Shusha, the culture and historical capital of Azerbaijan, was destroyed by Armenian forces during its three-decade-long occupation.
The region was liberated Nov. 8, 2020, after 28 years.
Buildings in the seven districts of the city, including mosques, schools, residential compounds and historical sites, have been damaged and many were destroyed by Armenian forces before they fled the city.
A group of Pakistani journalists, including an Anadolu Agency reporter, visited the city Saturday where Azerbaijani officials gave a tour of the destruction that was carried out by Armenia during the occupation.
“Shusha is an important and historical city for us and look at all the buildings, including religious and historical places, destroyed by the Armenians during their occupation,” a senior official with the Azerbaijan presidency, who did not want to be named, told reporters.
At least 17 mosques, springs and historical sites, like the tomb complex of the Molla Panah — also known as Vagif, a prominent Azerbaijani poet — were destroyed but has now been rebuilt by the government, he said.
More than 300 historical monuments were destroyed.
The beautiful city, which is a symbol of Azerbaijani history and culture, located at the top of a hill, also has strategic importance. It is located on the road leading to Khankendi, the largest city in Upper Karabakh.
In January, Azerbaijan’s president declared Shusha the cultural capital of the country.
Shusha, also known as the pearl of Karabakh, founded by Karabakh Khan Penahali in 1752, has numerous historical monuments. Many distinguished scientists, intellectuals and cultural icons were born in the city.
But most monuments and even the Shusha fortress walls were damaged and are now being repaired by the government.
The city is also known as the “cradle of Azerbaijani music” because famous composers and musicians such as Jabbar Garyaghdioglu, Gurban Pirimov, Bulbul (Nightingale), Seyid Shushinski, Khan Shushinski and Uzeyir Hajibeyov were born here. Writers and thinkers include Hurshidbanu Natavan, Gasim Bey Zakir, Suleyman Sani Akhundov, Abdurrahim Hagverdiyev, and Najaf Bey Vazirov who were also born in Shusha.
Ahmet Agaoglu, a politician, jurist, writer and journalist, who left a deep mark in Azerbaijan and Turkey, where he spent a part of his life, is also a native.
After the liberation of Shusha, the government approved a master plan to rebuild it.
It is going to restore the old city, build business centers and 25 residential complexes that will consist of 2,000 residential flats.
“The master plan has already been approved by the government and all projects will be completed within 18 months,” said a senior official with the Shusha administration.
The government has already constructed new roads of around 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Fuzuli to Shusha in a few months, which is now open to traffic.
Civilians are not allowed to visit certain areas because Armenian forces planted thousands of landmines in the region, which is now being cleared by authorities.
President Ilham Aliyev is expected to visit Shusha on Nov. 8 to celebrate the first Victory Day in the liberated region where he will also inaugurate several new projects for the area.
“As you see, all cities, even the city of Shusha have been destroyed and of course, the Azerbaijani government is doing its best to restore and revive the Karabakh region,” Tural Ganjali, a member of Azerbaijan parliament that represents the Karabakh region, told Anadolu Agency.
“We hope that it will take a short period of time that we will be able to return [as] we are waiting every day, every night when we are going back,” he said, about displaced residents.
According to officials, nearly 1 million people were displaced when Armenia occupied the Karabakh region in the 1990s and are living in different parts of the country.
Tural Ganjali, who was born in Khankendi and raised in Shusha, said he is the happiest person in the world to see the liberation of his homeland and the end of the occupation.
“These days we are celebrating the tremendous victory that we have achieved last year, and, of course, it’s a historic victory for all of us –especially for those people who have lived as refugees, as internally displaced persons for 30 years,” said Ganjali.
He added that all displaced people are very happy and preparing to return home as the government is already working on the restoration of the destroyed region.
Shusha a tourists spot
Shusha is located at an altitude of 1,300 meters to 1,600 meters (4,265 feet to 5,249 feet) above sea level and is known for its natural beauty and pleasant weather.
The government has already built roads to the city, while work on a highway is underway and is expected to be completed next year.
The city, already famous for its natural beauty and springs, was a famous tourists spot during the Soviet era.
The Jidir Plain in the south, surrounded by forests and promenades, hosted horse races, festivals and sporting events for years.
Azerbaijanis who are currently celebrating their victory on Nov. 8, said they are impatiently waiting to visit Shusha and other areas of the Karabakh region.
“I have been looking forward to visiting Karabakh throughout my whole life,” said Jamila Mammadova, a student in Baku.
Ganjali also hoped that Karabakh will become a favorite tourist spot in the near future as the government has already launched projects in the region to build the infrastructure.
“I believe that the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan will be one of the favorite destinations for tourists, and of course, also the city of Shusha which has been declared the cultural capital of Azerbaijan, will play its role,” he said.
Liberation of Karabakh
Relations between the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been tense since 1991 when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Upper Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.
New clashes erupted Sept. 27, 2021, with the Armenian army attacking civilians and Azerbaijani forces and violating several humanitarian cease-fire agreements.
During the 44-day conflict, Azerbaijan liberated several cities and 300 settlements and villages that were occupied by Armenia for almost 30 years.
Prior to that, about 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory was under illegal occupation.
The fighting ended with a Russian-brokered agreement on Nov. 10, 2020, with the cease-fire seen as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia.
Two months later, the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a pact to develop economic ties and infrastructure to benefit the entire region. It also included the establishment of a trilateral working group on Karabakh.