The “supercontinent” of Eurasia comprises all of Europe and much of Asia, but in terms of geopolitics it refers primarily to the post-Soviet states, the Central Asian republics, and the Transcaucasian republics. It’s no wonder, therefore, that Eurasia abounds with ghost towns and abandoned cities, straddling a landmass intrinsically tied to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many settlements were left abandoned in the wake of industrial decline and ethnic disputes, while others linger on, all but forgotten in the margins of existence.
In July 1993 fierce fighting brought the town of Agdam in Azerbaijan to its knees. Troops of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic raided the town, forcing its entire population to flee. When fighting ceased, the raiders set about destroying Agdam to prevent its recapture, reducing it to a crumbling ghost town.
After the Russian Empire fell in 1918, the largely Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh became a bone of contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh became part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic in 1923, but when the Soviet Union collapsed the region once again became a sore point, escalating a fierce ethnic conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh War of 1991 to 1994. The town’s mosque (seen in the postage stamp above) survives amid the ruins.
Tkvarcheli is a coal mining town in Abkhazia, another disputed territory within the south-western flank of the Caucusas. Tkvarcheli became a town in 1942 and was temporarily lost to the Germans during World War Two. Following the end of Soviet rule, Georgia claimed Abkhazia, which is recognised as an independent territory by Russia, fueling tensions in the region.
Georgia besieged Tkvarcheli during the War in Abkhazia (1992-3), although the town witheld through Russian aid. When Soviet mines closed, bkhaz-Turkish company Tamsaş took over the coal fields – considered illegal by Georgia and leading to the seizure of company vessels. Tensions led to a sharp population decline. While a few people remain in Tkvarcheli, the settlement is little more than a ghost town.
Like Tkvarcheli, the coastal city of Ochamchira on the shores of the Black Sea also witnessed drastic population decline after the War in Abkhazia. Once a small maritime settlement that witnessed fighting between Russian and Turkish-Abkhaz forces in 1877, the population had grown to 18,700 by 1978. But fierce ethnic cleansing during 1992-93 left Ochamchira in the grip of abandonment. While some people remain, most of those affected by the conflict have never returned. It has been suggested that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet may eventually be relocated here from Sevastopol.
Varosha, Famagusta, Cyprus
Varosha was once a booming tourist resort in the city of Famagusta. But inhabitants and vacationers fled during the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, leaving Varosha abandoned and off-limits. The main roads through the district, JFK Boulevard and Leonidas, were home to smart hotels, shopping, bars and restaurants. Places like the Argo Hotel on JFK Boulevard, once a glamourous haunt of celebrities like Dame Elizabeth Taylor, now lie silent and abandoned.
Nobody has been granted access since the invasion, and the buildings are slowly falling apart. Nature takes on corroding metal and crumbling masonry in a relentless battle to reclaim Varosha. It’s an eerie, time-warped sight today, as plants work their roots into walls and pavements, and brand new – now vintage – 1974 cars rust outside motor dealerships. Some even say lights are regularly seen in the broken windows of abandoned buildings. Read more about Varosha in Michael J. Totten’s Middle East Journal.
Oil Rocks, Azerbaijan
About 30 miles off the coast of Azerbaijan is the semi-abandoned oil drilling platform of Neft Daşları, known as Oil Rocks. This incredible floating city in the middle of the Caspian Sea was built to support a 5,000-strong population and 200km of road, built on top of dirt and landfill. Referred to as “The Island of Seven Ships”, due to a number of vessels sunk during its construction to provide a solid base for causeways, Oil Rocks boasts a school, shops and library. BLDG Blog writes that “this metropolis of platforms would not be out of place in a design studio themed around micronations, the future of private urbanism, or even failed utopias”.
Built by Gulag prisoners during World War Two, Kadykchan was another ill-fated coal mining community in the Susumansky District of Magadan Oblast, Russia. Kadykchan’s mines supplied coal to a local electric power station, but again the industry suffered after the collapse of the Soviet Union. An explosion killed six miners in 1996 and the decision was taken to close the mines forever. The population of Kadykchan (5,794 in 1989) had dwindled to less than 300 by 2007, a sure sign that this old mining community is set to join the expanding list of ghost towns in Eurasia.