is an educational and scientific center in the field of agriculture. This is where the Azerbaijan State Agrarian University is located. Its graduates now work in the Ministry of Agriculture, various research, agricultural, and technological institutes, as well as farms across Azerbaijan. Also, Ganja is a major medical and educational city in the western region: we have three universities, four colleges, and several regional specialized medical centers.

What are your objectives for 2016?

Today, we are implementing activities according to President Ilham Aliyev's strategy that "the development of the country depends on the development of entrepreneurship." It aims to improve the business environment in the country. As part of the state program on the socioeconomic development of Azerbaijani districts in 2014-2018, all conditions are being created in the city to develop private enterprise, create social and infrastructure facilities, and increase investment in business development. In 2016, the city will complete a number of projects. The religious complex Imamzade, the Park Bulvar center, a housing compound comprised of 14 high-rise buildings, a student campus of the Azerbaijan State Agrarian University, a major city hospital named after Abbas Sahhat, and other facilities have already been commissioned. This year we embarked on the construction of the Ganja State Philharmonic Hall, a seven-storey hotel called Majestic in the city center, and a shopping center covering a large area, and the reconstruction of the Caravanserai hotel complex built in the seventh century. Work is under way on the construction of schools, kindergartens, and other social facilities. Also this year we will celebrate the 875th birthday anniversary of the great Azerbaijani poet and thinker Nizami Ganjavi. During the year, more than 5,000 people will visit Ganja from abroad. The main objective of the Executive Authority is to expand on the progress made in the socioeconomic life of the city, facilitate the sustainable and consistent development of Ganja, and further improve the lives of our people.