Agdam City Declared Clear of Landmines
Agdam - ‘The Hiroshima of the Caucasus’ Image:Christian Draghici/Shutterstock
According to local news sources, the city of Agdam has now been cleared of landmines, a significant advance in long-term efforts to rebuild what was once one of the biggest towns in southwest Azerbaijan.
Hiroshima of the Caucasus
It’s been called the ‘Hiroshima of the Caucasus.’ A town so completely ravaged that it looked as though it had been hit by a nuclear blast. In fact, the Azerbaijani city of Agdam had been occupied by Armenians on July 23, 1993, during the First Karabakh War, and the population mostly fled to safer areas of Azerbaijan. Agdam was essentially left empty. Apart from a military presence, no significant Armenian population moved in, except on raids to scavenge from the ruins. The ghost town was almost systematically stripped of windows, timber, tiles etc. Apart from the twin minarets of the main mosque, what was left was just an eerie skeleton of a city – little more than rubble. The situation remained virtually unchanged for 27 years. The ruins mouldered. Shrubs and trees grew between the wall-stubs, somewhat softening the scene. But Agdam remained abandoned. Until 2020.
In the 1980s, Agdam had been a city of around 60,000 people. By 2015 when this photo was taken, the ruins were becoming so overgrown with vegetation that the place could be mistaken for a rural backwater. Image:Davit Andreasyan/Shutterstock
All started to change after the Second Karabakh War. Defeated elsewhere, Armenian troops withdrew from Agdam according to the terms of the November 9 Agreement, and the site returned to Azerbaijan’s control. However, before any major effort at rebuilding could begin, the overgrown ‘streets’ and ruined former buildings had to be painstakingly checked for landmines. This challenging process became a little easier after June 12, 2021, when mine maps were obtained by Baku in what was widely portrayed as an exchange for Armenian detainees.
The Clearance Effort
The maps handed over by Armenia showed a phenomenal 97,000 devices in the Agdam Region alone, though by no means all of those were in Agdam City. According to an interview given by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, some of the maps had an accuracy level as poor as 25%. The delicate process of removing mines fell upon the brave folks at ANAMA (Mine Action Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan), with significant financial and training advice provided by various world powers, including the UK and France. The achievement of clearing Agdam was announced this week by Allahveren Aliyev, deputy chief of Agdam Region, who noted that many rural villages in the vicinity had yet to be given the all-clear. A priority now is the complete clearance of the route that will eventually carry a new four-lane highway from Barda, 44km to the northeast. Sections of that road are already under construction where conditions allow.
ANAMA workers manually clear military debris from de-occupied Karabakh on January 20, 2021. Image: ANAMA
Plans for Reconstruction
As well as apartment blocks, houses, schools and municipal buildings, Agdam’s construction masterplan envisages an open-air concert hall, theatre, university and two museums, including one dedicated – of all things – to bread. The plan is for at least some of the buildings to use traditional Karabakh architecture and the newly rebuilt city to incorporate ‘smart’ features.’
A 30,000-seat football stadium is also on the cards to ‘bring home’ the city’s soccer team FC Karabakh. One of Azerbaijan’s top sides, the horsemen (as they’re nicknamed), have been forced to play in Baku-based “exile” since 1993. The story of the team’s oh-so-near European Champions League run in 2014 was the subject of the film “On aggregate” by veteran journalist Thomas Goltz.
No More Mines
Meanwhile, let’s hope that this milestone will remind both Azerbaijan and Armenia that landmines should be banned altogether. Though appalling in their effects and painfully hard to remove, mines essentially made no significant difference to the outcome of the recent conflict, so now would be a good time for both countries to sign the Ottawa Treaty and prohibit their use in future.