The Ethnic Dispute Over Shusha Is Masked By Azerbaijan’s Announcement To Rebuild The Region

Shusha, the once-abandoned land recaptured by Azerbaijan, is in the process of construction and renovation, according to Azerbaijani leadership and locals. These renovations came just within two years of the Nagorno-Karabakh War when Azerbaijan retook the area and ethnic Armenians who had inhabited the land fled. In May 2021, Azerbaijan declared Shusha its cultural capital, and on Monday, Energy Minister Parviz Shahbazov said the land is set to become a green energy zone. Already locals have reported the restoration of police headquarters, post office buildings, supermarkets, and bus services, as well as the renovation of mosques and cathedrals. Shahbazov made his remarks in his speech titled, “Path to net-zero: development of green energy potential of liberated territories,” during the Baku Energy Week conference held this year in Shusha.

The Energy Minister clarified the choice of location for the conference: “Another confirmation of this is the choice of Shusha today as a place for signing a document of cooperation on 4,000MW wind and solar power projects…This is a demonstration of the attractiveness of Azerbaijan and this region for investors and a great contribution to our energy system.” In his detailing of new projects, Shahbazov failed to mention any news regarding relations with Armenia and the people forced to flee after three days of war between the nations. Instead, he noted the power plants created in the last year and that “the announcement by the Azerbaijani president of Karabakh and East Zangezur as a Green Energy Zone with zero emissions is an example of an advanced development policy.”

The announcement and evidence of new construction in Shusha is a terrific sign of development in a region subject to violence and political tension for close to 30 years. However, the choice to ignore any discussion about the war with Armenia exemplifies that the discussion of disputed lands and ethnic removal in the region has not been resolved. The bloody war over Nagorno-Karabakh left many without a home after inhabiting the region since 1992. It is not to say Armenians have more of a claim to the land than Azerbaijanis, but clearly, the neglect towards the fighting is a sign that peace talks still need to commence between the countries about inhabiting the region.

Shusha has been subject to violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia for more than a century. In 1920, the death of half of the Armenian population in the region, who became the ethnic majority, by Azerbaijani forces was later called the Shusha Massacre. The land was part of the Soviet Union during the period in which nations in Western Asia were satellite states to the USSR, and at this time, Shusha, or Shushi in Armenian, was a prominent Soviet tourist resort. In 1992, Armenian-backed forces took Shusha during the first Nagorno-Karabakh War, during which Azerbaijani forces were the subjects fleeing. Between 1992 and its recapture in 2020, the region was part of the Republic of Artsakh, a disputed breakaway state, with support from Armenia. Shusha was named the center of the Shushi province of the disputed state as well, as an important cultural center. The land would stay under de facto control until the resumption of violence in 2020, during which around 2000 people were considered to have died during two days of fighting.

The fight over Shusha and the Republic of Artsakh is far from over, and for both countries to avoid further intervention and dialogue by supranational organizations and other nations, there must be some beginning to peace talks. It is unfair for both countries to fight back and forth, pushing out the opposite ethnic group and rebuilding, hurting innocent civilians in the process.