Author: Nurlana GULIYEVA, Ilgar VELIZADE
In the last month, Azerbaijan liberated a significant portion of the territories occupied by Armenia. With that started the restoration of these lands to ensure a peaceful life in the near future. Considering the enormous untapped economic potential of the region practically not used for its intended purpose over the past 30 years, as well as the existing financial reserves, it will be fairly easy to accomplish this mission in short time. Moreover, Azerbaijan has sufficient experience in this area. There is also a special state-run agency for the restoration and reconstruction of territories. The mission of the agency is to coordinate restoration works and to create conditions for the return of internally displaced persons to their homes.
In the last month, Azerbaijan completely regained control over the Karabakh section of its border with Iran. The cities of Fuzuli, Jebrayil, Zangilan, Gubadly, including the settlements, villages, as well as part of the Khojavend district were returned. Before the occupation, these were the intensively developing districts of Azerbaijan known for cotton growing, viticulture, animal husbandry, silkworm breeding, and horticulture. There were plants for the processing of agricultural raw materials, including a cotton ginnery, as well as canning plants and a facility for the production of construction materials. Important transport communications, railways and highways ran through Fuzuli, Jebrayil and Zangilan districts connecting the central districts of Azerbaijan with the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, as well as with the Meghri district of Armenia. Thus, the cattle breeding sector, which was one of the popular agriculture sectors in the region, was based on the seasonal factor, meaning that in the summer period, herders grazed their herds in the high mountainous areas of the Khojavend district, while in the winter season, flocks of sheep and herds of cattle would graze in the open spaces of the Gayan steppe of Jebrayil, as well as in Fuzuli and part of Zangilan.
As for Gubadly, during the Soviet rule, the key sector of the district’s economy was grain growing, animal husbandry, tobacco growing, silkworm breeding and viticulture. Until the 1960s, rice was also cultivated in the region. At that time, Gubadly rice was popular in the republic.
With the outbreak of hostilities and the subsequent occupation of all four districts, Karabakh stepped into the black period of its history. Armenian occupiers who ruled here for many years literally left no stone from the once flourishing cities and towns. They destroyed not only material, but also spiritual values, tried to wipe out historical monuments, destroyed the environment of the region by poisoning rivers with harmful emissions, cutting down centuries-old forests, etc.
Over the past years, the Armenian Armed Forces built several fortified military bases in the region, in particular in the districts of Fuzuli and Jebrayil. They turned the once fertile lands into training grounds, where the Armenian military organised military exercises several times a year. None of them ever thought about the return of these lands to Azerbaijan.
Moreover, the occupants used the roads leading to Iran for illegal trade, transportation of drugs through the occupied territories, smuggling of weapons, etc.
Recovery has started
The video footage from the liberated territories clearly shows that all these years the occupiers did not make any special efforts to use the economic potential of the region. “We could not a single building in Fuzuli after de-occupation. Can you imagine? None of the buildings survived in the whole city, where tens of thousands of people used to live. I instructed to raise our flag on the flagpole. This is what they did. Look at the ruins of Aghdam and Jabrayil. Everything has been destroyed. As if the barbarians have lived there," President Ilham Aliyev said recently in his interview with Interfax.
Some economic activities have been undertaken in Nagorno-Karabakh though. But even in this case the invaders blatantly plundered the mineral resources of the region in partnership with some foreign companies. According to Mr. Aliyev, all the involved individuals and companies will be held accountable through the appropriate legal procedures.
Karabakh has been so connected with the rest of Azerbaijan thanks to economic ties that the invaders would have needed a lot of money and years to restore them. But they had none of these resources to do so. Thus, the overwhelming majority of enterprises located in Karabakh used to function based on the fuel and raw materials imported from other regions of Azerbaijan. Many of them operated as branches of large enterprises in Baku. "As of 1986, only 0.3% of economic relations and 1.4% of imports of Nagorno-Karabakh were dependent on the Armenian SSR. Nevertheless, 33.3% of the products produced in the former autonomous oblast were sold in the rest of Azerbaijan," the head of the Center for Analysis of Economic Reforms and Communication (CAERC) Vusal Gasimly noted.
Azerbaijan will have to carry out a lot of work to restore the former economic power of the region. The government already has a program to achieve the intended goal as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The legal framework for the start of recovery works is the decree of the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev dated October 29, 2020 On the organization of a temporary special administration in the liberated territories in Karabakh. The duties of these temporary administration officers (superintendants), in addition to protecting important facilities, including transport and telecommunications infrastructure, energy and water supply systems, reservoirs, etc., also include a whole list of measures aimed at quickly creating the necessary conditions for civilians to live.
Apparently, it will be reasonable to start the restoration works by cleaning the territories from mines, to study the state of energy facilities in the region, to establish communication facilities and to install other infrastructure facilities, as necessary. Also, the commandants will have to evaluate the state of the lands suitable for agriculture, accounting, storage and protection of agricultural equipment and means of production, farm animals. Other specialists will go to districts later to start the works to develop all the available economic opportunities for the region.
“We will have huge expenses. Infrastructure, roads, communications, housing, office buildings. Therefore, at the first stage, in terms of gross domestic product, this will probably have a significant positive effect on the construction sector,” Ilham Aliyev said.
It is no secret that one of the main sources of income for Armenia during the years of occupation was the sale of minerals extracted in a predatory and barbaric manner from the already discovered deposits. There are 155 deposits of various types of minerals in the occupied territories with 132.6 tons of discovered gold reserves, 37,300 tons of lead, 189 million cubic meters of sawn stone, etc. In general, the occupied territories are very rich in various types of building materials, which are of great importance in the industry and construction of Azerbaijan.
According to CAERC, the future exploitation of minerals can be carried out in three blocks: non-ferrous metals and non-ferrous metallurgy, construction materials, and rare metals. “Non-ferrous metals and building materials are typical sectors of the traditional economy. The available resources will allow new capacities to be created in these areas. We can use the results of researches in these areas conducted back in the Soviet times and on primary infrastructure (if any). In addition, we can conduct research and geological works to determine the presence of rare metals in the region, which are widely used in high technologies,” Azerbaijani experts believe.
For example, sawn stone deposits will meet the demand of the construction sector. Currently, Azerbaijan has to import a number of resources suitable for the construction sector. The liberation of districts rich in deposits will fully meet the demand of the construction sector.
As for metallurgy, Azerbaijan already has a successful experience in the development of gold deposits with a well-developed export mechanism in place. A competent approach, the use of modern technologies, experience and specialised personnel of Azergold CJSC and the Azerbaijan Industrial Corporation will help eliminate the traces of the barbaric invasion of our gold mines. These resources will help finance the necessary reconstruction works in the region.
In addition, the development of metallurgy will accelerate the further growth of the military industry of Azerbaijan along with other industries.
Agriculture and tourism
Fertile lands of Karabakh, the diversity of the flora and fauna of this extraordinary region is enough to make the liberated territories self-sufficient economically. “Obviously, the return of large territories means a great potential for growth and development, particularly, the growth of agriculture and tourism, because Karabakh has been one of the most beautiful and fertile regions of Azerbaijan.
“Therefore, this region will be very important for the sustainable development of Azerbaijan as a whole, especially for resolving the issues related to food security,” President Ilham Aliyev said in his interview with Interfax.
It is known that small agricultural holdings also operated in the previously occupied territories. Before the occupation, these territories provided about 35-40% of agricultural products produced in Azerbaijan. The invaders were able to use only 7% of fertile lands. The productivity on the sown areas was so low that only 1.0-1.2 tonnes of grain were harvested from each hectare, which was two times lower than before the occupation.
250,000 hectares of occupied lands and 120,000 hectares of the unused land located near the former line of contact can potentially be used for crop rotation in the post-conflict period. And this is quite enough to start developing the processing and food industries in Karabakh.
According to CAERC, at present the level of self-sufficiency of our country in meat and meat products is 82.5%, milk and dairy products - 86.2%, grain (excluding brown rice) - 70%. After the resumption of economic activity in the liberated territories, these indicators will undoubtedly go beyond 100%.
According to V. Gasimly, industrial and recreational opportunities of the region will be widely used in the post-conflict period. “It is assumed that up to 40% of the mineral waters of Azerbaijan were under occupation. In the occupied territories there are about 120 deposits of mineral waters of various composition and value. It means a daily supply of 7,805 m3 of mineral water. As in the 1980s, large recreational facilities and the mineral water production can be revived in Istisu, Kelbajar. The same approach can be used at the Turshsu mineral spring in Shusha,” Gasimly said.
In other words, Karabakh may become an analogue of the famous resort region of the Caucasian Mineral Waters, uniting opportunities for both recreation and treatment in a single territory. Moreover, with modern infrastructure, access to all the benefits of civilization, etc. can be provided.
“There are no material dimensions that would prevent us from restoring Karabakh and making it one of the most beautiful and convenient places for life on Earth,” President Ilham Aliyev said. Certainly, the goal set by the president will be achieved same as the ongoing success of the Azerbaijani army in Karabakh.