Azerbaijan, the South Caucasus’ largest country of over 10 million people, celebrates today the second anniversary of the historic victory on November 8, 2020, ending the war in the country's Karabakh (Garabagh) region.
Two years ago on this day, the Azerbaijani forces liberated the strategic Shusha city in the Karabakh region from a decades-long Armenian occupation. The city’s salvation was seen as the pinnacle of the Azerbaijani army’s weeks-long counter-attack operations, codenamed “Iron Fist.”
“Dear Shusha, you are free! Dear Shusha, we are back! Dear Shusha, we will reinvigorate you!” said President Ilham Aliyev on November 8, 2020, referring to the liberation of the Shusha city by Azerbaijani army.
Shusha was said to be one of the major strongholds of the Armenian occupying forces, who could not resist face-to-face battles with the Azerbaijani troops and retreated in disarray. Liberation of the city has had a crucial impact on the surrender of Armenia's forces and the signing of a tripartite statement on November 10, 2020.
On December 3, 2020, President Ilham Aliyev signed an order establishing November 8 as “Victory Day” in Azerbaijan.
The second anniversary of Victory Day on Tuesday started with a solemn march of the personnel of the Azerbaijani army. Azerbaijanis flocked to the Second Honorary Alley to pay homage to the memories of the fallen heroes of the 44-day Patriotic War. Various events, including flash mobs, concerts, and fireworks have been held commemorating the historic victory.
President Ilham Aliyev travelled to the liberated Shusha city, the cultural capital of Azerbaijan, to celebrate the second anniversary of the Victory Day with the servicemen of the Azerbaijani army, who were among the heroes that hoisted the flag of Azerbaijan in Shusha two years ago.
"By liberating the impregnable fortress of Shusha from Armenian occupation two years ago, the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan wrote a glorious page in our history. This glorious history will stay with us forever. The people of Azerbaijan and future generations will be rightly proud of this glorious Victory," he said addressing the personnel of the national army, according to his press service.
"We only moved forward for 44 days. Prior to Shusha, many of our towns and villages, including Jabrayil, Hadrut, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, Sugovushan, about 300 villages, a part of Lachin and Kalbajar, were liberated on the battlefield. The liberation of Shusha broke the back of the Armenian army."
Armenia and Azerbaijan had been in an armed conflict for nearly 30 years over the Karabakh (Garabagh) region, which is an internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan. Armenia launched full-blown military aggression against Azerbaijan following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991. The bloody war lasted until a ceasefire in 1994 and saw Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. Over 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed, and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing policy conducted by Armenia. Although the United Nations Security Council adopted four resolutions in 1993 demanding the immediate withdrawal of the occupying forces from Azerbaijani lands and the return of internally displaced Azerbaijanis to their ancestral lands, Armenia failed to comply with all four legally binding documents.
Armenia occupied Shusha on May 8, 1992. The city underwent an unforeseen policy of destruction by Armenians aimed at erasing Azerbaijan’s historical and cultural heritage. Shortly before the 2020 war, the illegal separatist regime established in the occupied Azerbaijani lands held a self-designed bogus “presidential inauguration” in the city.
On September 27, 2020, the decades-old conflict took a violent turn after Armenia’s forces deployed in the occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During the counter-attack operations that lasted 44 days, Azerbaijani forces liberated about 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from nearly 30-year-long illegal Armenian occupation. The war ended in a tripartite statement signed on November 10 by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. Under the statement, Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani army restored Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Shusha on November 8, 2020, during the final days of the 44-day war, which took place between September 27 and November 9, 2020.
President Aliyev said Shusha's liberation after 28 years of illegal occupation was the pinnacle of Azerbaijan's victory in the 44-day war.
"Our victory would be incomplete without Shusha. I am sure that the people of Azerbaijan understood perfectly well that our ultimate goal, the ultimate goal of the war, was to liberate Shusha from occupation," he said during his speech in Shusha on Tuesday. "Not only because Shusha is the crown jewel of Karabakh. Not because the strategic location of Shusha actually determined the outcome of the war after its liberation. I said that because Shusha is the heart and soul of the Azerbaijani people, it is a sacred place for every Azerbaijani."
Shusha is a key city in the Karabakh region due to its geographical location and historical significance as one of the major cultural, economic, and administrative centers of Azerbaijan. The city is located approximately ten kilometers from Khankendi, the region's largest city.
Shusha was built during the reign of the Azerbaijani Karabakh khanate's Panahali khan in the 18th century. According to historical sources, Panahali khan decided to build an "eternal and invincible fortress in a firm and impassable place in the mountains" given the unfavorable location of the previous castles. Construction of the city kicked off in 1752 at about 1,600 meters above sea level in Karabakh and the capital of the khanate was moved to the city in 1756-1757.
Shusha has long been one of the main administrative, economic and cultural centers of Azerbaijan since its establishment by indigenous Azerbaijanis. The city has played a key role in the development of Azerbaijan's carpet-weaving industry. Shusha was the Karabakh region's carpet-weaving center in the second half of the 19th century and carpets produced in Shusha have been exported to global markets in the late years of the same century.
At the end of the 18th century, Shusha became one of the important trade centers in the entire South Caucasus region. Merchants brought to Shusha various goods from other Azerbaijani cities such as Baku, Sheki, Nakhchivan and Ganja. The cities of the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Iran, India and European countries played an important role in Shusha's trade relations. Merchants from Shusha were regular participants of the famous fairs in Leipzig, Germany, and Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.
Shusha is to Azerbaijan what Vienna is to Austria and Naples is to Italy in terms of music. The city is well known as "the temple of Azerbaijani music" and the conservatory of the South Caucasus. The founding father of the Azerbaijani composed classical music and opera, Uzeyir Hajibeyli was born in Shusha, a city also home to world-famous Azerbaijani poet Molla Panah Vagif and poetess Khurshudbanu Natavan.
Post-war peace efforts
Shortly after the war, the Azerbaijani authorities voiced readiness and determination to sign a peace treaty with Armenia that would ultimately bring the long-awaited peace to the region. In February 2022, Baku submitted a proposal containing five basic principles to Armenia. These principles highlight the key issues related to the peace negotiations between the two countries, including mutual recognition of respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability of internationally recognized borders; mutual confirmation of the absence of territorial claims against each other; obligation to refrain in interstate relations from undermining the security of each other; delimitation and demarcation of the state border; and unblocking of the transportation and other communications.
However, the efforts aimed at achieving long and sustainable peace between the two countries remained dead in the water. Negotiations mediated by Russia and the European Union could not be translated into actions due to the reluctance of Armenia to address its obligations under the tripartite statements signed in November 2020 and January 2021, including the unblocking of transport communications and withdrawal of the Armenian armed groups from the certain parts of Azerbaijan's Karabakh region, where the Russian peacekeeping contingent is temporarily deployed.
Furthermore, Armenia's authorities did not abandon their retrospective calls for a so-called status for ethnic Armenians living in the Karabakh region, whom the Azerbaijani government recognizes as its citizens and pledges to ensure the same rights and security as citizens of Azerbaijan. The peace negotiations were also torpedoed several times due to surprise statements of Armenian officials and demands to bring back the OSCE Minsk Group, the unsuccessful format for the resolution of the Karabakh issue for the last 28 years. Azerbaijani authorities have repeatedly said that the Minsk Group could not be back on track given its failure and negative reputation as a mediation structure.
President Aliyev said that Azerbaijan wants a fair peace and Armenia should show goodwill instead of resorting to revanchist ideas and committing military provocations against Azerbaijan, and warned Armenia to abandon such ideas.
"We want peace, we don't want war, peace, but a fair peace. The terms we are putting forward are fair, are based on international law, and the peace treaty should be signed on the basis of these terms."
"The current Azerbaijan Army is stronger than the Azerbaijan Army two years ago, and everyone should know this. Armenia and everyone else should know this!" the Azerbaijani leader said.