Great Return: First Group of Azerbaijanis Once Expelled by Armenians Returns Back Home

The first group of Azerbaijani citizens returned to their homes decades after being forcibly expelled by the Armenian armed forces in the early 1990s.

The government of Azerbaijan has started resettlement of its citizens within the “Great Return” state program. Ten families comprising 58 people arrived Tuesday in the Aghali village of the Zangilan district to settle in their new houses. 

According to the Azerbaijani president’s special representative in Zangilan, Vahid Hajiyev, large-scale infrastructure projects are being implemented in the district, which, among other Azerbaijani districts and cities, was liberated from illegal Armenian occupation in 2020. 

“The Aghali village of Zangilan was first restored. During this month, 41 families will be relocated to the village. Transfers of the people are expected to take place in the next months, as well,” Hajiyev told reporters on Tuesday.

A total of 201 people will be resettled in the village by the end of July. According to census data, 1,457 people have been registered in the Aghali village of which 1,357 will return back to their homes. 

The return of the residents to Aghali follows the reconstruction and creation of all necessary infrastructure launched by President Ilham Aliyev in April 2021.

Aghali is the first village developed based on a “smart village” concept in the liberated lands of Azerbaijan. The village is home to 150 two-story and three-story eco-friendly residential buildings, as well as a kindergarten, a school, a medical center, a hydroelectric power plant, and more. Five key components of development are being applied in Aghali: housing, production, social services, smart agriculture, and alternative energy. The “smart agriculture” concept in the Aghali village is expected to foster innovation within Azerbaijan’s agriculture sector. 

At the same time, the offices of Azerpost, ASAN Service multi-purpose social services center, DOST social support center, and Center for Development of Small and Medium Enterprises have come online in the village. An agricultural park will also be put into operation soon. Residents of Aghali will receive more than 100 services concerning social security and employment in an online format.

The Azerbaijani government green-lit the “Great Return” program after liberating the country’s territories in a 44-day war with Armenia in 2020.

Armenia and Azerbaijan had long been at odds over the latter’s Karabakh (Garabagh) region. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched a military campaign against Azerbaijan that lasted until a ceasefire deal was reached in 1994. As a result, Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. Over 30,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis were killed, and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by Armenia.

Zangilan was occupied by the Armenian forces in 1993 leading to the forcible expulsion of 42,700 people living there. The district was completely razed to the ground during the decades of occupation.

On September 27, 2020, the decades-old conflict between the two countries spiraled after Armenia’s forces deployed in occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During counter-attack operations, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from a nearly 30-year-long illegal Armenian occupation. The war ended in a tripartite statement signed on November 10, 2020, by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Under the statement, Armenia returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.

Shortly after the war, the Azerbaijani government launched major infrastructure projects to restore and reconstruct war-torn lands, including Zangilan. 

This autumn, a top-notch airport in the Zangilan district is expected to become operational. The ground was broken for the airfield’s construction in April 2021. Since then, almost 80 percent of the infrastructure project has been completed./caspiannews.com/