Agdam Ghost City
32km north east from Nagorno Karabakh's capital lies Agdam. In July 1993 towards the end of the Nagorno Karabakh war (see foot note at the end of this post), Agdam was taken by the Armenians after heavy fighting which saw the whole town virtually flatened.
Today, Agdam is a ghost city. Abandoned (well almost). Karabakh's very own Hiroshima.
Agdam lies in the buffer zone and is off limits to tourists. The guy at the Ministery of Foreign Affairs office where we had gotten our visas had told us catagorically, "Agdam is closed. You are not allowed to visit Agdam"
The scars of war. See the cow?
Me and SJ hired a taxi to take us. Midway thru the ride, he's on the phone, we hope calling ahead to inform the military that he was coming with two tourists. Last weekend there had been skirmishes, reported on Reuters News.
We left the Stepanakert Martakert highway and the road became broken. Bombed out buildings lined the road. Nearer to the center, the ruins were more concentrated. BUT not completely abandoned. On the drive in, one house partially repaired, people were definately living there. On the drive out, one house had been rebuilt. A whole family was living there. Old man, mum and a couple of children. Scrap metal opportunists.
Agdam, 23 years ago had been the regions largest city. More than 100,000 people had lived there. There were very few high rises, mostly just nothing more than 4 stories, so Agdam covered a huge area.
Center stage in Agdam is the twin minaret Persian mosque, built between 1868 and 1870. This is Agdams sole sructure that is wholly intact, though not without damage naturally.
We got to climb the minaret for views out across the city. Radiating out for more than 3km in each direction, the scars of war. (Later in the day we met a couple of travellers who told us that the military turned up and were refused access to the mosque, so we missed any dramas or was it cos our driver called ahead? We like to think so).
Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia controlled republic in Azerbaijan. Karabakh is recogonized by only 3 international states who are themselves not internationally recognized. Abkhazia, South Ossetia (both Georgian) and Transnistria (Moldovan).
The only way to enter Karabakh is from Armenia and the Azeri authorities see this as illegal. So if you have a Karabakh visa in your passport you will be denied entry to Azerbaijan. I came here in 2010., I also went to Azerbaijan but on different passport and am here again on that passport which presented no problems. At the border, you register and when in town, you go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and get your visa. The process is painless. To save another page in my passport, I requested that the visa was not stuck in.
You can read more about Karabakh at wikipedia
The Nagorno-Karabakh War, referred to as the Artsakh Liberation War by Armenians, was an ethnic conflict that took place in the late 1980s to May 1994, in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in southwestern Azerbaijan, between the majority ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh backed by the Republic of Armenia, and the Republic of Azerbaijan. As the war progressed, Armenia and Azerbaijan, both former Soviet Republics, entangled themselves in a protracted, undeclared war in the mountainous heights of Karabakh as Azerbaijan attempted to curb the secessionist movement in Nagorno-Karabakh. The enclave's parliament had voted in favor of uniting itself with Armenia and a referendum, boycotted by the Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh, was held, whereby most of the voters voted in favor of independence. The demand to unify with Armenia, which began anew in 1988, began in a relatively peaceful manner; however, in the following months, as the Soviet Union's disintegration neared, it gradually grew into an increasingly violent conflict between ethnic Armenians and ethnic Azerbaijanis, resulting in claims of ethnic cleansing by both sides.
Inter-ethnic clashes between the two broke out shortly after the parliament of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) in Azerbaijan voted to unify the region with Armenia on 20 February 1988. The circumstances of the dissolution of the Soviet Union facilitated an Armenian separatist movement in Soviet Azerbaijan. The declaration of secession from Azerbaijan was the final result of a territorial conflict regarding the land. As Azerbaijan declared its independence from the Soviet Union and removed the powers held by the enclave's government, the Armenian majority voted to secede from Azerbaijan and in the process proclaimed the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Full-scale fighting erupted in the late winter of 1992. International mediation by several groups including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) failed to bring an end resolution that both sides could work with. In the spring of 1993, Armenian forces captured regions outside the enclave itself, threatening the involvement of other countries in the region. By the end of the war in 1994, the Armenians were in full control of most of the enclave and also held and currently control approximately 9% of Azerbaijan's territory outside the enclave. As many as 230,000 Armenians from Azerbaijan and 800,000 Azeris from Armenia and Karabakh have been displaced as a result of the conflict. A Russian-brokered ceasefire was signed in May 1994 and peace talks, mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group, have been held ever since by Armenia and Azerbaijan.