A village of two
In the northern municipality of Gabala lies a desolate village known as Kusnet. Once a bustling hive of local activity, the village is now completely deserted. Access to Kusnet is restricted, and its population has been reduced to two.
The change dates back to 2011, when President Ilham Aliyev and his daughter Leyla set their sights on Kusnet as the location of their new residence. And now, the once lively village has turned into a gated community of two.
For residents of the neighboring village of Laza, Kusnet has been consigned to history.
“Look, Kusnet used to be down there,” Tamam Allahyarova pointed to the direction of the village.
“The village was moved. What is left? Even its name no longer exists. They all moved out,” another Laza resident, Gulzar Suleymanova, said. “Ilham’s daughter is there now, and so is he. All these villas belong to them. What are we to do there?!”
Zamin Bashirov echoed the sentiment: “It’s an official residence. Heads of state can be entertained there. It is the official residence of the president.”
The construction of the presidential villas began in 2011, when 16 families lived in Kusnet. During the initial phase of the construction work, they spoke to the newspaper
“The guys worked in Chechnya and have now arrived to build houses over here. Now these people are telling the residents to leave the village. They’re telling everyone that it’s very much in our interests to leave. They say that if you don’t leave the village, you will be surrounded by a 14-meter tower.”
“I used to have 60 nut trees behind that villa, and now they have seized the land. They won’t let you pass through the villa. We have tried so many times to stop the work. They paved a slope and used it as a toilet. The construction workers of the villa dump their sewage into the river that we use for drinking water.”
Displaced on the President’s whim
During the Soviet era, officials reportedly offered to resettle Kusnet inhabitants in a new village, but they refused to abandon their homes. In recent years, the population of the village has decreased to 15 households.
But even those who remained steadfast throughout the Soviet era were forced to vacate their homes in 2012. According to Laza residents, they were compensated and now live in Gabala.
Zamin Bashirov, a local teacher, says: “Kusnet used to be a large village. As time passed and living conditions in the mountainous areas became more challenging, people moved to the surrounding areas. There were only 11-12 households left in Kusnet, and even they were forced to leave when the construction of the presidential residence began.”
Only the cemetery and the mosque remain in Kusnet. The authorities also tried to move the cemetery but locals protested by burning coffins.
The Executive Power of the Gabala municipality has refused to comment on the matter.
“People want recreational zones as well. If you are born and raised here, how can you just leave? You can’t. Anyone coming over here tells us that we’re living in a paradise. Isn’t it a shame,” sighed Allahyarova.
Kusnet was founded in the 19
century, if not earlier, according to locals. A village that withstood two centuries, including Soviet rule, has now been wiped out on the whim of the President.