FLEG II concluded that these ancient regions with rich cultural and natural heritage have a huge potential for the development of sustainable recreation and tourism.
In both districts FLEG II Program consultants on sustainable recreation research, Zitta Hasanova and Liya Bayramova met with the state forestry enterprises, local businesses and talked to the local communities.
Shaki and Gakh districts are considered to be some of the most attractive and beautiful regions in Azerbaijan. Located at the foot of the Greater Caucasus Mountains and full of ancient historic and natural monuments, they are destined to be the places of rest, joy and discovery. The famous Palace of Shaki khans, picturesque and ancient mosques and medieval bathes are standing next to the natural forests and rivers in Shaki. Gakh district provides any opportunity for hunting and fishing. Surrounded by waterfalls and lakes it is famous for its spa waters and little ancient villages located high in the mountains.
“Currently Shaki is a favorite destination for the local and many international tourists” said director of the Shaki district Forest Rehabilitation and Guarding Enterprise (FRGE) Naymat Rasulov. “15 forest sites have been already allocated from the state forest fund for the purpose of tourism development. The guarding service is there to protect the forests but is not sufficient. Rangers lack special equipment and tools”. Further discussion revealed that problems with the effective protection of the forestland lead to illegal logging, illegal grazing and other forest-related violations.
The consultants also had a long and fruitful discussion with an employee of the Shaki’s oldest silk mill Malakhat Zeynalova. The enterprise produces a wide range of goods such as carpets, national Azerbaijani headscarfs (kalagayi), silk fabrics, textile and others. The success that it had during the Soviet times is gone, due to the lack of funding the mill experiences production and financial difficulties.
In the Gakh district the consultants managed to meet with the employees of the district Forest Rehabilitation and Guarding Enterprise. “Even a non-professional can see vast possibilities for the development of ecological tourism in the area”, said inspector of Gakh Forest Rehabilitation and Guarding Enterprise Nasimi Shirinov. “New resorts, hotels, cafes and restaurants are being built. Tourists visit the area primarily during the summertime, which boosts the economic development in the district. But during the winter we see a sharp decrease in the tourist flow, which impacts significantly the well-being of the locals. We believe more efforts are needed to ensure the tourism development in a permanent and steady manner”. According to the expert, the rapid and sometimes unregulated tourism development results in forest fire threats and misbalance of environmental ecosystem.
As ancient, culturally diverse and naturally attractive places, Gakh and Shaki districts have a very high potential for the development of sustainable tourism, concluded the consultants.
The FLEG II Program identified development of sustainable recreation in the forest territories in its working plan. Works under the specific activity is in progress. The Program is funded by the European Union in partnership with World Bank, IUCN and WWF.