Home > Abandoned - Explained, Creepy, Eurasia, Middle East, Military & War > Ghost Town of War: Agdam, Azerbaijan

Ghost Town of War: Agdam, Azerbaijan

Chances are you haven’t heard of Agdam. Founded less than 300 years ago, it doesn’t have much history. Its location is of little importance and nothing historically significant ever happened there.

Until 1993, that is, when the city came under siege during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Forty thousand people were forced to flee when Karabakh-Armenian forces shelled the town without mercy. Eighteen years later the town sits vacant, still a part of the Armenian buffer zone.

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History

Agdam was founded in the late 1700s but was not officially granted city status until 1828. The chief industries were butter, wine, and the production of machinery. The town had no major military presence or importance, but it was the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh area which was central to two warring countries.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a small landlocked region in the west of Azerbaijan. They have sought independence from Azerbaijan and the U.S.S.R. Neighboring Armenia supported the rebellious Karabakh forces, citing the region had been part of the ancient Armenian kingdom going back to the 4th century B.C.

Not all in the Nagorno-Karabakh region consider themselves of Armenian heritage, however, and a centuries-old claim to territory proved to be the root of the conflict.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

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Scorched Earth Policy

Although the region has been constantly embroiled in a tug-of-war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the conflict came to a head from June to August of 1993. Azerbaijan was using Agdam as a regional defensive base to protect its flank from the Armenian forces.

Armenia – thinking Azerbaijan was going to launch an offensive from Agdam – enlisted the support of regional Karabakh forces to fight back. Agdam, the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, was the primary target. Armenia’s strategy employed a “scorched earth” policy; if they could not have the region, they’d make it unlivable for anyone.

In the summer, tens of thousands of Armenian and Karabakh troops swept through the Nagorno-Karabakh region with the intent to destroy every town. What the fighting itself didn’t destroy, the Armenian forces finished off with heavy artillery afterward.

In order to prevent the recapture of Agdam by Azerbaijan, the Armenians proceeded to shell, bomb, and blow up most of the remaining abandoned structures. Their goal was to render the city useless and prevent anyone from returning.

Mission accomplished?

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Collateral Damage

The fighting was extremely violent and no considerations were offered to the innocent citizens by the Karabakh forces. Violations of the rules of war were common: shooting of innocent men, women & children, hostage-taking, torture, and rape – for the assumption it was a stronghold of Azerbaijan forces and a launching point for attack.

In the end there was no Azerbaijan offensive planned; it was a skeleton crew of low-morale Azerbaijani forces guarding the city against aggressors. Few actually fought to defend the city and desertion rates were high.

Historians estimate nearly 10,000 soldiers, militia, and civilians died in the fighting. Those that could, fled, and by the end of the summer over 120,000 civilians had left the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

After Agdam was taken by Karabakh forces, they proceeded to obliterate the empty town with artillery and endless gunfire.

The Karabakh forces only left the Aghdam Mosque standing. This was done on purpose: the Armenians use it as a cowshed to add insult and disgrace to those conquered.

Once satisfied with their demolition, the Karabakh troops proceeded to destroy the other regional cities of Fizuli, Jebrail, and Zangelan.

By the end of the summer, Azerbaijan had lost five regions to the Armenian-Karabakh forces. The Nagorno-Karabakh region immediately claimed independence following the conflict, although it was not (and has never been) officially recognized by anyone other than Armenia.

Over time Agdam remained vacant, with brave looters sneaking in from time to time being the only signs of life.

What is left to loot? Building materials.

 

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Legacy

Today, the only part of Agdam that lives on is its soccer team. After the conflict, the team moved elsewhere but retained the Agdam association and heritage. To this day they still play in Azerbaijan’s premier league, representing Agdam even though no one has lived there for 18 years.

Satellite overhead image & map: click here


  Formerly the Aghdam Mosque, now a cowshed:

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  1. Maud
    September 5, 2011 at 08:20

    Great aitrcle, thank you again for writing.

  2. pablo
    March 16, 2012 at 08:02

    sad sad my friend

    bye from argentina

  3. Corky Carol
    June 19, 2012 at 06:37

    Awesome. Man, the Armenians really must have kicked some butt here. Were they pissed or what?

  4. Richard
    October 23, 2012 at 19:49

    This article makes me thankful i live in an Island. I could just imagine the tension of the neighboring countries at that time

  5. gk
    July 29, 2013 at 02:47

    Many thanks! These are all true! I am from Agdam and I remember how violent, brutal and cruel the armenians were! My parents live close to that territory at the moment. Even now every summer armenians burn all that territory and even wild animals run away from there to neighbor villages. This is a crime against not only Azerbaijanis but also all humanity!

    • July 31, 2013 at 21:13

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! It’s an honor when someone with personal experience stops by and shares their story. I hope you feel the post does the story justice.

      • gk
        July 31, 2013 at 22:15

        Thank you indeed! We owe you many thanks!

        • August 1, 2013 at 14:20

          Good luck to you. I wish you peace and hopefully a resolution to the conflict comes soon. Be well, stay safe, and thank you again for stopping by!

  6. eh - Armenian
    May 30, 2014 at 16:02

    Your article is wholly innaccurate in the portrayal of the town and the history.
    the most important of which are – it was never the capital of the region, it was used as a base for SHELLING the capital of the region and it was captured to prevent bombing of the capital.

    • June 11, 2014 at 15:06

      Thanks for the input. For this story my sources were Wikipedia, the New York Times, and the BBC, among others…. Admittedly all western influenced sources, but sources with common information. I would welcome your input further on the history from your perspective, if it will balance the reporting here. Thanks!

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