By Behlul Cetinkaya and Ruslan Rehimov
AGHDAM, Azerbaijan (AA) - Azerbaijanis who returned to their hometown after three decades of Armenian occupation recalled the former glory of the Aghdam district.
The district was occupied in 1993. Some 70,000 people were since displaced and settled in the nearby Azerbaijani provinces of Tartar and Barda.
On Nov. 20, Azerbaijani forces liberated Aghdam based on the latest Russia-brokered peace agreement.
Arif Hajiyev, a resident, said what was once the liveliest square of the city is now in ruins.
"We left the region on July 23 , when Aghdam was occupied. The whole city, all the buildings were in perfect condition. I have been coming here for four days now, not one solid building is standing," he said.
He recalled there was a pharmacy, hotel, book club and theater in the square.
"Behind the theater there was an old government building. Now it has completely disappeared, they [Armenian forces] have dug up this place and made tank trenches there."
Saying that he longed to return to his hometown, Hajiyev thanked the country's army, president and the Turkish leader for their support.
Fresh border clashes erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia on Sept. 27 resulting in civilian casualties.
After over six weeks, a Russia-brokered truce was reached.
During this period, Baku liberated several cities and nearly 300 settlements and villages from the Armenian occupation.
Hajiyev noted that the Armenians also destroyed graves of Azerbaijani war heroes.
"I cannot forgive them, because I could not find the grave of my 23-year-old brother who was martyred and buried in the Karagaci Cemetery."
Aghdam grew to become a commercial center in the 18th century with its rich agricultural products.
In the 90s, it became a buffer between the warring Azerbaijani and Armenian sides.
By July 1993, it was occupied by Armenia, and with this its descent into a ghost town began.
The 19th century Aghdam Juma Mosque is perhaps the only structure that has withstood the years of neglect since the occupation.
However, it bears scars of the violent past, with a large hole in one of its nine domes and a bullet-ridden mihrab.
The mosque was used as a barn by the Armenian soldiers.
*Writing by Jeyhun Aliyev from Ankara