Agdam, Shusha, Fuzuli alongside Sarajevo, Stalingrad and Aleppo
Throughout its history, humanity has suffered too many bloody wars and destruction. 20th century alone saw two World Wars, which claimed the lives of millions of people.
Consequences of wars, as a rule, are summarized based on civilian casualties and injuries. But it is not only people who suffer; the towns suffer as well.
“What does it mean to murder a city? It means to snuff out its strength, stifle its metaphysical essense, its will to live, its sense of self; (…) scattering its memory to the winds, annihilating its past along with its present.”
This is how Serbian architect Bogdan Bogdanović described the everlasting desire of hostile sides for wreaking destruction on invaded lands. He is cited by Giustina Selvelli from University Ca’ Foscari of Venice, Italy in her research paper.
The term “urbicide”, which literally translates from Latin as “violence against the city”, was coined back in 1960s. It was a response to rapid globalization and urbanization in the United States, which led to violence and destruction across the cities. The term fell into fashion after the 1990s events in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), where the war and a four-year siege had catastrophic consequences for the city.
Whereas indirect urbicide is a consequence of evolving civilization or actions that harm the urban area, the direct urbicide is a deliberate physical destruction of the city. An extreme manifestation of urbicide, on the other hand, is the complete destruction of urban territory aimed at wiping out its identity.
«The destruction of the city is in fact also the destruction of its memory: the devastation of monuments, houses, libraries, and hospitals is accompanied by the loss of what they represent to the society who lived at their side”, writes Giustina Selvelli in her research paper on the Siege of Leningrad (now Sankt-Peterburg) during World War II and the Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War.
History knows many instances when a town was razed to the ground, but let us stop at the 20th century.
Words of President and Commander-in-Chief Ilham Aliyev About Massive Destruction Wreaked by Armenians on Occupied Karabakh
“Our cities have been destroyed, and this once again shows the enemy’s savagery. The whole world will see it now”.
As you know, the enemy has destroyed the entire infrastructure in the occupied lands. Our cities have been destroyed, and this once again shows the enemy’s savagery. The whole world will see it now. The entire world will see what kind of a savage enemy we are facing.
The city of Fuzuli has been liberated from the occupiers. The Azerbaijani flag has been raised in Fuzuli. We have returned to Fuzuli. But it hurts to see the destroyed villages and the city of Fizuli along the road. Look what these savages have done to our city! They have destroyed everything; they have demolished houses and destroyed the entire infrastructure. There is not a single building standing. The whole world should see what the Armenian savagery means, and we will show it to the entire world, not only Fizuli but also Agdam and other cities. It was as if a savage tribe had devastated these lands. They wanted to destroy and plunder everything, to erase our cultural, historical and religious heritage, but they could not achieve what they wanted. Because we had to come back, we had to return.
These destroyed houses are witnesses to Armenian savagery. Azerbaijani people used to live in these houses. The hated enemy came here and drove them out of their lands, destroyed their buildings, appropriated and plundered their property.
Source: From President Ilham Aliyev’s Speech During His Visit to Liberated Districts of Fuzuli and Jabrayil
During World War I (1914-1918), some towns and villages in North France and Belgium were branded “martyr towns” as they sustained the most damage through military actions. The term became a set phrase during World War II (1939-1945), as strategic bombardments of towns acquired an unprecedented scale.
The objective of massive airstrikes was to both reduce military-industrial facilities behind enemy lines to rubble and demoralize the civilian population, thus destroying its will to resist.
The Belgian town of Leuven, a recognized academic center of the country, sustained catastrophic damage during the two world wars. Early into World War I (in August 1914), it was heavily shelled by German artillery. Its campus and richest library were burned to ash, and the city center obliterated for the most part.
Historians still debate as to what prompted such a relentless massacre. Nor is it known whether German commanders ordered the town to be destroyed, yet it is universally recognized as a barbaric act.
The university library of Leuven was burned to ash again during World War II; the town came under relentless bombing by the Allied aviation in spring 1944, with many historical buildings destroyed. Its ancient buildings reconstructed using old blueprints, the town had to be brought to life from scratch.
Many Soviet cities on the way of Nazi assault suffered from the German aviation in World War Two. Stalingrad, Voronezh, Minsk, Kursk, Sevastopol etc were among the cities that were destroyed at 90%.
Under siege between September 1941 and January 1944, Leningrad (now St Petersburg) was heavily bombed by German Air Force. According to official statistics, the starving city sustained 272 air raids; over 70 thousand incendiary and 5 thousand blast bombs were dropped.
Although its defenders made use of AA artillery to save the city from total destruction, approximately 5 million square meters of residential areas were damaged or destroyed, 716 thousand Leningraders remained homeless.
Kirov District, which was the closest to the frontline, sustained the greatest damage; nearly 200 out of 300 buildings and monuments protected by the state were damaged or completely reduced to rubble.
During World War Two, cities were deliberately shelled and bombed by both Nazis and Allied forces. Couple of months before the end of the war, that is, in February 1945, British and American bombers launched a devastating air strike on Dresden (Germany), dropping some 4,000 tons of aerial bombs.
25 thousand people died in a fire, 80% of buildings sustained catastrophic damage, and 50% of residential stock was destroyed or damaged beyond repair. The Allies bombed other German cities as well (Pforzheim, for instance, lost one-fifth of its population and 98% of its infrastructure in 22 minutes of shelling), but it is namely Dresden that is generally associated with the suffering of the civilian population.
The cities of Japan suffered as well; after the Japanese attacked the US military base in Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the US forces subjected Japanese cities, Tokyo among them (in March 1945), to massive bombardments, killing some 100 thousand people and destroying 250 thousand buildings in the process.
The wartime military maps prove that what the US Air Force targeted in Japan was the cities, civil infrastructure, and civilians rather than military facilities. Those attacks culminated in the August 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which resulted in enormous destruction and catastrophic civilian casualties.
In following decades after World War Two, one of the cities that sustained heavy damage as a result of war efforts was Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina). While the Siege of Leningrad was the most disastrous in terms of casualties, that of Sarajevo was one of the longest in the modern history of wars.
The city was under siege for 4 years (April 1992 – February 1996) during the Bosnian war, with fighting effectively going on its streets the whole time. The city was shelled on a daily basis by Serbian artillery; they mostly targeted hospitals, media offices, public transportation facilities, government buildings, the brewery, the mill and the bakery, sports and industrial facilities, trade centers, and other civilian infrastructure. The National Library burned to ash, and thousands of valuable publications with it; for this reason, Sarajevo was dubbed “Second Alexandria”.
The siege resulted in over 10,000 civilians killed or gone missing, including over 1,500 children. The city parks and stadium had to be converted into cemeteries. Some 56,000 citizens, almost 15,000 children among them, were wounded. Shell fragment traces, called “Sarajevo roses”, were preserved on some streets of the city and painted red in memory of people who died at these places.
Full of revolutions, conflicts, instability, and wars across the Middle East, the recent 10-15 years saw the town of Mosul in Iraq and Damask and Aleppo in Syria add to the list of martyr towns.
The fate of above cities is well known to humanity, and the memory of victims is cherished and passed to future generations. Whereas the fate of Azerbaijani cities in Karabakh, which were completely razed to the ground, was until recently hardly heard outside of Azerbaijan, save a few experts.
The first Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the subsequent 30-year Armenian occupation of Karabakh region of Azerbaijan have left dozens of villages and towns in ruins. While some captured localities were used by Armenians to accommodate civilians or deploy military forces, other cities were simply destroyed, their buildings taken apart and used as a source of construction material.
Among these ghost towns in Karabakh, Agdam and Fuzli are of particular interest. When Azerbaijani forces liberated these territories back in autumn 2020, images of these once bustling cities were brought to public attention. International media crews, independent photographs, and public figures visited the cities and later on reflected in their publications on what they had seen.
“When Azerbaijani troops took over Fuzuli, they could not find a single untouched building to plant a flag. They had to use the façade of the destroyed Community Center building. Once a big and bustling town, Fuzuli, just like the whole vast area around Nagorno-Karabakh, was sacked and razed to the ground 27 years ago”, begins the Euronews video report from Fuzuli.
“The town overtaken by nature resembles decoration to a post-apocalyptic movie. You can only move here accompanied by Azerbaijani soldiers and using main roads, as they are the only place cleared from mines”, goes on the video report that was made in November 2020.
During his visit to the liberated territories, President Ilham Aliyev spoke about the destruction and attempts of the Armenians to appropriate the cultural, historical and religious heritage of Azerbaijan.
The only building left relatively intact in Agdam is the mosque – the rest is nothing but ruins.
Associated Press has prepared a video report that describes the feeling Azerbaijani refugees from destroyed Agdam had when they saw it after over a quarter-century in exile. “The recovery of Agdam is Azerbaijan’s triumph, but the joy of reunion is tainted by grief and wrath, for you come back to the devastated city“, the report says.
The world-renowned photograph Reza Deghati, who lives in France, visited Azerbaijan during both the first (in the early 1990s) and the second Karabakh war in autumn 2020. He went to many liberated Azerbaijani territories, Fuzuli and Agdam among them.
“Destroyed by combats in the 90s, Fuzuli was not inhabited or used for the past three decades. I saw the emptiness and felt the silence. It is a ghost town”, he wrote in the description of the photographs.
The last time Reza saw Agdam was 27 years back, soon after the Khojaly tragedy of 1992. He saw it again in November 2020 and wrote:
“It was a flourishing and beautiful city. […] I could visit the city again and was shocked to discover a ghost town. […] The Armenian forces […] destroyed the structures of many houses and buildings.”
Hikmet Hajiyev, Aide to the President of Azerbaijan, labeled Armenian invaders’ actions as “urbicide”.
“Agdam – vivid illustration and recognition of URBICIDE. Genocide against cities. Within 28 years of occupation Armenia truely and wholeheartedly conducted #URBICIDE to Ağdam”, – he tweeted on 29 November 2020, when, commissioned by the President, he accompanied representatives of diplomatic corps and international organizations to Agdam.
Sharing the footage of pillaged tomb of Panah Ali khan, founder and first ruler of the Karabakh Khanate, the forefather of the Javanshir dynasty, he wrote:
“After perpetrating such vandalism to the cultural and religious heritage of Azerbaijani people in occupied lands including in Agdam Armenia doesn’t have even moral authority to speak about civilized attitude and cultural values.”
It grieves my heart to say that the destruction we see here is a heartache to all people of Azerbaijan. But Shusha we have seen is devastated yet unbroken, magnificent, and something we are immensely proud of.
Shusha is standing tall, it did not break or knuckle under! No matter how the despicable enemy has tried, he failed to change Shusha’s visage. We are going to heal all the wounds; Shusha will become one of the most beautiful towns in the world.
We are restoring Shusha and the rest of our destroyed towns and villages. We are restoring all our historical monuments.
President of Azerbaijan
Source: From President Ilham Aliyev’s Speech During His Visit to Liberated Town of Shusha
A similar fate befell numerous architectural monuments in the city of Shusha, which is considered the cradle of Azerbaijani culture.
We invite you to take a look at the Karabakh Center photo gallery that shows evidence of heinous crimes committed during the Armenian occupation.
Here you can also see the horrific destruction that was inflicted on Stalingrad, Aleppo, Sarajevo, and Leuven.
For detailed photographic evidence of devastation caused by Armenian occupation forces in Karabakh, please visit URBICIDE section on the webpage of Karabakh Center.