“Everything is devastated – the infrastructure is destroyed, residential and administrative buildings are demolished”, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan declared in his address to the nation on 1 December, referring to Azerbaijani territories in Karabakh recently liberated from the Armenian occupation.
Azerbaijan is currently preparing a lawsuit for compensation from Armenia for this material damage which, according to Gevork Kostanyan, Armenia’s former Prosecutor General of Armenia and former representative of Armenia at the European Court of Human Rights, might amount to as much as 50 billion dollars.
Seven districts around the former Nagorno-Karabakh region that were home to more than 700,000 Azerbaijanis before their occupation during the First Karabakh War (1988-1994) have been entirely demolished and razed to the ground during the period they were under the control of Armenia.
Apart from residential and administrative buildings, according to the official sources, 700 historic and cultural monuments damaged or destroyed; 927 libraries; 808 cultural centers; 85 music and art schools; 22 museums with over 100,000 artefacts; 4 art galleries, 4 theatres, 2 concert halls in these territories over the last thirty years.
The reconstruction of the region is therefore a process that will take a long period of time and massive financial resources. According to some experts, this may take 5-10 years and cost more than 10 billion dollars.
Azerbaijan is, however, determined that the life will be restored in the liberated lands which used to be one of the most prosperous parts of Azerbaijan in the past. President Aliyev vows that “we will restore these regions, all our districts; we will take all steps to create a normal life for our citizens”.
“A restoration period is now setting in. Large-scale construction work will be carried out. Of course, first of all, Azerbaijani companies will take part in this work, and we will invite companies from countries that are friendly to us,” President Aliyev declared in a meeting with the parliamentary delegation of Italy in Baku.
It was a signal that the companies from those states who demonstrated anti-Azerbaijani position in the Second Karabakh War would not be welcome in the reconstruction of the liberated territories. “For us, this war also showed… [which countries] the real friends of Azerbaijan are,” he added.
Azerbaijan has already signed first contracts with Turkish companies. For President Aliyev, “This is natural, because Turkey is our brotherly country”. The reconstruction process attracts European states, too.
For example, James Sharp, British Ambassador to Azerbaijan, tweeted about his meeting with Ramin Guluzade, Azerbaijani Minister of Transport, Communications and High Technologies on December 1, stating that they discussed the construction of “smart cities” in “the territories liberated from the occupation”.
Not a comprehensive state program has been announced yet that covers the reconstruction plans of the Azerbaijani government, but a number of measures have been taken and announcements have been made. Immediately after the liberation of the Shusha city, Azerbaijan announced the construction of a new road to the city that will be more than a hundred kilometers.
Three companies from Turkey and Azerbaijan are involved in the process which is expected to complete in 1,5 years. Azerbaijan’s Highways State Agency has announced plans for new roads to be built in the near future connecting Karabakh region to the rest of Azerbaijan.
The establishment of highways and railroads are seen as an important start for future reconstruction work in the region, as well as for economic build-up. The tripartite agreement between the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia that ended the Second Karabakh War on the 10th of November declared the opening of all communication channels in the region and provided Azerbaijan with a corridor with its landlocked exclave Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic through Armenia.
Azerbaijan is planning to build a highway and railroad communication to Nakhchivan which will also connect the country with its major strategic ally, Turkey.
The post-war plans of Azerbaijan attach a special importance to the restoration of the cultural and religious monuments destroyed and desecrated under Armenian control. Azerbaijan was outraged by the images of the historical mosques in the Karabakh region which had been turned into pigsties over the last three decades.
There is also a popular disillusionment with the international mediators from France, the United States and Russia who previously conducted fact-finding missions in those regions but never raised the issue of the situation of those religious monuments.
However, as a multi-faith country, Azerbaijan plans to restore not only the Muslim monuments but also those belonging to Christianity and other religions in the liberated territories.
UNESCO and other international organizations are invited by Azerbaijan both to assess the material damage inflicted by Armenia on the recently liberated territories and also to take part in the restoration of the cultural heritage.
This comes against the background of disinformation campaigns claiming that the Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh will endanger the Christian heritage in the region.
“The administration in which I serve has publicly announced it will restore and rebuild both the Christian and Muslim heritage of this ravaged region — and we now welcome the announcement of UNESCO’s involvement in this project”, stated Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy assistant to the President of Azerbaijan, rejecting the accusations that Azerbaijan is a threat to the Christian heritage.