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Internally Displaced Azerbaijanis May Soon Start Returning to Liberated Zangilan

By Mushvig Mehdiyev October 22, 2021

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The first smart village of Azerbaijan in the Zangilan district located in the East Zangazur economic region, October 20, 2021 / President.Az

President Ilham Aliyev has revealed a plan to return displaced Azerbaijanis to their homes in the country’s Zangilan district liberated from the Armenian occupation last year.

The head of the country has said that a foreign company had won the bidding to develop a master plan for the city of Zangilan, which is the district’s administrative centre. The document is expected to be ready in the coming months, according to President Aliyev.

“A new era is beginning for Zangilan now,” he said during his visit to the district on October 20.

While in Zangilan, President Aliyev also visited Aghali village — the first “Smart Village” project implemented in the liberated lands. 

“Some buildings are ready, and we will try to start relocating local residents to Zangilan early next year, perhaps even later this year,” the president added. 

Azerbaijan's Karabakh (Garabagh) region, including Zangilan district, fell under Armenia’s occupation during the First Karabakh War in the early 1990s. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched a military campaign against Azerbaijan that lasted until a ceasefire deal was reached in 1994. As a result, Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. Over 30,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis were killed, and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing policy carried out by Armenia.

The government of Azerbaijan had provided internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees with temporary shelters in more than 1,600 settlements in 62 cities and regions throughout the country.

On September 27, 2020, the decades-old conflict took a violent turn after Armenia’s forces deployed in the occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During the counter-attack operations that lasted 44 days, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli and Shusha, from nearly 30-year-long illegal Armenian occupation. The war ended in a tripartite statement signed on November 10 by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. Under the statement, Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.

Armenians have destroyed and looted almost the whole region during the occupation years. Projects for the restoration and reconstruction of the Azerbaijani lands, which suffered from Armenian vandalism heavily, were kick-started shortly after their liberation from Armenia’s occupation last year. The Azerbaijani government allocated 2.2 billion manats ($1.3 billion) from this year’s state budget to restore and reconstruct these territories.

To restore the war-torn lands, Azerbaijan has greenlit the “smart village” concept. Currently, an innovative residential block is being built in Zangilan’s Aghali village covering an area of more than 110 hectares. 

A smart village concept refers to rural areas and communities where traditional, and new networks and services are enhanced using digital, telecommunication technologies, innovations, and the better use of knowledge for the benefit of residents and businesses. Digital technologies are designed to raise living standards, improve public services for citizens, ensure better use of resources, reduce environmental impact and create new opportunities for rural value chains in terms of products and improved processes.

The Aghali village includes 200 eco-friendly houses, four two-story non-residential buildings, a school designed for 360 students, a kindergarten accommodating 60 children, an outpatient clinic, and a hydroelectric power plant. Five key components of development have been outlined for the village: housing, production, social services, smart agriculture, and alternative energy.

Meanwhile, the “smart agriculture” concept in the Aghali village is supposed to open an all-new chapter in Azerbaijan’s agriculture sector. The village will have 600 hectares of the sown area with top-notch irrigation and cultivation techniques deployed. A public farm in Aghali will allow the residents to breed 850 heads of cattle.