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ERR in Karabakh: Azeri refugees are returning

Anton Aleksejev in Fuzuli.
Anton Aleksejev in Fuzuli. Source: Kristjan Svirgsden/ERR

Azerbaijani refugees have started to return to Nagorno-Karabakh, after Azerbaijan took control of the region earlier this year.

"Aktuaalne kaamera"'s Anton Alekseyev and Kristjan Svirgsden visited the city of Fuzuli and spoke to people who had decided to move back in recent months.

Fuzuli was part of the security zone of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The Armenians drove the Azerbaijanis out in the 1990s, but they did not settle there themselves.

The Azerbaijanis took the city back in 2020, and control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region earlier this year.

When the journalists first visited Fuzuli several years ago, the city was still in ruins. But it is now being rebuilt from scratch and more than a thousand people have returned.

"Families who were forced to flee in 1993 can now come back. No one is forcing them to do so, but they all want to return home. Those who can find a job will go to work. Pensioners just want to return home," said Islam Memmedhanov, advisor to the Special Representative of the President of Azerbaijan in Karabakh.

"The priority is the return of the former residents of Fuzuli who were evicted. Once we have been able to bring them back to Fuzuli, others may start to settle here. Priority will still be given to people from here," he added.

Tarana, a returnee, told AK: "We are from Fuzuli. My mother now lives just across the road from where our home used to be. She lives in a four-story house opposite the ruins of our former home. I was forced to leave when I was 14 years old. We fled and found a place to live in a dormitory on the outskirts of Baku in Sumgait."

Tarana is a primary school teacher and has a job at a local school.

"Baku may be a modern and beautiful city, the whole country is our homeland, but we still feel like we are visiting someone. One of the teachers here at school recognized me. We reminisced about our childhood. We really belong here. Our place is here. It has always been our land and always will be," she said.

Other countries are also helping to rebuild Karabakh.

AK spoke to 12-year-old Mariam who moved to Fuzuli with her mother in September. The family has roots in the city.

"I didn't know much about the place before, but when we decided to move here, my mother said it was a beautiful place. She also said that there were battles with the Armenians here. My mother promised me that I would go to a very good school, but my grandmother burst into tears and said that we would be returning to our homeland," said Mariam.

The landlocked region of Nagorno-Karabakh has been the subject of a long-standing territorial dispute between Azerbaijan, in which it lies, and its ethnic Armenian majority, backed by neighboring Armenia, the BBC writes.

Internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, until recently much of it was governed by the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

Following decades of ceasefires punctuated by sporadic clashes and upsurges of violence, in September 2023, Azerbaijani forces overwhelmed the territory's defenders in a short campaign.

The majority of ethnic Armenians have now fled and Nagorno-Karabakh's government says the self-declared republic will cease to exist by January 2024.

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Editor: Marko Tooming, Helen Wright

Source: Aktuaalne kaamera

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