Aghdam (Azerbaijan) (AFP), May 12 – Ali Hasanov seemed over the overgrown ruins of his hometown in Nagorno-Karabakh and vowed to return and rebuild it.
“Whatever time it might take, we will return to Aghdam,” mentioned Hasanov. “We want to live here… we belong here.”
Aghdam has been a ghost city since June 1993 when Armenian separatist forces took it from Azerbaijan, sending its complete inhabitants of 28,000 folks fleeing for his or her lives.
The 65-year-old metalworker returned to the disputed area for the primary time since on a Azerbaijan authorities bus tour of “liberated lands” its military retook from Armenia after six weeks of preventing in 2020.
The newest struggle — through which greater than 6,500 folks have been killed — noticed energy-rich Baku take again a lot of the territory it misplaced within the battle within the early Nineties with its outdated Soviet neighbour within the aftermath of the collapse of the Communism.
Some 30,000 died in that bitter struggle and tons of of 1000’s have been pressured from their properties.
Hasanov mentioned he “couldn’t sleep a wink” the evening earlier than he travelled to Aghdam, which was Karabakh’s greatest city earlier than it was razed by the Armenians.
He mentioned his “soul was itching to get to Aghdam” ever since he and his household fled the town after it was shelled.
“To me, it was the most beautiful city in the world,” he mentioned, standing in the midst of a wasteland that stretched out to the faraway bluish mountains.
The Azeribaijan authorities started the common bus journeys to the “liberated lands” in January, the primary time its former inhabitants have been ready to set foot within the mountainous enclave in three a long time.
– Dream come true –
It is step one in what Baku calls the “Great Return”, an bold authorities plan to repopulate distant Karabakh with its former Azerbaijani inhabitants.
Escorted by police armed with automated rifles, buses to Aghdam and Karabakh’s recaptured cultural capital, Shusha, depart Baku twice per week for day-long journeys that solely give guests two and a half hours to see their former properties.
Hasanov mentioned the go to was a dream come true.
“Our house stood behind that fence,” he mentioned as tears welled up in his eyes.
“There was an alley of huge plane trees over there, under which we’d play backgammon or dominoes, and over there — a football stadium, the favourite place for our neighbourhood’s lads.”
Such was the destruction, that one other refugee from Aghdam, Gulbeniz Jafarova, couldn’t even discover the ruins of her home.
“But (the) native spirit is hovering here. It feels like I spent 30 years in a prison cell and was just freed,” the 55-year-old dressmaker added.
At Aghdam’s cemetery she visited the grave of her brother who was killed aged 27, defending the city from Armenian separatist forces who managed the area till the newest struggle.
“My mother’s last words before she died were, ‘My son.’ I promised her that I would visit his grave.”
– ‘We belong here’ –
Azerbaijan’s authorities has vowed to spend billions of petrodollars on the area’s reconstruction, with $1.3 billion allotted in final 12 months’s finances for infrastructure initiatives resembling new roads, bridges and airports.
Baku has pledged to remodel Aghdam into one of many nation’s greatest cities and plans to arrange an industrial park.
Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov mentioned in January that “very shortly we will witness the first families returning to their homes” in Karabakh.
But the “Great Return” of refugees stays a distant prospect, given the size of devastation of cities like Aghdam and the risks from landmines, which have been used extensively within the battle, which usually flared up over the a long time.
“Whatever time it might take, we will return to Aghdam,” Hasanov insisted. “We want to live here. My sons say we belong here.”