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31 August 2023

Lachin Revives its Artistic Side

This weekend, artists and musicians brought a real buzz to Lachin City, culminating in a gala concert that appeared to delight Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev and his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, for whom it doubled as a kind of birthday treat.

Lachin Revives its Artistic Side

Image: Yusif Mirza/FB

In recent months, the name Lachin has been in the news a lot regarding the ‘Lachin Road’ that links the main Karabakh towns to Armenia—at least when geopolitics allows. However, that road was rerouted in August 2022 to allow Lachin City to focus on reconstruction. The changes have been very rapid. Just a couple of years ago, we reported some of the tragic 1990s experiences of Lachin folk who had been forced to flee their green and pleasant homes for the arid steppe of the Mugan Plains. However, the city’s reconstruction has been a major priority for Azerbaijani planners, and the first group of returnees moved back to Lachin in May. Now, this August, Lachin has been welcoming a star-studded cast of musicians and artists to ‘baptize’ the city’s rejuvenation. 

The settlement is certainly strategic but also a place set amid considerable natural beauty layered about a steep-sided valley with serpentine roads creating an attractive cityscape. A panorama viewpoint complete with a selfie-ready “#I ♥ Lachin” sign has been set up overlooking the town, and in a pavilion, a series of artists created a makeshift gallery. The star of the show was Lachin-born painter Yusuf Mirza, who for years has lived in exile in Baku while continuing to create images of his homeland, some colourful and warm, others bleak and despondent.   

Lachin artist Yusif Mirza congratulated by President Aliyev and his wife. Image: Yusif Mirza/FB

The highlight of the weekend was an all-star concert on August 26, considered ‘Lachin City Day’ and commemorating the day on which the area was officially liberated—a process that was diplomatic rather than by pure conquest following the Second Karabakh War. Speaking at the event, President Aliyev announced that around 1000 residents have so far returned full-time and that the 900th new family home should be ready by the end of this year. 

The audience then enjoyed a remarkable lineup of Azerbaijani performances sitting unsheltered at a riverside outdoor venue, somewhat daringly given the swirling mist and possibility of rain.

Part of the key objectives of the ‘great resettlement’ plan is to ensure that jobs are available for returnees. With this in mind, the president—dressed informally in a T-shirt—also opened a new commercial fish farm and the new Hochazfilm complex—combining studio, café, and hotel and aimed at becoming a hub for film-makers needing up-to-date equipment as well as a location with plenty of beautiful scenery as a backdrop. 

So it looks as though Lachin will continue to attract artists long after this particular weekend of celebrations has faded.