Agdam is a town in southwestern Azerbaijan and part of the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Today, it is a ghost town, abandoned as a result of a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan and located in a territory that still sees hostilities to this day.
Agdam was founded in the 18th century and officially became a city in 1828. The Russian Empire had advanced into the region in 1805 and formerly annexed it from Iran in 1813. Following the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I, Azerbaijan and Armenia became independent and the highlands of Karabakh were claimed by both. The British established a presence in Azerbaijan following the war but the Soviet Red Army soon began to retake the lands the Russian Empire had lost. Armenia and Azerbaijan became part of the Soviet Union on 20 December 1922. To ease tensions and appease the Armenians, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was established within the Azerbaijan SSR.
The town of Agdam was located 26 km (16 miles) from Stepanakert (Khankendi) which is the capital of the region. The population grew steadily in the years it was part of the USSR and by 1991, 32,900 people lived there.
Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh had broken out even before the fall of the Soviet Union. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to deescalate the situation but to no avail. By January 1989, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh had grown so bad that the central government in Moscow temporarily took control of the region. As the independence movement continued to grow in Azerbaijan, soviet troops received orders to occupy the capital Baku at midnight on 20 January 1990. 120 Azerbaijanis were killed in what became known as Black January.
Following a failed coup in Moscow on 18 October 1991, the Supreme Council of Azerbaijan adopted a Declaration of Independence which was confirmed by a nationwide referendum in December 1991. The Soviet Union officially ceased to exist on 26 December 1991. Soviet troops had completely left Nagorno-Karabakh by the following day, leaving a vacuum that would lead to war.
On 4 July 1993, Armenian forces advanced on Agdam, shelling the town and destroying much of it. The Azerbaijani forces held back the advance, allowing the civilian population to be evacuated. The city was seized by Nagorno-Karabakh Republic forces, supported by Armenia, and they destroyed much of the town to discourage Azerbaijanis from returning.
As the Armenians continued to advance, Turkey demanded their complete withdrawal from Azerbaijan. Turkish troops began to build on the border with Armenia. In turn, Russian forces countered their movements. Eventually, on 5 May 1994, Russia mediated a ceasefire between the sides which remains in place to this day. Despite skirmishes and minor clashes over the years, the ceasefire has held.
Today, the area is a de facto independent state known as the Republic of Artsakh. It is not recognised by any UN member including Armenia. It is recognised by three other disputed territories – Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria.