Story of Agdam: The Lost City and Ghost Town of Azerbaijan

Historical Significance of This Region

Founded a little less than 300 years ago, nothing prestigious happened in this small town located in Azerbaijan only until the city was brought under siege at the time of the Nagorno-Karabakh War. 

Close to forty thousand people had to flee and vacate their homes when armed forces shelled the town.

Eighteen years later this town still remains deserted, and used to be a part of what can be considered the Armenian buffer region. 

Nagorno-Karabakh, originally established by the Soviet government is a small landlocked region situated in the western part of Azerbaijan, an area that has sought complete independence from both U.S.S.R and Azerbaijan.

Neighboring Armenia extended its support to none other than the rebellious Karabakh forces, claiming that the region had rightfully been a territory that belonged to the ancient Armenian kingdom which dates back to 4th century B.C.

However, not everyone in this region considers themselves to be decedents of Armenian heritage. 

Military Conflicts That Followed 

Although the entire region has been more or less constantly embroiled in a conflict or tug-of-war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the contention reached its peak during June to August of 1993. 

Azerbaijan was accused of using Agdam as a regional defensive base in order to protect its wing from the attack of Armenian forces.

Armenian government, thinking that Azerbaijan was about to go ahead and launch a military offensive from Agdam, commissioned the support of regional Karabakh forces to help them fight back. 

As a consequence of this move, Agdam became a victim of this conflict. Armenian and Karabakh forces swept through the region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

With the purpose of preventing the recapturing of Agdam, troops escalated and took the opportunity to bomb, shell and otherwise demolish even the remaining abandoned structures. Everything that the clashes couldn’t destroy was finished off by the military forces with the help of heavy artillery.

Political Developments in the Region

The Minsk Group, a mediation effort initiative, primarily led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), created in 1944 has made considerable efforts to find a plausible solution to this conflict, but to no avail. It has repeatedly failed to produce a permanent and concrete outcome.

The respective co-chairs organize frequent summits involving the leaders of both the countries and also hold several individual meetings. 

The group has managed to successfully negotiate cease-fires, but have been unable to yield any further results and the prevailing territorial issues remain unresolved till date.

During October 2017, the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia met in Geneva, Switzerland under the patronage and auspices of the Minsk Group, and began a series of talks with respect to a possible settlement of the ongoing conflict. However, talks are yet to bring forth substantial objective results.

The two sides continue to possess certain domestic political interests that could potentially cause their corresponding leaders to launch a full-fledged attack. 

Also, both military forces are positioned extremely close to each other, with little or no communication, a risk of inadvertent military confrontation which would escalate the conflict looms over the world.

Why the World Should Be Concerned

In the absence of successful mediation attempts, cease-fire violations along with a renewed set of tensions constantly threaten to reignite a large scale military conflict between the two countries which would terribly destabilize the entire South Caucasus region.

This could also lead to a disruption in oil and gas exports from the South Caucasus region, due to the fact that Azerbaijan alone is the producer of almost eight hundred thousand barrels of oil per day, and is also a major oil and gas exporter to Europe as well as Central Asia.

Russia has vowed to defend its ally Armenia, on the other hand, Turkey has pledged to provide its full support to Azerbaijan, and Iran consists of a great deal of Azeri minority, all of these factors could collectively intensify the crisis and further complicate all the efforts being made in order to secure peace and harmony.

The Future

In the city, which was once home to 40,000 residents, normalcy seems to be a distant dream and all the civilians have been effectively displaced from the Adgam region. 

The Agdam Mosque which is the only standing structure in the abandoned and deserted province is now being used as a cowshed and has witnessed zero human footfall over the years.

Three decades later, the Azerbaijani forces have reclaimed the region. Demining and rebuilding are the greatest challenges that confront the government. 

A place where houses have been mercilessly stripped bare would be the toughest to rehabilitate and will certainly require cogent planning and administration.

Azerbaijani authorities have estimated that it might take almost 3 to 5 years for people to be able to come back and reside in the region. 

The cost that has been calculated is around $100 billion (€84 billion), and Azerbaijan is planning enormous compensation lawsuits against the government of Armenia.

Along with restoring peace, avoiding any sort of new conflicts in the future should also be taken care of on a priority basis because a fresh series of confrontations would defeat the entire purpose. 

The world bodies and international agencies along with other governments must also look into the matter urgently. 

Written by - Isha Singh

Edited by - Sandhya R

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