Shusha: Anatomy of Rebirth [VIDEO]
By Orkhan Amashov
Azerbaijan's resolve to revive the liberated territories is imbued with indefatigable zeal and an unwavering sense of purpose, but held in bounds by the sheer megalithic nature of the task itself.
Baku has been pumping huge amounts of money into the region and doing its level best to attract foreign investment into the post-war reconstruction project. The former will be contingent upon the nation’s wealth and economic might, whereas the latter on its ingenuity and prowess in convincing external actors to commit themselves to a costly, but ultimately rewarding, venture.
The financial part of the story is important, but not everything. The revitalisation of Karabakh’s shattered soul and that of Shusha requires a grand vision, the makings of which, as it seems today, are too conspicuous to be dispelled even by one determined to avert their eyes from the obvious.
Excursion into the citadel
On 28 April, the author of this humble submission, together with more than 50 scholars and experts representing think-tanks from over 20 countries, were in Shusha, attending the "South Caucasus: Development and Cooperation" conference, and had an invaluable chance to contemplate the scope and magnitude of the process underway.
The forum was as much a place for deliberations on the post-war future of the region, as it was a brilliant opportunity to look into the quintessence of what Azerbaijan is determined to make of the rebirth of Shusha - the central element within Baku's Karabakh Revival Project.
Shusha appeared to your present interlocutor as a resuscitating place with its own spacial-temporal laws. Doubtless, it was a subjective perception of something which has long captured one's imagination inducing unique ideas of existential nature.
Soon real warmth was injected into the prevailing tone of courtesy between privileged visitors, and the hosts, who were the Azerbaijani President's special representatives in the Karabakh Economic Region and Shusha, Emin Huseynov and Aydin Kerimov. It was not before a barely noticeable time spell had elapsed that the situation acquired a sufficient degree of emmolience and one was at ease and prepared to thrust oneself into a meditative mode of thinking.
The Phoenix motif is only partially applicable to the citadel in its present guise. Shusha is not exactly rising from its ashes in a physical sense of the word, as Armenia did not raze it to the ground in its entirety, as was the case in other parts of Karabakh.
The city was spared from utter destruction not because of the goodwill of the occupiers and their backers, but because it was contemplated as the future centre of the illegal miscreation, the remnants of which are still in Khankandi.
What we are observing today is a rebirth of the existential pivots and shattered linchpins essential to Shusha's identity. The process, which has just begun, could be better understood in gradations in which chronological and compartment-based elements should be seen in unison with flexible mobility.
It is a task of some insuperable mental finery to establish the point of the commencement of the rebirth in an ontological sense, but in plain political-historical terms, it was on 8 November 2020 that Shusha was brought back to life.
When the first news, in the shape of rumour and hearsays, as to the liberation of the citadel reached Baku, a sense of untrammelled jubilation was already in the air, but it was when President Aliyev delivered his historic “Shusha, you are free” speech that Azerbaijan, as an entity, was thrust into an unparalleled frenzy of jubilation, unheard of in living memory.
The Battle of Shusha was a turning point in the national story of Azerbaijan. It was an intense moment of being at which everything else that had happened heretofore seemed trivial and inconsequential. It was when misery and despondency gave way to enchantment.
The liberation of Shusha did not induce a mere respite from the excruciating years of arduous expectation, but gave rise to a potent sense of euphoria, enabling the nation to conceive a grand concept in its full glory.
Azerbaijan has a vision of Shusha, which is ambitious, but not exceedingly so. The intention is to turn the city into a concentration of vitality in a panoply of meanings associated with the term. Shusha is not just to be an economically flourishing region of Azerbaijan, attracting tourism, but also to be the fulcrum of Azerbaijan’s intellectual and spiritual growth, as it was previously the creative hub of the Caucasus.
That is the reason why Baku is so steadfastly determined to transform Shusha into a regional centre of cultural and diplomatic standing. And this is not mere rhetoric to please one’s own ears, but a crystal-clear objective toward the realisation of which strides have already been made.
The restoration of the Khari Bulbul Music Festival and the International Culinary Festival exemplify these efforts. The former is the emblematic representation of something which is deeply universal, whereas the latter could be viewed as an example of what some refer to as “gastro diplomacy”.
Shusha, which once was in the midst of a whirl and rush of life, is again to experience a cultural renaissance, and all necessary measures are to be taken to ensure propitious circumstances for such a grandiose emanation to take place.
There are no established think tanks and institutions present in Shusha at the moment. But there is an ineradicable history of the statehood associated with the Karabakh khanate, for which it was previously the capital city.
There is also a resolve to transmogrify it into a place of diplomatic deliberations and recurrent exchanges. When the Azerbaijani government envisions Shusha as a diplomatic centre, it does not aim to create something new out of scratch, it rather sees the inevitable continuity between the fortress's 18th century significance and its present mode.
In the Azerbaijani mind, Shusha has also become a new means to seek a new world. All that is novel and progressive about contemporary Azerbaijan is being resolutely enforced in the full domain of the liberated territories.
From the region's administrative governance to the application of green technology, the Karabakh and East Zangazur Economic Regions represent the future in its most desirable guises. Shusha, in this sense, is the apex of Baku’s reconstruction efforts and embodies the spirit of the age.
Seeing into the depths of the rebirth of Shusha requires something more than warming oneself at the cosy fires of a contemplative existence. The conscientious deliberator must also let the winds of the shattered citadel blow through one’s den, and admit forebodings and perils into the heart of his reasoning. Magical simplification is to be avoided.
When Armenians captured the city, they were jubilant and set on "colonising" Shusha, but failed to achieve anything tangible, not just because the resources were scarce and Baku was exerting diplomatic pressure, but also because what they wanted to appropriate was inherently Azerbaijani.
Shusha is yet to see a series of pageantries and to be a scene for world-class occasions. In order for Azerbaijan’s resolve to stand the test of time, it is important that the festivities or congregations of high import are seen as recurrent instances of a flash of colour on a hard road. Only such a mindset could ensure that the orderly existence of Shusha will pass through a countless number of vicissitudes.
The rebirth of Shusha is a process whereby a mélange of niceties manifested in practical steps is bound to be commensurate with underlying the tenets of a grander mission. Only when the inhabitants of Shusha, once a normal daily order of life has been restored, begin to experience the reconstruction, can the true ontological meaning of the exaltation be truly appreciated.
The ontology of the new Shusha is being written today, and the tentative sketches being scribbled, including this piece, are mostly confined to a comprehensible element of the rebirth, as can be envisioned from today's vantage point, but what will make its way to the ponderous tomes encapsulating the gist is a question better left unanswered for the time being.
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