Ghost Towns in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is a beautiful country which over the centuries has been wracked by instability and oppression.
Spreading out from the Caspian Sea, the sweeping lowlands and plains rise steeply to the Caucasus mountain ranges reaching nearly 14,000 feet at the top of Bazarduso mountain.
Over half the country consists of mountain ridges, crests and high plateaux over 1000m. The land is rich in lakes and rivers which number over eight thousand although only a handful are of any significant length.
The climate is somewhat like that of most inland Eastern European countries, cold snowy winters and hot summers. The greatest range of temperatures being recorded in Ordubad on the plains where they have fallen to minus 33 in winter then risen to 46 Celsius in summer.
The country is abundant with wildlife and flowers. The famous Karabakh wild horse roams the plains, its effortless grace stunning to watch. Over 4,500 species of plants grow in Azerbaijan, with 65% of all that grow in the entirety of Europe being found within its boundaries.
The country is also well endowed with oil reserves which formed the reason for the Russian invasion and annexation following Azerbaijan’s brief period of independence after World War I. At the time the Russians were almost apologetic saying Russia could not survive without Azeri oil. This subjugation continued for over seventy years as the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic until Glasnost and Perestroika in the late eighties and early nineties.
The new Azerbaijan that came from the collapse of the Russian Empire had much going for it, huge and valuable natural resources and a stable population. However a quiet transition was not to be realised. Rampant inflation and the rise of the criminal mafia marred its early years although to his credit, the Azeri president Heydar Aliyev got most of this under control and attempted to build up the tourism industry to capitalise on Azerbaijain’s great beauty and cultural treasures.
The future looked bright until amongst the upheaval of the break up of the Soviet Union, Armenians living in the Azeri region of Nagorno-Karabakh began calling for autonomy.
An acrimonious war broke out with Nagorno-Karabakh gaining support from Armenia and Azerbaijan seeking help from Turkey. The conflict was seen by many as semi-religious as the Azeris are Muslim and the Armenians Christian. Many atrocities have been recorded but with each country claiming immunity as they had not yet signed up to the Geneva Convention. After securing the borders of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, the Armenians went further, annexing parts of Azerbaijan with the latter losing 16% of its territory of which 9% was outside the disputed region. Over 30,000 people were killed and a million made homeless. Caught up in this conflict and suffering the most was the city of Ağdam, now deserted.
Azerbaijan’s declining population faces an uncertain future. The birth rate is very low at 0.66% contrasting to a high death rate and low life expectancy. Respiratory diseases cause most of the deaths and men rarely live beyond sixty. The country has high emigration, mostly to Russia where nearly three million Azeris now live and work, nearly a third of the population of the country. Additionally, as a direct effect of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh which, although ended by ceasefire in 1994, still simmers on, nearly 800,000 Azeris are refugees in their own country. This gives Azerbaijan the dubious honour of having the highest per capita number of displaced persons in the world. Add to that the low population, nine million spread over a large country and vast unpopulated areas will abound. Perfect hunting ground for ghost towns!