The Ghost Town of Agdam and Nagorno Karabakh

Agdam, Nagorno Karbala

Agdam Mosque – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

To make our visit to the war torn ghost town of Agdam we had to illegally enter Azerbaijan – which we did with surprising ease via Armenia and the non recognized breakaway Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. The Nagorno Karabakh visa was easy to obtain, requiring just 10 USD and a short wait at the government ministry building in their funky little capital of Stepanakert. My Nagorno Karabakh visa is coolest looking full page visa sticker in my passport, but by having it I am now forbidden to enter Azerbaijan for the life of my current passport – but don’t tell anyone, I have never had a desire to go there anyways.

Armenia, Nagorno Karbala Border

Crossing the Armenia/Nagorno Karabakh border – my illegal entry into Azerbaijan.

Agdam is a place of tragedy, a city once of 40,000 inhabitants, now completely deserted after having experienced the full hell of war and genocide. Agdam was a base for Azerbaijani forces attacking the Karabakh region during their 1993 war, captured by Armenian forces, and was utterly destroyed during the subsequent Azerbaijani siege and Armenian last stand. It now remains as a demilitarized zone with the city mosque as the only building still intact. Completely abandoned, trees grow in the middle of streets, livestock randomly graze inside bombed out buildings, and locals from nearby villages make regular visits to scavenge for usable building materials. Visits and photography there by tourists is illegal.

Google Earth View of Agdam

View of Agdam via Google Earth.

We made our visit as part of our Young Pioneer’s Iranian Tour Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh Extension research trip. Most taxi drivers flatly refused to take us to Agdam. Being illegal for us to visit, a taxi driver bringing foreign tourists there could lose his license if caught, but we finally found one who had a son high up in military command and he assured us it would be no problem. What we whitenesed on our visit was utter devastation with conditions on the ground a testament that its nickname, the Hiroshima of the Caucuses, was well deserved.

We made our way to the mosque in the city center and climbed its minarets for a 360 degree view of the destruction. From the top I could have had some amazing photos but we were quickly detected by a military patrol camped in a nearby bombed out building and forced to flee and hide. After making it back to our driver he reiterated we had nothing to fear while under his care, maybe so, but I really didn’t want to risk having my data cards confiscated and losing all my Iran pics.

Besides Agdam we also visited the quirky little village of Vank. Fixed up by a local born philanthropist, this eccentric used his foreign made riches to promote local tourism and to create such oddities as the Titanic Hotel and a special Tiger Mountain Lover’s Retreat. Vank is a perfect base for visiting amazing nearby mountains, pristine country scenery, and ancient monasteries. A visit to Agdam, a stay at the Titanic Hotel, and exploration around Vank will certainly be on the itinerary if you make next year’s trip with us!

Agdam, Nagorno Karbala

View of Agdam from atop a minaret.

Agdam, Nagorno Karbala

Destroyed building and mosaics in Agdam, Nagorno Karabakh.

8 responses

  1. I was just going to say ‘I thought it’s illegal to enter Agdam’ and then I saw you’d mentioned that. Wow, that’s quite a journey. Were you ever frightened? I’d heard someone saying that there was a huge chance of being fired at in Agdam – but I don’t know if that’s true. Love the posts!

    November 22, 2012 at 11:20 am

    • I don’t think you would get fired at, biggest risk would be having my data card taken from my camera, or erased, and taxi drivers with no connections run a risk bringing you there.

      November 23, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      • It would be sad to have all your pics deleted from your camera for sure. But it’s good to know that no such thing happened to you on your journey there

        November 24, 2012 at 5:14 am

  2. Alex

    Wow, cool photos.
    But Karbala? It’s been called (Nagorny or Nargono-) Karabakh for as long as I remember.

    January 1, 2013 at 1:03 pm

  3. Pingback: Tour Transnistria! | American in North Korea

  4. Fernando Martinez

    Hello, I am planning on making the same trip thank you for the info.

    July 21, 2013 at 10:21 pm

  5. Wow – nice photos and story. I was in Nagorno Karabakh recently but on a tight budget so no way was I paying a taxi driver to take me there. I got a local marshrutky up to the entrance of the city, walked down and had to hitch hike back. The place was full of tanks and military and it was intimidating to say the least. The army told me to go away a few times. Didnt even see the Mosque there at all. Will write about it at some point. Jonny

    November 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm

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