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How has Shusha in the war-torn Karabakh region transformed over the past year?

Foreign Policy Blogs - Mon, 16/05/2022 - 20:37

Recently, I visited Shusha in the war-torn Karabakh region in order to partake in the International Food Festival that was hosted in Azerbaijan’s cultural capital city. After visiting the area last summer together with Ayoob Kara, who served as Israel’s Communication, Cyber and Satellite Minister under Netanyahu, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much the area has improved over the past year.

For starters, there are now proper roads where one can travel from Baku to Shusha.  These roads did not exist last summer.  When I visited the area last summer, we had to travel on landmine-infested dirt roads, with multiple potholes in them. As a result, we had to zigzag as we drove and we saw many cars that broke down along the way due to these conditions. We ourselves got into a bus accident and were stranded for several hours in a landmine-infested area, till we were rescued by the Azerbaijani government and military.

But now, thanks to the better roads, what was an eight-hour journey became a five-to-six-hour journey from Baku to Shusha. On top of that, the area along the way has significantly improved.  For starters, the Azerbaijanis have rebuilt the city of Fizouli, which was nothing but a ghost town last year. This means that one can stop and eat in a café or go to get gasoline in Fizouli along the road between Shusha and Baku.  

Thus, instead of having our meal along the way on an Azerbaijani military base, we were able to dine in a nice Azerbaijani tea house. For me, this was a major development, as I keep kosher.  On my last visit, I literally starved on the journey, as the military base and convoy of Russian journalists lacked vegetarian options. So, I barely ate till we reached Shusha. But at the Azerbaijani tea house, I found myself in a more vegetarian friendly atmosphere.      

On top of that, all of the fires that were still raging last summer have been put out. Furthermore, the nature is beginning to recover from the fact that the area was left on fire, with uprooted trees, destroyed homes and burnt agricultural fields.  Now, one can see greenery and flowers along the road to Shusha, even though one can see that many homes still remain in ruins. 

Upon entering the city, we had to pass through a checkpoint manned by Russian peace-keepers. That did not exist last year. But upon entering the city, we were surprised to discover that we would be staying in the five-star Karabakh Hotel, which had a lovely gift shop that sold souvenirs connected with the historic city of Shusha, instead of a run-down leftover Armenian hotel, which lacked electricity in our rooms.

While staying at the Karabakh Hotel, we were able to attend concerts, puppet shows and other performances at the International Food Festival in Azerbaijan’s cultural capital city.  Foods from various regions of Azerbaijan were represented, as were a number of countries including Israel, Turkey, Georgia, China, Japan, France, Italy, Malaysia, etc. I was even able to purchase wine, cookbooks and other trinkets at the festival, in addition to meeting people from various parts of the world.

Last summer, they were putting the final touches on the Shusha Fort, but now it is open to the public and even has a market selling kebabs to Azerbaijani soldiers. That did not exist last summer. They also renovated a number of other buildings.  For example, the local elementary school is now totally renovated and I saw them putting the final touches upon a number of mosques.   With one exception, all of the mosques in Shusha last summer lay in ruins. Thus, after visiting Shusha, I am hopeful that within five years, the area can begin to flourish once again as Azerbaijan’s cultural capital city.     

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