When rags worn by old Salman appeared from one of the slums, the white path through the ruins of Mirzaiyagilar suddenly colored . Together with him, other 52 thousands refugees populate Fuzuli region, 300 km south-west of Baku capital. The place broken in two parts by a war forgotten by newspapers and TV, used to depict Azerbaijan as only a Caspian region rich in oil deposits arriving in Europe. In order to recognize the “wall of hate”, we had to see from river Aras, that marks the southern border with Iran, to western buttress where enemy Armenia built its military outposts.
Heights that became the symbol of the dead friendship between Armenian communities (Orthodox Christian) and Azerbaijani ones (Muslim), who have been lived together in the little Middle Earth called Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) for centuries. Initiating event: inclusion of NK in ex USSR Azerbaijan and the beginning of struggle that led to hostilities with USSR dissolution in 1991. The conflict was frozen by UN through a cease-fire in 1994. But Armenian army, supported by Moscow, had already occupied almost 20% of Azerbaijani territory: apart from the “puppet” new state of NK led by Armenian capital Yerevan, other 7 surrounding regions forming the “security area”, including Fuzuli.
Past events that caused a current tragedy: 1 million of people forced to quit their houses and to escape ethnic cleansing. One out of seven in the Azerbaijan population. A huge percentage for a country as big as Austria.
Hope and poverty.
Today, only 10 families out of 60 continue to live in in Mirzaiyagilar after war broke out. The most enhanced one among the 17 ones liberated during the counter-attack in 1993. Other 58 villages are trapped in the occupied area, besides the open wound in the trench region with the highest number of refugees, also called IDP (internally displaced person).
The latter is the Baku’s favorite way to reaffirm his sovereignty over areas controlled by Yerevan. But this way does not help men, women and children to palliate their sufferences, due to a corrupted ruling class and the international Community that has been silenced by the geopolitical status quo between US and Russia on the Caucasus region until now.
Surviving with 7$ a month.
For 15 years refugees have been waiting for a double mirage: the endless peace negotiations -led by OSCE- and the trial of strength against the invader (sponsored by YAP, President Ilham Alyev’s party in power) being successful. President Ilham Alyev actually is not prepared to compromise his oil wealth with a new armed conflict. 72 % of IDP live in poverty aggravated by unemployment, with no medical facilities and with a ridiculous 7$ wage a month. A condition possible only with the hope of having one’s house back, sooner or later.
Old Salman is one of the lucky and brave men who has come back. Because of poverty, he has become indifferent to the bomb echos that from time to time breaks the ceasefire and the calm of the only rooms spared by bombs. There, he survives with his wife and his three children. Everyday, they fight to pick crops from plantations grown on splendid vineyards and cotton plants rests. “Water for irrigation is distributed every six months for a maximum period of 3 weeks” said Salman. “Last summer we had no water at all”. 5 Kg of flour received by his family every two months thanks to UN World Food Program, are also endangered. Contributors closed the taps and 4 million $ of food aid are supposed to be cut in 2006.
UN High Commission for Refugees ask government to use national funds to permanently integrate IDP in zones of residence instead of wasting them in first aid. However, “It’s a strategy in conflict with Azerbaijan population general opinion, according to which, refugees are soon going to be integrated in their regions of origin”, said Sabine Freizer, coordinator in Caucasus of ICG ( International Crisis Group ).
Blackmails and corruption victims Away from the front, we pass next to a mosaic of planted fields and minefields. “Here, at least 40 poor unwise shepherds, farmers and children blow up, every year”, said our guide Frikat, war veteran and ANAMA (local agency for mine-actions) trainer from 2003. In Ahmadalilar village, Tarana is waiting for us on the doorsteps of one of the houses partly rebuilt by IRC (International Rescue Committee) an American NGO.
Her three daughters look at us with big black eyes, through windows without shutters that let winter enter. An electric heater replaces the gas plant since the country (one of the biggest international oil producer) prefers to sell oil to rich international markets rather than to its poor villagers.
“YAP candidate convinced me and my neighbors to vote him for a water pump at the parliamentary elections on the 6th November” reveals Tarana. But, since then she continues drinking mud extracted by the well in the yard. Because of their dependence on State aid, IDP became an electoral portion easy to blackmail from the system. Above all, in collective reception center thanks to the large concentration of refugees monitored night and day by policemen and government agents. At ECHO1 camp -built thanks to EU funds. Hafiz, teacher at the college, welcomes us: “We are poor, our children freeze to death, it rains inside schools”. Then Rasif arrives, spy of the Regional Council, and Hazif becomes suddenly optimistic: “It’s fine. I earn 100$ per month and I don’t want anything else by the government”. He is a liar since in Azerbaijan, teachers earn not more than 40$ a month.
The following day, we tried again to know something more about Muradov family’s tragedy. 13 people: grandparents, couples and grandchildren pressed in a 15 square meters metal container. An oven during summer, a fridge during winter. They warm themselves by burning oil stocks (40 liters a month), distributed by government. But in a very little time, oil poisons air and forces them to go out in the cold mud lot used for latrine, where the space available to excavate toilet holes is almost over. On the way back, we see a camp with brand new houses of masonry. One of the camps planned until 2007, thanks to increasing crude oil incomes. But with investments (200 million $), are disproportional for the offered quality.
“There is not water, nor heating nor internal bathrooms”, reveals us Irada, one of the neighbors. It’s one of the many cases of corruption denounced by a recent ICG report explaining that many refugees have to spend bribe money to obtain normally free services. Back in Baku, we visited a Soviet-era big dilapidated palace not concluded. A concrete building where some of the 150.000 refugees live, crammed in the capital city looking for a job.
While we were going out, we listened to Rhaman’s angry words: “I am ready to go to war, together with many others, to get back my land”.