Fourteen months have passed since the day of victory in the Patriotic War of 2020. 780 hectares of land were cleared of mines in the Agdam region, there were no mines in the regions where Armenians lived (Gubadli, Lachin, Kalbajar, Hadrut, Shusha). But not a single Azerbaijani family has yet returned to the liberated lands, and the recently launched bus trips to Shusha and Agdam are organized with the obligatory return of people to Baku on the same day.
It is difficult for the president to talk about specific dates
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that a phased return of citizens to the liberated territories in Karabakh will begin in 2022. In the very next sentence, he clarified: “It’s hard for me to talk about specific dates and dates now.”
The large-scale construction of a "smart village" on the territory of the three villages of Agali (Zangilan region) destroyed by Armenians, which is closest to completion, is far from being delivered on a turnkey basis to the first settlers. All deadlines for delivery of more than 200 houses in the "smart village" have passed. The construction company refused to inform Turan about the time of completion of the facility, and the builders indicate, at best, at the end of 2022.
In a conversation with Turan, a native of Gubadli, Elchin Mahmudov, who lives in Russia, accuses the authorities of delaying the return of the Karabakh people because of pompous projects that people do not need, the construction of which takes time and money. "We are not even allowed to visit our villages. The fine for illegally visiting our homeland is 200 manats. How much can we earn to pay 200 manats each for the opportunity to touch our native walls? Along the Bargushad and Khakari rivers, in all Azerbaijani villages, the occupiers lived, they built houses, destroying ours. It has long been possible to give these houses to the legitimate residents of these villages. But first, the Azerbaijani army destroyed these houses. Why, because we could live in them?"
Mahmudov says that hundreds of families - former residents of Zangilan, Gubadli, Lachin and other regions - want to come to their places of residence before 1992-93 to dig a vegetable garden, garden in their yard, and then from time to time return to care for plants and collect harvest. As far as possible, they could first build a small house with 2 rooms, then another, and return for good. They continue to dream about this, as they dreamed during the years of occupation.
Mahmudov refused to name the village they left during the war, as he and his villagers are afraid that in retaliation for their press appearances, the authorities will not allow them to return there. Therefore, we changed the names of the former refugees who answered Turan's questions.
Hadrut is intact, there are no mines. Why are Azerbaijanis not allowed to live there?
In January 2021, about 600 families from the village of Narimanly in the Basarkechar region of the Goycha-mahal (Vardenis region, Armenia), who became refugees in 1988, turned to I. Aliyev with a request to allow them to move to the village of Hadrut liberated from occupation. They want to get together, as they are scattered all over Azerbaijan, and start a new life in the liberated Karabakh. The authorities did not even respond to these people.
Umida Hasanova was a child when she fled Hadrut with her family in 1991. In a video posted by the State Committee for Work with Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, she talks about her trip to Hadrut. She thanks I. Aliyev for "our return to Hadrut", but does not say when she will be allowed to return there for permanent residence.
In the center of Agdam, next to the historical complex Imarat desecrated by the occupiers and the former football stadium (instead of a sports complex, a flat field was left after the Armenians), an imposing administrative complex with a large fountain is being built. Azerbaijani builders leveled the ruins of residential buildings belonging to Azerbaijanis with excavators. In one of these houses, on the former Suleiman Sani Street, the family of Mammad Farhadov lived. They hoped to build a country house in the family area first, then restore the house in which they lived with a large family. With the advent of the "new Agdam" project, the return of former residents to their places of residence became impossible. Agdam residents turn to "gachgynkom" (State Committee for Work with Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons). In the spring of last year, the State Committee collected Soviet documents on real estate ownership from them, and does not tell the residents of Agdam anything.
In December last year, meeting with journalists to give them a lecture on the "great return", Deputy Chairman Fuad Huseynov spoke a lot about the great things done for refugees, and the only date he uttered was the mention of the "National priorities for the socio-economic development of Azərbaycan-2030" .
The Committee's chief of staff, Nasimi Narimanov, informed the former refugees about the creation of an "electronic database to improve the process of reintegration and repatriation." When will the "Great Return" take place? Huseynov and Narimanov are silent about this.
"They silently nationalized our property. Like communists"
Writer Vahid Gaza lives in Sweden. In December, he came to Azerbaijan, visited the place where his house was in Agdam. Answering Turan's question about the return of former refugees, he recalls the history of the restoration of Stalingrad. "The construction of the ruined city did not begin from the day the city was liberated, but after the signing of the act of capitulation by Germany. How can houses be built for Azerbaijanis when there is no peace, Armenian armed detachments are stationed in Khankendi, and the Russian army controls the region?"
The Vahid Gaza family in Agdam, next to the central mosque, had a two-story house on the territory of 8 acres. The Armenians completely destroyed the house, the Azerbaijani authorities "silently nationalized" the property of the Agdam residents, he says.
"I rejoice looking at the beautiful project of a new Agdam, a modern city of 100,000 inhabitants with canals, a lake and trams. But this beautiful city will be built in violation of my state-guaranteed property rights. Just like during the communist rule. I asked others people of Agdam: did you give permission for the construction of facilities on your site? No one says yes. I don’t believe in the official promise to give the people of Agdam, whose land is occupied by the project, plots twice as large as they owned before the occupation ... ", he shared with us Vahid Gaza (real name).
In one of his last speeches, the president spoke about the need to build a network of water pipelines, electric lines, asphalt roads on the liberated lands and to carry out gas supply. To return people to live in modern, comfortable conditions. Much has already been done in this direction, work on the construction of infrastructure and communal facilities continues.
“... in a maximum of 2 years, Karabakh will be electrified. In addition, there are no aqueducts in the region. How can people live there, engage in agriculture in such conditions? Therefore, everything must be properly planned, urban planning projects approved, work is currently underway in this direction. We also invite foreign partners to these works, as our own construction capabilities are not enough to restore the region,” Aliyev said.
The President stressed that with a high probability the return of the Azerbaijani population to Karabakh will begin from the villages that are closest to the infrastructure being created. For example, in Agdam, Fuzuli and Jabrayil, it is easier to lay water pipes and establish energy supply.
When I told Elchin Mahmudov, a resident of Gubadli who lives in another country (his full name has been changed due to fear of persecution), about this speech, he objected: “We lived in our homeland without running water, permanent electricity and gas lines. Are the residents in Masalli and other regions provided with all modern conditions? No. They deceive us by new deadlines for returning, and large-scale corruption projects are being put forward. Large Azerbaijani and foreign companies are cashing in on plans for a "great return", and we are not even allowed to set up a tent in our yard to spend a few days surrounded by the remnants of our native walls...