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Shusha:  Cultural Capital of Azerbaijan

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Earlier this year in January Presidentof Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev declared Shusha, the pearl of Karabakh, as a cultural capital of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan liberated culturally rich city Shusha in Karabakh region a year ago amid 44 days long conflict culminating in victory for Azerbaijan. The country is rebuilding the cultural and historical heartland for the Azerbaijanis. While the residents of this beautiful hilly and green region are coming back to the normal and peaceful life, government of Azerbaijan is restoring and rebuilding the monuments, buildings and other cultural site. The city has not only historical but also strategic importance for Azerbaijan For three decades, Shusha had been under control of Armenia but now after gaining independence Azerbaijan is determined to restore the glory of the city. 

At the eve of the Victory Day- a year after the 44 days War in the region, Azerbaijan embassy here in Islamabad organized a trip for media representatives to visit the country especially to witness the restoration and rebuilding efforts to a war torn region. This was an effort to share information about the latest from Nargono-Karabakh where life is coming back to normalcy after a year of intense war. After remaining under the occupation of Armenia, Karabakh is now Azerbaijan. It has remained under the ruins of occupation for the past 28 years. Azerbaijan has built Fazuli Airport in less than eight months, making it an infrastructure miracle for the country. The city gets its original recognition at the first anniversary of victory in a patriotic war against Armenia. This city receives significant attention by the President given its cultural richness and historic recognition. 

Historically, Shusha had been an important center of politics, history, culture and political institutions of Azerbaijan. The city of Shusha was founded by Panahali Khan during the reign of Karabakh Khanate in the 18th century. The city was constructed according to cultural and security needs of that time as an ‘eternal and impenetrable fortress’ in an impenetrable plateau’. The construction began in 1752 at the height of 1600 meters above sea level and was completed in 1756. The capital of Khanate rule moved into this highly fortified fort in 1956 which began an era of societal progression in the region. Many of great Azerbaijan’s cultural icons, intellectuals and scientists were born in this beautiful city. Given the historic significance and socio-political activism of Shusha, the city is also best known for its  “music temple” and museum of South Caucasus. The founding father of Azerbaijani compositions of classical music and opera Uzeyir Hajibeyli, the famous poet Molla Panah Vagif and Khurshudbanu Natavan were born in this city. 

Since then, the indigenous population of Shusha had promoted the city and region as the region’s main administrative, economic, and cultural attraction. The city has played a key role in developing the carpet weaving industry in Azerbaijan because Shusha was a carpet weaving center in the Karabakh region in the second half of the 19th century. The carpets produced in Shusha were exported to international markets by the end of the 19th century. 

The decorative weaving and carpet structure of the Shushan carpets describe the basic process of weaving a local carpet and won multiple recognition awards including at an International Exhibition of Paris in 1867. By the end of the century, Shusha became a famous commercial center in the entire Caucasus region which promoted its trade and established commercial ties with Baku, Ganja and Nakhichevan in the vicinity and Iran, Russia, India and Europe beyond the region. 

The President of Azerbaijan is taking his personal interest in the post-war development of the city. He initiated the inspection of housing stock and historic sites for immediate restoration without wasting any further time. The Armenian occupation destroyed 60 mosques and used as stables for animals adding insulting prescriptions on their walls. He gave general amnesty to Armenian civilians in the region saying they are Azerbaijanis and continue to live in peace in the Karabakh region as Azerbaijan guarantees their security and rights. This is how the incumbent government of Azerbaijan respect the basic rights and committed to uphold the values that are embossed on the Charter of United Nations. 

The city remained under the control of Armenia since May 1992 and Armenian forces made deliberate attempts to destroy the history and cultural heritage of this city. Shusha was specifically targeted by Armenia in 1992 because of its geographical importance and strategic relevance to Azerbaijani culture, history, language and landscape. On November 8, 2020, Azerbaijani forces liberated the city of Shusha from Armenian control adding to its sovereign territory restoring law and order, justice and human rights. 

By making Shusha as a cultural capital and building Fazuli airport in record time, the world is witnessing that how this victory for Azerbaijan has given a new vigor to country to move forward with making peace in the region. Fazuli airport will be a connectivity hub for the region especially for trade and cultural connections. Shusha’s restoration is working like a tonic as those who have lost homes and were moved as a result of the war, they can finally return home.  It is a matter of months for Azerbaijan to stabilize and develop the Karabakh region restoring its normal way of life.

The writer is Founder Director Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies 

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