Founded roughly 250 years ago on a picturesque hillside in what today is the disputed region of Nagorno Karabakh, Shusha was once a celebrated town that embodied the creative energies of both ethnic Azeris and ethnic Armenians. Today, it stands as a haunting reminder of one of the most bitter conflicts that marked the Soviet Union's collapse, the 1988-1994 war between the two ethnic groups over Karabakh.
Separatist Karabakhi forces and Armenian soldiers seized Shusha (known in Karabakh and Armenia as Shushi) from Azerbaijani forces on May 9, 1992, in a fierce fight for its strategic heights that resulted, ultimately, in the town's near-complete destruction. Much of the ethnic Azeri population fled during the final days of battle, leaving the town to be resettled by ethnic Armenians, including a large number of Internally Displaced Persons from Azerbaijani-controlled territory.
Twenty years after Azerbaijani forces withdrew from the town, rubble still dots the hills, and buildings still stand derelict. The population has not recovered to its prewar level, and life is a daily struggle as many inhabitants depend on donations from Diaspora Armenians to survive. Although money from the outside has rebuilt a cultural center, laid new asphalt roads, and restored other infrastructure projects, unemployment runs high.
While some stability has kept Shusha relatively peaceful, less than 20 kilometers to the east, the frontline with Azerbaijan is a reminder that its future remains uncertain.
Timo Vogt is a freelance photojournalist based in Germany.
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