National Urban Forum of Azerbaijan gets underway in Aghdam
The Azerbaijan National Urban Forum on the “Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda as engines of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation” has got underway in Aghdam in partnership with the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), the State Committee on Urban Planning and Architecture of Azerbaijan and with the organizational support of the ADA University, according to Azerbaijan in Focus, reporting AzerTac.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva attended the opening ceremony of the Forum.
The head of state made a speech at the event.
Speech of President Ilham Aliyev
Dear Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) Maimunah Mohd Sharif,
Ladies and gentlemen.
Welcome to Aghdam. I am very glad that we organized Azerbaijan National Urban Forum here in the place where Aghdam city once was situated. Now you can see that nothing left from what used to be, a city full of life. It was destroyed during the times of occupation. I’d like also to express gratitude to our guests from different countries. We have representatives of more than forty countries attending our Forum for being with us, for coming here to see what has happened to the biggest city in Karabakh region which Aghdam used to be and to see what we are doing and what we are planning to do in the coming years to return former IDPs to their homeland. Aghdam was as I said already destroyed during the years of occupation. It was not destroyed during the first Karabakh war. It was destroyed after for almost 30 years, stone by stone. All the buildings have been ruined and dismantled. Stones have been stolen and sold out. You may see the only half destroyed building was a building of Juma Mosque, but the reason why it was not destroyed along with other mosques which Armenians destroyed in the former occupied territories was that they were using the minarets for observation to see potential movement of Azerbaijani armed forces. But we have video and photo evidences of desecration of Aghdam Mosque, where Armenians kept pigs and cows in the mosque. Total 65 out of 67 mosques which existed on the liberated territories were totally destroyed. Two of them, one here and one in Shusha were half destroyed and desecrated. What you see here in Aghdam you can see in every single village of Karabakh area. I know that our guests came here by plane to newly-built Fuzuli Airport. So, Fuzuli city is totally destroyed, not a single building, Jabrayil is the same. Qubadli, Zangilan are the same. The only places where not all the buildings have been destroyed were Shusha, Lachin and partly Kalbajar. But the reason for that was that the Armenian state was conducting a policy of illegal settlement of Armenians from different countries to settle on the occupied territories and this is considered to be a brutal violation of international law and Geneva conventions. So now, we are facing a tremendous challenge to return as soon as possible former refugees and IDPs to their homeland. But one of the biggest complications apart from a large-scale reconstruction program are landmines. Since the war ended two years ago, almost two years ago, we have almost 250 Azerbaijanis who have been killed or seriously injured as a result of landmine explosions. Unfortunately, the figure is growing every week. Just last week we had two killed and three seriously injured. Armenians have planted more than one million mines during the times of occupation. And this policy of terror against Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijanis continues.
Relatively recently we have discovered and neutralized more than 1.400 landmines which have been planted in Lachin district by Armenian armed forces in the period after the second Karabakh war ended. So, aggression against Azerbaijan, terror against Azerbaijan continues. Our nation suffered a serious humanitarian crisis. Because as a result of Armenian aggression and occupation more than one million Azerbaijanis were totally ethnically cleansed from their native land in Karabakh, in Zangazur and also in today’s Armenia. And when it happened the population of Azerbaijan was less than eight million people and, can you imagine, one million became refugees and IDPs. And we are very grateful to international organizations especially, institutions of the United Nations, for support to our refugees and IDPs especially in the early years of independence when we needed the support seriously. Results of the Armenian occupation and aggression is now seen by everyone who visits the liberated territories and since the second Karabakh war ended there have been thousands of foreign visitors, journalists, politicians, representatives of civil society who came here and saw it with their own eyes. The scope of Armenian barbarism and vandalism actually is so impressive so that many people who come to this part of Azerbaijan really feel absolutely exhausted morally. And you can imagine the feelings of us, of Azerbaijanis and especially those who used to live in Aghdam, in Fuzuli in other part of Azerbaijan which was under occupation when they come here. They cannot even find the place where their house was situated. Because everything is totally destroyed. Armenia conducting the policy of occupation had main target as to change de facto situation on the ground, and to make then negotiation process with Azerbaijan endless. That was the reason why negotiations lasted for 28 years, without any results. The result was actually zero. Despite the fact that the leading international organizations such as the United Nations, the OSCE and others adopted resolutions, decisions demanding immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops from Azerbaijani territories, particularly four UN Security Council resolutions which remained on paper for almost 30 years. And despite all our appeals to impose sanctions on Armenia we did not succeed. So, international community decided in a way to turn a blind eye on the humanitarian catastrophe of Azerbaijani people. The most regrettable is that the structure which had a mandate from the OSCE, the so-called Minsk Group and its co-chairs visited occupied territories many times, witnessed the brutal devastation of all the cities and villages, witnessed illegal settlement of Armenians on our lands, but did not condemn Armenia. Throughout 28 years of their so-called activity there was not a single word of condemnation of Armenia by them. Of course, now when we see some efforts to revitalize this Minsk Group, we, of course, cannot be supportive to that. Because they did nothing to implement their mandate. The only thing they did actually to a certain degree, they tried to legitimize the Armenian aggression. They tried to create a balance between aggressor and the victim of aggression.
Therefore, now, when Azerbaijan itself restored international law, implemented UN Security Council resolutions, used UN Charter, particularly the paragraph which talks about the self-defense, and restored our national dignity, we do not need any other mediation. We made a proposal soon after the second Karabakh war ended. Despite all what you see in Aghdam and what anyone can see in the territory of more than 10.000 square kms totally destroyed by Armenians, despite the human sufferings of our people we proposed peace to Armenia. We announced publicly five basic principles of international law which should be the basis for peace agreement, particularly mutual recognition of territorial integrity of countries, refrain from territorial claims in the future, refrain from use of force or threat of use of force, delimitation of state border and opening of communications. All this are actually the basic principles of international law, and I think peace agreements or any kind of agreement between countries which trying to normalize their relations must be based on that. With respect to Armenian population who still lives in Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, are our citizens and we are not going to discuss how we are going to organize their life on our territory with any international player. Karabakh is Azerbaijan. The Second Karabakh War proved it on the ground. During the times of occupation no country in the world, including Armenia recognized this artificial structure. Therefore, issues related to our internal affairs we never discuss with international institutions or with any country regardless the size and potential of that country. We have certain optimism with respect to the peace process, because just recently several days ago the meeting of foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, first meeting of that kind, particularly with agenda of preparation of draft of peace agreement. We hope that it will not take long time. We know the tactics which Armenians usually use when they don’t want to come to an agreement like negotiations on Karabakh conflict for 28 years. If that continues then we will have no peace. If this is a choice of Armenia that means that they will make another serious mistake. They underestimated us, they underestimated our will, the will of people of Azerbaijan, the potential of Azerbaijan. They had to pay the price for that. The war which happened two years ago, was conducted on the territory of Azerbaijan. So, this once again proves our position and demonstrates that despite that, despite the suffering of more than a million of our countrymen, we want to put an end to hostility, mutual hatred, and we want to open a new page of peace. Whether we will succeed or not, we will see. I am not sure but at least we are moving in that direction. At the same time we have hopes that two corresponding commissions on border delimitation, the Azerbaijani and Armenian commissions will not lose time either, and to work actively on defining the border between two countries which actually do not exist. During the times of occupation which lasted for almost 30 years, that border was totally under the Armenian control. So, when occupation ended, we came to the border which we consider to be the border and settled there. Therefore, in order to define this border which is more than 400 kms, of course, we need to have very active work based on historical documents, based on historical maps, and based on international practice and certain methodology.
So, this process is moving but again how successful it will be, it is difficult to say. So, this is actually what happened during the last period of time. Now we are facing the new challenges but very pleasant challenges to rebuild Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur, to return people, to return life and to create much better conditions for former refugees and IDPs which exist anywhere else in Azerbaijan. And I am sure that these people deserve that. They lived in difficult conditions for many years despite the fact that we resettled more than 300 thousand IDPs providing them with new apartments and flats. And during numerous meetings with them when we were inaugurating this new housing projects they were expressing gratitude for that but at the same time saying that we want you to return us back. And I promised them all the time that I will do it and I am very proud that we managed to do. And already the program of Big Return have started. Relatively recently, this May the first village in Zangilan region was already built and the first IDPs are already back. And I am really very proud, I am sure all the people of Azerbaijan, that not only those who used to live there are going back, but also their children, their grandchildren. This September the school in Zangilan opened and the young Zangilanis are already starting school. They have never seen that land. Because they were born after occupation but it shows that the people of Azerbaijan are strongly committed to their roots, to their native land. And really it’s a source of national pride that based on the survey which we conducted among former IDPs with the question ‘are they going to go back or not’ in order for us to know what should be the scale of housing project, absolute majority responded that they want to go back even those who had never seen those lands. So, this of course creates a very special atmosphere in our society and the feeling of national pride, the feeling of victory, the feeling of restoration of justice, restoration of dignity of the people. These feelings cannot be measured by any scale. This is something which you have to feel. We feel it and we are happy about that and now what we are doing here in Aghdam, in other liberated territories is that we concentrated and mobilized all our potential in order to return the former IDPs as soon as possible. Large-scale infrastructure projects are underway. You have seen Fuzuli International Airport which was built in 8 months. This month we are planning to inaugurate Zangilan International Airport and in 2025 International Airport in Lachin. The railroad from Barda to Aghdam will be operational next year. Yesterday I laid down the foundation of the new railway station. Thousands of kilometers of highways and thousands of kilometers of village roads are being constructed now. According to the investment plan which has been already approved in the liberated territories of Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur there will be 33 tunnels with the total lengths of more than 50 kilometres. There will be 84 bridges with the length of 12 km. These are only part of what we are now doing. We fully restored the electric supply to all the liberated areas and hopefully soon in Jabrayil we will start the construction of the solar power plant capacity of 230 megawatt.
In general, we have evaluated the potential of renewable energy in the liberated territories and preliminary analysis show its almost 10.000 megawatt. We already inaugurated several hydro power stations and total capacity of hydro power will be more than 500 megawatt, and the rest will be the solar and wind. This area will not only accumulate its people who had to leave in different parts of Azerbaijan during the years of occupation, but at the same time will be a driving force for Azerbaijan’s economy in the future. We have huge water resources here, which we have been deprived of during the times of occupation, because Armenians did not only occupy our cities, they occupied our resources. There have been illegal mining, illegal activity of cutting us from water. We were not able to irrigate hundred thousands hectares of land. So, now we are back to our rivers. We are back to our soil, and all the master plans of the cities have already been prepared by leading international companies and approved. So, we already started here in Aghdam several housing projects. I was here yesterday at the groundbreaking ceremony of three villages, Khidirli, Kangarli, Sarjilai. Several thousand people will live in these villages maximum in two years. In the city of Aghdam we are already building the school for almost one thousand children which will be ready maybe this year, maybe next year, hospital and several housing projects. And this is only Aghdam the same is more or less is going in Fuzuli, in Qubadli in Zangilan. In the city of Lachin, where we returned just two months ago, we plan to restore it by the end of next year. Because as I said there was illegal settlement there. So, not all the buildings have been knocked down. We already sent a group of specialists there. So, we will rebuilt Karabakh and Zangazur. We have no doubt about that. No matter how expensive and costly it will be, this is our national idea. Our national idea before was to return to our lands to restore justice and to restore our territorial integrity. All the people of Azerbaijan united and were preparing themselves for that. And young generation which sacrificed their lives of almost three thousand victims we had during the war, and thousands of those who celebrated our victory, this is really modern Azerbaijan. This is new Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan now which is free from that label of being occupied now is just raising and will, I am sure, be one of the most successful countries not only in the region. Once again, dear friends, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us. This forum for us is really very important. I’m grateful to Executive Director of UN Habitat. She visited us six months ago, we had a very good meeting with her. And afterwards we were invited to World Urban Forum in Poland and our representatives participated. Now we organize National Urban Forum and I am grateful to UN representative for being with us, to the mayors and deputy mayors and representatives from all the countries who are together with us. So, this is actually the beginning of international, I would say, ties of Aghdam. We hope that Aghdam and many cities of the world will become sister cities. You know Aghdam during the Soviet times was the biggest city in Karabakh, a city full of life. Everybody in Azerbaijan knows it. After we liberated the territories and foreign experts, journalists came here, they gave several names to Aghdam. One was victim of Urbicide, which is absolutely correct and other was “ghost city”, also absolutely correct, and also it was named “Hiroshima of the Caucasus”. But unlike Hiroshima the devastation and demolition was not as a result of atomic bomb. But it was as a result of vandalism and barbarism of our neighbors. But now we are back, we came back by force. We came back using international law norms and we came back to live here and to live here forever. Thank you.
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Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) Maimunah Mohd Sharif then made a speech.
Speech of Maimunah Mohd Sharif
Thank you, Mr. Moderator.
Your Excellency Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan,
Mrs. Vladanka Andreeva, UN Resident Coordinator in Azerbaijan,
Dear delegates, ladies and gentlemen.
Good morning everyone. Good morning (in Azerbaijani). I hope I have pronounced it correctly, I did my best, Mr. President.
It is a great honor for me to be attending the first National Urban Forum organized by the government of Azerbaijan under the patronage of His Excellency President Ilham Aliyev. This is particularly important because we are currently in the month of Urban October, and for the first time the World Habitat Day was celebrated on the Eurasian continent, in the city of Balıkesir in Republic of Turkiye two days ago. The theme of “Mind the Gap” means that no-one and no place should be left behind.
Mr. President, I was very pleased with your invitation to the first National Urban Forum of Azerbaijan being held in Aghdam. This conference hall, Fuzuli Airport and construction projects demonstrate your government’s commitment and dedication to post-conflict urban recovery efforts. You are building a better future for your citizens. I congratulate you. As UN Secretary General Mr. Antonio Guterres has said, there are no winners in wars and conflicts, there are only losers. According to the 2022 UN Human Settlements Programme’s World Cities report, more than 70 million people live below the poverty line due to conflict. In 2021 alone, 84 million people were displaced by violence, threats and the effects of climate change. For example, most of the 26 million refugees in the Arab region are concentrated in cities. Heavy floods in Pakistan have recently displaced 33 million people from their homes. For us at the UN Human Settlements Programme, peace and stability are key factors in development. It is for this reason that our Executive Committee at its March 2022 meeting asked me to expand our work on post-conflict and post-disaster urban resilience. The UN Human Settlements Programme supports internally displaced persons and refugees in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Sudan and Yemen by providing adequate housing and essential infrastructure. We also rehabilitate public spaces, restore them by creating conditions for land ownership and property rights.
The UN Human Settlements Programme is also developing an urban crisis program to support cities in Ukraine. We also support the integration of Venezuelan migrants into host communities in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama and the Dominican Republic through the neighborhood promotion integration program. The challenges of COVID, climate and conflict disproportionately affect settlements and cities. In many cases, the negative impact of the COVID pandemic on cities persists. Wars and conflicts drive refugees to cities. For this reason, the UN Human Settlements Programme operates in 36 countries and has established a City IQ network of more than 1,000 cities to help those on the front lines in their recovery efforts with regulatory guidance and technical support.
Honorable delegates, we can only do better in recovery and addressing the gap in basic shelter and housing services if we have information on how to strategically allocate resources. Thanks to the UN organizing such a national urban forum, member states and city mayors are better able to collect and analyze information that informs their decisions. The 11th Sustainable Development Goal is the foundation for all other sustainable development goals. This goal covers several areas, enabling central and local governments to be better positioned to ensure the implementation of national development policies that have a positive impact on the ground.
To date, the UN Human Settlements Programme has assisted 49 countries in organizing national urban programs. We operate in all regions of the world and have organized national urban forums of 17 African, 13 European, 7 Latin American and Caribbean, 7 Asian-Pacific countries and 5 Arab countries. A regional urban forum was held in three regions, including the Asia-Pacific region, the Caribbean countries and the Marmara sub-region. The focus of this new cycle of national urban forums is to promote a paradigm shift that would transform this forum into national urban policies. Since 2016, a total of 167 voluntary local reviews have been published. Thirty-seven countries have developed at least one voluntary national opinion, and 133 countries have done so at the local and regional government level.
Mr. President, I call on Azerbaijan to prepare its voluntary local opinions and submit to us a new national report on the implementation of the new urban development agenda. Based on that report, we can make evidence-based decisions and gain people’s support to help put policies into practice in order to achieve a positive impact on the ground.
Mr. President, please allow me to express my gratitude to the government of Azerbaijan for supporting sustainable urban development at the high-level meeting dedicated to the implementation of the new urban development agenda held in New York in April this year. Also, the delegation of Azerbaijan, which participated in the 11th session of the World Urban Forum held in Katowice, Poland, made a very good impression. At the same time, I do hope that Azerbaijan will participate in the meeting of the Ministers on Cities and Climate Change, Housing and Urban Development, which will be held within the framework of COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on 17 November.
Mr. President, as we promised, we have prepared the country program document of the UN Human Settlements Programme for Azerbaijan, and I will present this document to you today. Please allow me to thank the chairman of the State Urban Planning and Architecture Committee and various ministries who have contributed to the preparation of this document. Let me also express my gratitude to my sister Vladanka Andreeva, Resident Coordinator of the UN in Azerbaijan. She has ensured the coordination of support from the UN delegation in the country.
The UN Human Settlements Programme looks forward to joining national efforts to build a better future and regenerate cities and communities from an urban perspective. The World Cities report 2022, presented at the World Urban Forum held in Katowice by the UN Human Settlements Programme, shows that humanity is at a crossroads. Although urbanization is an unstoppable mega-trend, without integrated planning and multidisciplinary cooperation at central, local and regional government levels, our urban planning future would look bleak. Therefore, I am very grateful to His Excellency President Aliyev for supporting this first National Urban Forum of Azerbaijan. Your presence here today has raised this platform to a higher level, allowing all partners of the new urban agenda to discuss and formulate policy recommendations for sustainable urban development. This includes intellectuals, the private sector, civil society, youth, women and local communities. I call on them to forge partnerships and take action to support the implementation of the new urban agenda within our common agenda at the UN. I really admire the dedication and resources devoted to rebuilding Aghdam. I am confident that if we dedicate ourselves to this goal, we can ensure the realization of His Excellency the President’s vision that no-one and no place should be left behind in an urbanized world. Thank you.
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The forum continued with sessions.
The National Urban Forum of Azerbaijan, joined by more than 130 representatives from 44 countries and more than 400 people in total, will create new opportunities for international and multilateral cooperation on the regeneration of cities, identify challenges and discuss solutions to overcome crises in urban areas. It will also serve as a platform to exchange knowledge and experience. The National Urban Forum of Azerbaijan, held in the city of Aghdam for the first time, is a rare and successful platform in terms of sharing experiences among experts from different countries in the field of urban planning and expanding cooperation in the interests of sustainable development.
We recall that President Ilham Aliyev, in a video address to the 11th session of the World Urban Forum held in Katowice, Poland, on the theme of “Let’s change our cities for a better future” on 27 June this year, stated that Azerbaijan was interested in hosting one of the next sessions of the World Urban Forum and was ready for it.
The World Urban Forum is held by the UN Habitat Programme (UN-HABITAT) every two years.