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Azerbaijan Advances Lachin’s Repopulation Efforts

By Nargiz Mammadli January 30, 2024

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Azerbaijani IDPs share the joy of returning home in Lachin, January 30, 2024, Baku, Azerbaijan / AZERTAC

On Tuesday, another group of internally displaced persons (IDPs) embarked on their journey from the capital, Baku, to the recently liberated city of Lachin in Azerbaijan. 

According to AZERTAC, these individuals had been temporarily residing in various accommodations, including dormitories, sanatoriums, pioneer camps, unfinished buildings, and administrative offices across Azerbaijan following the occupation of Lachin by Armenia in the early 1990s.

The Tuesday phase of the state-run “Great Return” program witnessed the relocation of an additional 23 families, comprising 72 individuals, to the city of Lachin. Since the onset of Lachin’s repopulation in May 2023, the permanent settlement of 431 families, totaling 1627 individuals, has been facilitated in the city.

Lachin, one of the largest districts in Azerbaijan spanning an area of 1,835 square kilometers, was occupied by Armenia’s armed forces on May 18, 1992, connecting the occupied Karabakh (Garabagh) region of Azerbaijan to Armenia. The two South Caucasus neighbor countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan, had been at odds since the late 1980s, with a dramatic rise in anti-Azerbaijan sentiments in Armenia, fueled by illegal claims for Azerbaijan’s historic region. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia launched a full-blown military aggression against Azerbaijan. The bloody war, until a ceasefire in 1994, saw Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories, resulting in over 30,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis killed and one million others forced to leave their homes.

In 1993, the United Nations Security Council adopted four resolutions demanding the immediate withdrawal of occupying forces from Azerbaijani lands and the return of internally displaced Azerbaijanis to their ancestral lands. Armenia failed to comply with all four legally binding documents. A large portion of Lachin’s infrastructure was destroyed or severely damaged during the years of occupation. The material damage caused to the district during the occupation is estimated to exceed $7.1 billion.

The conflict in the Karabakh region escalated on September 27, 2020, when Armenia’s forces deployed in the occupied Azerbaijani lands started shelling military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani army took immediate counter-offensive measures, liberating over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from nearly 30 years of illegal Armenian occupation. The war concluded with a tripartite statement signed on November 10, 2020, by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Under the statement, Armenia returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan, all internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan.

The Lachin district was the last of the three areas returned by Armenia to Azerbaijan as part of its obligations under the tripartite statement. The larger portion of it, except the city of Lachin and the villages of Zabukh and Sus, was returned to Azerbaijan on December 1, 2020, after 28 years of illegal Armenian occupation.

However, a 5-kilometer-wide Lachin route, including the city of Lachin and two surrounding villages, remained in the temporary monitoring zone of the Russian peacekeepers deployed in certain parts of the Karabakh region. The city of Lachin and two surrounding villages were due to return to Azerbaijan’s control after a new highway came into operation, connecting Armenian residents settled in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan with Armenia.

In August 2022, Azerbaijan completed the construction of the all-new road and eventually put it into operation. Following the launch of the new road in August 2022, Azerbaijan reclaimed control over the city of Lachin and two surrounding villages - Zabukh and Sus - to ultimately restore its sovereignty over the entire Lachin district.

Since its complete reclamation in August 2022, the government of Azerbaijan has been conducting a full-fledged restoration campaign in Lachin. President Aliyev declared the date of August 26 as “Lachin City Day” to solemnly celebrate the restoration of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the strategic city. Currently, the entire infrastructure of the city is being rebuilt or restored. In August, President Aliyev inaugurated a movie studio, a secondary school, and a fish farm, as well as broke ground for a 100-room hotel complex in Lachin. The third all-new airport in the liberated territories of Azerbaijan will be launched in the district in 2024.