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Azerbaijan Government to Return IDPs to Shusha as Part of "Great Return" Program

By Gunay Hajiyeva May 25, 2023


Castle gates at the entrance to the Shusha city of Azerbaijan / Qafqazinfo.Az

The government of Azerbaijan plans to initiate the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to the city of Shusha in the Karabakh (Garabagh) region by the end of this year.

The announcement was made on Thursday by Kanan Guliyev, a senior aide to the Azerbaijani president’s special representative in Shusha.

According to him, the return of the IDPs will commence as soon as the construction of a residential quarter comprising 23 buildings with 450 apartments is completed. 

“Around 1,500 people are expected to be relocated. In addition, the construction of the secondary school and the District Central Hospital is ongoing. A major overhaul at the former post office building has been started. It will accommodate ASAN [social services], DOST [social welfare], and KOB [small and medium business] centers. The completion of this project is scheduled for the end of 2023,” Guliyev said, according to local media.

The relocation of IDPs to Shusha is part of the state-run “Great Return” program, which aims to resettle displaced residents in the liberated lands. In the program’s initial phase, 420 residents have already been returned to the Aghali village in the Zangilan district.

Since the end of 2020, restoration efforts have been underway in Shusha, following its liberation from Armenian occupation. President Ilham Aliyev recently laid the foundation for a second residential complex consisting of 17 buildings in Shusha. The complex includes two-story and three-story buildings, accommodating a total of 238 apartments, with 119 two-room and 119 three-room houses.

Shusha is a historically and geographically significant city in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, known for its economic, administrative, and cultural importance. The city was founded in the 18th century by the Azerbaijani Karabakh khanate’s Panahali Khan, who wanted to build an “eternal and invincible fortress in a firm and impassable place in the mountains.” 

Shusha quickly became a prominent trade center, with merchants bringing goods from other Azerbaijani cities such as Baku, Sheki, Nakhchivan, and Ganja, as well as trading with the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Iran, India, and various European countries. The city played a key role in the development of Azerbaijan’s carpet-weaving industry and became the Karabakh region’s carpet-weaving center in the second half of the 19th century. The ornamental and plot groups of Shusha carpets defined the mainline trend in local carpet weaving. In terms of music, Shusha is known as “the temple of Azerbaijani music" and the conservatory of the South Caucasus, with one of the leading schools of mugham.

However, the city faced serious problems after being occupied by Tsarist Russia in the early 19th century. The Russian Empire made a decision to relocate Armenians from Iran and Türkiye to Azerbaijani territories, including the Karabakh region, in the wake of a war that occurred between 1804-1812. Under the auspices of the Tsarist government, Armenians began to oust Azerbaijanis, who were the Karabakh region’s indigenous inhabitants.

Between 1905-1906, Azerbaijanis were subjected to a brutal terror and genocide campaign, while Armenians attempted to occupy Shusha multiple times from 1918-1920. After the Soviet Union was established in 1922, Armenians in the Karabakh region further repressed the Azerbaijani population. The autonomy granted to the region within Azerbaijan in 1923, with Khankendi as its center, led to Shusha losing its status as the administrative center. Consequently, the quality of life for Azerbaijanis in the region significantly deteriorated, and many historical and architectural monuments belonging to Azerbaijanis were destroyed. As a result, the city’s population decreased from around 44,000 people in 1917 to 14,000 people in 1970 due to the massive expulsion of ethnic Azerbaijanis.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories, including Shusha. Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the city was restored on November 8, 2020, during a 44-day-long counter-offensive operation from September 27 through November 9, 2020. The liberation of Shusha played a crucial role in the retreat of Armenia’s forces and the cessation of hostilities.