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Azerbaijan Promises Free Education, Laptops To Convince Students To Study In Nagorno-Karabakh

Stepanakert, today's Xankendi, following the mass exodus of ethnic Armenians. (file photo)
Stepanakert, today's Xankendi, following the mass exodus of ethnic Armenians. (file photo)

Comfortable dorm rooms on a campus with manicured lawns and a view of the mountains. Sleek lecture halls in brand new buildings where some of the country's finest professors will teach. And it's all for free.

To lure as many as 1,200 students to study in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan is pulling out all the stops. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in February allocated the equivalent of nearly $6 million to build, much of it from scratch, Karabakh University in Xankendi, the regional capital which was called Stepanakert when ethnic Armenians controlled the region.

Baku has controlled Karabakh since September 2023, when its military forces launched a lightning offensive to retake the territory, where ethnic Armenians had enjoyed de facto independence since the mid-1990s.

Within days of the September offensive, some 100,000 ethnic Armenians -- nearly the entire population -- fled to Armenia. Since seizing control, Azerbaijan has been accused of erasing Armenian towns and sites of religious and cultural heritage.

Russia deployed troops in Nagorno-Karabakh after the last major war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, but announced in April that it had started withdrawing them.

With nearly all of the Armenians having left what was for them Stepanakert, today's Xankendi has been described in recent months as a ghost town.

'More Promising Majors'

Scrambling for ways to repopulate the city, Aliyev, president since 2003, signed a decree in November 2023 to establish Karabakh University. On May 20, he appointed Sahin Bayramov, a seasoned university president, to head it.

The Azerbaijani Science and Education Ministry recently said that infrastructure work was under way, with lecture halls, dormitories, and other buildings due to be completed in the coming months.

Karabakh University expects to open its doors to students this fall for the upcoming academic year. Officials stress that everything will be gratis, including tuition, room and board, as well as a free laptop. In Azerbaijan, about half of universities charge for study.

The Science and Education Ministry plans to initially offer eight areas of study at the new university, including engineering, economics, and tourism.

The goal is to have 1,200 students enroll at the university, according to Emin Amrullayev, the science and education minister.

To ensure its success, the university will need to offer "more promising majors," including computer science and artificial intelligence, said Farid Imanov, an education expert.

"It is easier to find a job with one of these majors," Imanov told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.

Baku and Yerevan are currently negotiating what is hoped will be a final peace deal, something that is being watched and supported by the EU and the United States.

Talks have proved tricky, with a recent decision by Armenia to hand over several deserted settlements to Azerbaijan sparking protests and calls for Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to step down.

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