Agdam – Barda


Nagorno-Karabakh, an area of 4,400 square kilometers covering the hilltops and valleys of the mountains of the South Caucasus, is an unrecognized republic in the republic of Azerbaijan.

In 1988, after the start of perestroika in the Soviet Union, the conflict between Azeris and Armenians in Karabakh escalated. In 1994, some 600,000 Azeri people were displaced. The devastation of the old Karabakh is very visible. Broken walls, wrecked columns, roofless homes, empty streets, abandoned school, pieces of furniture lying randomly at the side of the street or on piles of sand, plastic bags, stones and garbage, it is an a toll of destruction. The landscape of the pseudo-nation is a painful reminder of a war.

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The tanks can be found throughout the unrecognized country, highlighting and deco-rating places associated with acts of extraordinary bravery. The tanks nowadays define a new public space, where teenagers and young couples hang out in the evening and where locals meet up at weekends and on holidays.

A new residential area is being built on the ruins of a housing area. Along the main road of the quarter, remnants of walls, isolated arches and an old school are clearly visible, furnishing the new villas back yards with vigorous urban skeletons.

The playground was a gesture by the local politicians to the local inhabitants. The playground is made out of recent ruins, encapsulating the memory of the former function of the place.

Barda is a region in west Azerbaijan, located just across the border from Nagorno Karabakh. The population of this region consists of tens of thousands of Azeris who were forcibly removed during the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. For a long time, the Azeri exodus from Karabakh formed an unmet challenge to the society of Azerbaijan. Therefore, the initial housing of the displaced depended on the refugees’ inventiveness and survival strategies. Most of them produced makeshift shelters for themselves. Apart from squatting in old train wagons, people created huts by digging holes in the ground and covering them with mud or with sticks, plastic and cardboard. In this way, the landscape of Barda was refashioned: thousands of self-built mud huts created an endless, warty landscape.In the years after the conflict, the supposedly temporary housing situation started to mutate into different forms of spatial configurations. Contemporary Barda presents various survival typologies, such as squatted public buildings (mostly schools and hotels) and new towns financed by the World Bank and by local oil funds.

Barda has 73 school buildings, of which 55 are currently in use as temporary housing. The smallest school hosts approximately 50 families, the largest about 100. These buildings were designed and constructed in the Soviet period, so their architecture is very similar; they have, for example, ten classrooms of approximately 30 square meters on each floor. The classrooms form the basic grid of the transformation of the schools into a residential block.The cube-shaped rooms have been divided several times among the new inhabitants of the school: sometimes ten classrooms have been made into 50 or 100 ‘housing units’. The rigid Soviet grid is altered in flexible ways. The interior is transformed by using thin cardboard walls to divide the rooms into separate spaces, one per family and as many as necessary. In doing this, the new improvised style changed the building’s character drastically. The severe communist exterior and structure have been replaced by a more organic and humane usage.

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Temporary housing in school buildings has had an impact on a broader scale as well. The influx of people from Karabakh meant an immediate suspension of normality in Barda. Since more than 70 percent of the schools were occupied by refugees, educa-tion in the Barda region has collapsed. The response of the authorities has been to change the layout of the city, by separating the ‘indigenous’ inhabitants from the newcomers. As a result, new towns have been constructed in the middle of nowhere and the refugees have been displaced once again. These new housing units were built on a rigid grid in an open and flat area. All homes are the same. The interior of a house consists of a kitchen (3m2), a dining room (3-4 m2) and the main room (15-17 m2), which is used as a living room during the day and a bedroom for the whole family at night.

Essay 1:


Temporary homes and the politics of displacement 

Essay 2:


The reconstruction of post-Soviet Karabakh