Agdam, Azerbaijan (AP) – After being driven out by Armenian forces, Azerbaijani forces entered the war-torn haunted city of Agdam on Friday.
Agdam and the surrounding area of the same name are the first of many territories adjacent to the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh border to end the six-week fierce fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
“Today, with a sense of infinite pride, I am informing my people about the liberation of Agdam,” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in an address to the nation. “Agdham is ours!”
Crowds of people carrying the national flag gathered in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, to celebrate the handover.
Nagorno-Karabakh is located in Azerbaijan, but has been under the control of Armenian-backed ethnic Armenian forces since the 1994 war. This war left not only Nagorno-Karabakh, but also the surrounding area in the hands of the Armenians.
The heavy fighting that lasted until September 27 marked the largest escalation of the decades-old conflict between the two former Soviet countries in the quarter-century, in which hundreds of people and possibly hundreds. Thousands were killed.
Aliyev called the occupation of the region a “great political success” that would not have been possible without military gain.
The President said that Azerbaijan was able to achieve what it wanted in the political arena after a resounding victory on the battlefield.
Celebrated as a victory in Azerbaijan, the agreement has angered many Armenians. Massive protests erupted in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, shortly after the peace deal was announced last week, and many ethnic Armenians are leaving territories to be handed over to Azerbaijan and setting their homes on fire in a farewell gesture.
Although the recapture of Agadham is a victory for Azerbaijan, the joy of returning is better than sorrow and anger as the Azerbaijanis face its destruction.
The city of Agadam was once home to 50,000 people, known for their white houses and spacious three-story teahouse, but it is so ruined that it is sometimes called “Hiroshima of the Caucasus.”
After the population was driven out by fighting in 1993, behind them were Armenian pillars, which plundered the city, searching for both loot and building materials. The Bread Museum, one of the joys of the city, is in ruins. The cognac factory is gone.
Today, the only structurally complete building is a mosque; From the top of the elaborately patterned minarets, the view is of a vast expanse of jagged concrete and houses reduced to shells, the plants of which are surrounded by fourth-century vegetative growth.
Under Armenian control, the mosque has been used for years as a stable for cattle and swine, an impurity that has angered Azerbaijanis. The livestock is gone now, but the mosque is rough. A few soldiers and a Muslim cleric prayed inside his graffiti-stain and Fl King King walls on Friday.
Aliyev said, “A new period is now beginning for Agdham. “We have big plans.”
Aliyev said his government aims to restore Agadam and other regions after clearing them of mines.
“The Armenians believed that after this destruction, the Azerbaijani population would never return to these lands. They were wrong. They do not know that in the heart of the Azerbaijani people – in the soul of our people, the native lands live and will live forever, “he said.
Aghdam was a place where many Azerbaijanis felt a special affection, at least not because of its status as a breeding center for fast Karabakh horses, which are considered national animals.
Aghdam’s other bitter but proud memory still remains – it was the home of the first victims of the region’s dynasty in chaos.
In February 1988, two days after the Nagorno-Karabakh parliament’s request to annex the independence zone to Soviet Armenia, a group of angry men stormed the regional capital, Stepanakert. Before they got there, they were confronted by the police and the people of the ethnic Armenian village; Two protesters were shot dead.
The news of his death sparked outrage in Agadham and people gathered weapons to march towards Stepnecart. But a local woman leaned on the roof of the vehicle and threw her scarf down the road – a gesture that, according to local tradition, forbids men to go ahead. The dramatic event was recalled by the most famous poet of the Soviet Union, Yajny Yevtushenko, who described his action as “almost insane / the greatest madness of mercy / the only wisdom that saved us.”
In contrast to the complete destruction of the city of Agadam, the ethnic Armenians have taken great care of their main historical sites in the province. Archaeological excavations have been carried out at the base of Tigerneckert, which is approximately thousands of years old, and one of the finds has been placed in an 18th-century graveyard.
As Agadam’s handover approached, workers carved out a number of artefacts this week, including a carved stone, which required the efforts of several men to remove.
“These artifacts belong to this city and we take these artifacts to our museum so that our Azerbaijani brothers do not find them,” said one worker, who gave his name only as Armaan. “Because they will discredit them for the very last pebble.”
The report was contributed by associate press authors Jim Hintz and Daria Litvinova in Moscow and Ida Sultanova in London.
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