Much is made in the Azerbaijani propaganda about the living conditions of the refugees from the war. Despite the oil billions there are Azerbaijanis housed in isolated communities, living in terrible conditions being used as political weapons on the unsuspecting, and uninformed foreign politicians and journalists. Some are located near to the Line of Contact ( between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh) 20 years ago and have been waiting to return ever since.
There were about 350,000 Armenians who fled Azerbaijan from 1988-1994. They were not coerced into hellish communities set up by the Armenian Government to be used as political “exhibitions” as an attempt to extort sympathy from the international community. Over the years they became integrated into society in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia, or further afield, resigned to the fact that they would never see their homes again.
Many people who fled Azerbaijan, and made Nagorno-Karabakh their home, continue to struggle in this poor country. They left with nothing, moved into buildings that were in a bad state of repair, had no job and wait, patiently, as the impoverished Government tries its best to improve conditions. Meanwhile, they live to the best of their abilities, in a difficult environment, surviving silently and with dignity. There is no glare of exploitation by the Government or from the wider Armenian community – this is to their credit. But it doesn’t mean that there are no problems.
Many people were killed in the massacre in Maragha (which was an Armenian village in the Soviet period Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast ) in April 1992; the rest had to flee. Many of those that survived and escaped, settled in an Azerbaijani village near to Tigranakert. It was renamed as Nor (new) Maragha (now part of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic). Their own homes are now on the Azerbaijani side of the Line of Contact. I had the chance to meet, briefly, a few people who were living in rooms in the old Mayoral buildings of the Nor Maragha village.
There are suggestions that those Armenian people who are occupying ex-Azerbaijani properties are living comfortably whilst the original Azerbaijani owners are waiting to reclaim their houses. As I travelled around this region and entered a number of the buildings, I can testify that the state of the properties was very poor. The Armenian refugees feel a great sense of loss from what they had in 1988. It is no better than the plight of the Azerbaijani refugees; it’s just less visible.
One of the people I met was a lady who was living in one room of this Mayoral building .The room was her life. She has no family, apart from her cats. She has to bathe herself in this confined space, boiling up water on top of the wood stove. There is a toilet block outside which was the most basic of facilities. Despite the situation in which she found herself, she was very welcoming to me. I couldn’t contemplate what her future was, and how she found the spirit to keep going.
Downstairs from this lady was a family of 5, including a baby, in a slightly largely room. The baby’s mother was from Stepanakert but she had married into a family from Maragha. They had collected together a few pieces of furniture and made the best use of another room in the block to create a kitchen area. This was no place for anyone to live, and certainly not a baby.
I’m sure all involved would appreciate the opportunity to return to their original houses in Maragha,. Almost undoubtedly those houses don’t exist anymore and, if they do, they will be being occupied by local Azerbaijanis.
One can speculate on whether the Government is doing enough to improve the living conditions of these people but in its defence, it does not have the massive resources at the disposal of Azerbaijan. It is not creating artificial poverty for the sole purpose of propaganda, which cannot be said for the Azerbaijani Government who continually parade foreign politicians and journalists through the camps to manipulate world opinion.
The Armenian refugees have a right to return to their homes and restore the conditions and luxuries that they enjoyed before being displaced during the war. Whether or not they have the will is irrelevant. Those actively promoting the Azerbaijani propaganda on this issue seem to forget this important fact that there are 2 sides to this story.
Categories: War and its Legacy