For more than three decades, the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region has been at the center of numerous disagreements between neighboring Caucasus nations Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the territory until recently was ruled mainly by Armenians. During the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, which began in the late 1980s and lasted until 1994, Armenia managed to seize the region and most of those around it.
In the following years, while a ceasefire agreement was in force, the two sides experienced occasional conflagrations. However, in late September last year, a full-scale conflict broke out again between the two former Soviet republics. This time, in a war that lasted 44 days, Azerbaijan regained almost all the territories lost in the previous war.
Now, as Azerbaijan strives to gradually rebuild the fighting-ravaged country, authorities hope that technology can play a central role in encouraging citizens to return to the region by creating smart cities that offer a better way of life. .
Smart cities pilot projects
According to urban planning expert and associate professor at Baku ADA University Anar Valiyev, building new communities supported by digital equipment will make the region more attractive. Not only for those seeking to return, but also for those who remained in the region during the conflict. “Another reason is the signal that the government wants to send to the entire population about how the authorities in the region are going to operate, which will be completely different, much more efficient, more effective and based on equity,” Anar Valiyev explains to .
An initial planning period will be followed by a pilot project that will see the construction of a series of “smart cities”, called Aghaly-1, Aghaly-2 and Aghaly-3, in the Zangilan region of Haut-Karabakh. More than 200 homes will be built using innovative building materials, such as recycled steel and precast concrete, and will be connected to connected utilities for electricity, gas and waste management.
The first phase of the pilot project was launched in February 2021. “The project itself will mainly consist of five components: housing, manufacturing, social services, connected agriculture and alternative energy,” Inam Karimov, Agriculture Minister of Agriculture, told . Azerbaijan. “Alternative energy sources will be used for all residential buildings, social facilities, office buildings, catering, processing and production of agricultural products. “
Reduce the digital divide
According to the Baku Research Institute, there is currently a 20 percentage point gap between rural and urban households in fixed internet penetration, mainly due to the scarcity of fixed infrastructure and lower levels of digital literacy in rural areas.
These projects could also encourage young Azerbaijanis to travel to the Nagorno-Karabakh region in search of new opportunities.
Azerbaijani authorities immediately began planning the reconstruction of Agdam after the end of the conflict, in November 2020. According to plans, the city will be the fourth largest city in Azerbaijan when completed, with a population of 100,000, although things they are still at a very low level. Early stage.
“We are in the planning stage and are currently conceptualizing different sites,” Emin Huseynov, an Azerbaijani economist and special representative in Agdam district, told . “However, the most important thing is the basic infrastructure, which is currently being built. When it’s in place, we’ll start building the city. “
Develop information technologies
The development of smart cities is expected to be a boon for Azerbaijan’s information and communication technology (ICT) industry, which is still in its infancy in the country and its oil-based economy.
In 2016, ICTs were among the 11 economic sectors that the Azerbaijani authorities identified as being of strategic importance for the country. The country has now adopted a strategic roadmap for its development. However, according to a report by IPHR and Azerbaijan Internet Watch, in 2020 the ICT sector accounted for only 1.6% of Azerbaijan’s total GDP.
“I think the ICT sector will develop faster, because the development of smart cities also requires faster development of information technology,” Anar Valiyev told , adding that many young people in the country are starting to grow. IT, such as IT and systems engineering.
There is also a lot of interest in information technology and agriculture. Dmitry Andrianov, founder of the Baku-based technology magazine InfoCity, believes that the development of smart cities and towns in the Karabakh territories should drive further development of Azerbaijan’s technology sector, and highlights the growth of Sumaks, a start-up -up young IoT, and the start-up of agritech. to Kibrit.
“All of this contributes to creating sustainable demand for young IT professionals,” says Dmitry Andrianov.