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Another 35 Families Settle in Fuzuli Under Azerbaijan's "Great Return" Program

By Ilham Karimli March 28, 2024

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Upon arrival in Fuzuli, the families were presented with the keys to their new apartments by the government officials, March 27, 2024 / Azertag

In a significant step towards repatriation as part of the “Great Return” program, a new group of IDPs returned to Fuzuli on Wednesday, enhancing the ongoing effort of the Azerbaijani government to reintegrate families back into their original hometowns.

As many as 35 families, totaling 134 individuals, were welcomed back to Fuzuli, a city that has seen substantial redevelopment following years of occupation and forcible displacement.

Upon arrival, the families were presented with the keys to their new apartments. To ensure the safety of the resettled families, specialists from the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) provided comprehensive briefings on the risks associated with mines and unexploded ordnance. They emphasized the importance of avoiding unfamiliar objects and reporting any suspicious items to the relevant authorities.

This resettlement initiative is part of a broader effort by the Azerbaijani government to facilitate the return of displaced persons to their ancestral homes, along with providing them with the necessary infrastructure and support to rebuild their lives.

With the latest group of families settling in, the total number of families permanently residing in Fuzuli has reached 631, with 2,379 individuals.

The process of repatriating families to Fuzuli is expected to continue in the coming days, further contributing to the region's restoration and the repopulation of its community after decades of devastating occupation by Armenia.

Fuzuli was one of the Azerbaijani districts that was invaded by the Armenian troops in the early 1990s.

Armenia and Azerbaijan had been locked in a decades-old armed conflict over the Karabakh (Garabagh) region, which is the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched a military campaign against Azerbaijan. The bloody war lasted until a ceasefire was reached in 1994 and saw Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. Over 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed, nearly 4,000 went missing, and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign conducted by Armenia.

In 1993, Armenia captured the Fuzuli district, including the city of Fuzuli and 51 villages. At least 55,000 Azerbaijanis were forcibly expelled from the district. Although a portion of the district was liberated by the Azerbaijani forces in 1994, a significant part remained under Armenian occupation for nearly three decades.

The renewed clashes between the Armenian and Azerbaijani forces broke out on September 27, 2020, after Armenia’s forces deployed in the occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. The attack prompted immediate counter-attack measures by the Azerbaijani army. The hostilities lasted 44 days until the signing of a trilateral statement by Azerbaijan and Armenia through Russia’s mediation on November 10, 2020.

At the time, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from Armenian occupation. Under the statement, Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.

Fuzuli, one of the districts in the Karabakh Economic Region of Azerbaijan, is being revived as part of the Azerbaijani government’s large-scale campaign to restore and reconstruct the liberated territories. The master plan for the city of Fuzuli, the district’s administrative center, has already been developed. According to the master plan, Fuzuli city will cover 1,936 hectares, and by 2040, it will be home to 50,000 people.

On October 18, 2021, President Ilham Aliyev broke ground for the “smart village” in the district. The project is being implemented using green and alternative energy sources and a “smart management” system. At the initial stage, 450 houses will be built. The village will also be surrounded by a “smart village” farm.

On October 26, 2021, President Aliyev and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan inaugurated the Fuzuli International Airport, the first all-new airfield launched in the liberated Azerbaijani lands. President Aliyev labeled the air harbor the “air gate of Karabakh.”

The Uzbek government sponsored the construction of a secondary school in Fuzuli upon the initiative of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The 960-seat school, named after the prominent medieval Uzbek statesman Mirza Ulugh Beg, was launched in August last year.

“The Great Return”

Azerbaijan's ambitious "Great Return" program is significantly advancing the repopulation efforts in regions liberated from Armenian occupation. The initiative has already witnessed the successful resettlement of nearly 6,000 IDPs into five strategically developed settlements.

In 2024, the Azerbaijani government plans to revive at least 20 settlements, designed to provide a safe and sustainable living environment for returning citizens. By the end of this year, the program aims to facilitate the reintegration of 20,000 former IDPs into territories, spanning five cities and 15 villages. The comprehensive master plans for over a hundred cities and villages within the liberated territories have already been approved.

As the "Great Return" program progresses towards its first-phase completion by the end of 2026, it will reunite 140,000 displaced individuals with their ancestral lands.