Collapsing Homes in Rural Azerbaijan
A series of earthquakes and floods in recent years has left many houses close to collapse in western Azerbaijan’s Goranboy district. Residents say they cannot afford to repair their homes, or to move elsewhere.
Goranboy is close to Nagorny Karabakh, the Armenian-controlled territory which is the subject of a still unresolved dispute. Many of its current residents were originally refugees from the Karabakh war of the early 1990s, which displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Ziyaddin Karimov moved to the village of Garachinar 18 years ago, taking over a house originally owned by his parents. Within three or four years, he said, the house had started disintegrating because of recurring earth tremors.
“The walls weren’t strong to begin with, but they crack a little more with every small earthquake, and the cracks have become deeper,” he said.
Flooding in recent years has added to the damage to the house and its foundations.
“We live in constant fear,” Karimov’s wife Lutfiya said. “I’m thinking about the children rather than myself. Whenever I leave them and go out somewhere, I worry all the time. I imagine coming back and finding them under the ruins of the house, and it nearly drives me mad.”
Karimov is disabled, so modest state benefits are his only income.
“If I spend the money on medicines, the children will go hungry. If I buy food, I don’t have medicine. We wouldn’t be able to make ends meet if it weren’t for my wife’s garden plot,” he said. “We can’t repair the house or build a new one. We can’t afford it. And the government doesn’t seem to want to help.”
The Karimovs are by no means unique. At least 150 houses in Goranboy are in urgent need of repairs in villages like Garachinar, Yenikend, Gakhtut, Mesheli and Boru, and the majority of owners cannot afford to fix the damage themselves.
They include Rasim Tagiyev, another Garachinar resident, who said, “I didn’t have the money for repairs, and my wife couldn’t stand it any longer so she took the children and went to her father’s house.”
The district authorities say they understand the problems, but they are not in a position to help.
“Of course we want to improve the living conditions of the refugees, and we are doing everything in our power,” Ali Bayramov, the deputy head of the district government, said. “When their homes were damaged, we helped them as much as we could. But repairing houses requires money that we don’t have.”
Bakhish Abdullayev, head of the district committee for emergencies, said local institutions could only investigate and pass on their findings to central government.
“The emergencies ministry has been informed of the dangerous state that houses in Goranboy district are in,” he said. “Matters like compensation for damage or building [new] houses don’t lie within the remit of local government. As soon as the ministry provides funds, we will be able to help.”
Oqtay Gulaliyev, coordinator of the Kura movement, which monitors state funding for flood repairs, said money was available, although it was not reaching everyone who needed it.
After flooding along the river Kura in 2010, 460 million manats (600 million US dollars) was spent to repair or replace damaged properties, and another 300 million manats were earmarked after earth tremors in Zaqatala in 2012.
According to Gulaliyev, people who have suffered damage from natural disasters in other parts of Azerbaijan – for example Goranboy – are eligible to apply for assistance from these funds, as well.
At the same time, he said, past experience showed that winning compensation was difficult, and many people had been forced to go to court to press their claims.
“The money is not reaching the people who need it,” he said.
IWPR phoned Tural Museyibov, chief spokesman for the emergencies ministry, for a comment on Goranboy residents’ allegations that not enough was being done to help them. He hung up without even hearing the question to the end.
Jamshid Bakhtiyar is a correspondent for www.civil-forum.az.