Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Displaced Azeris Rebuild Lives on Front Line

Government wants people to go back to villages, and helps them raise old homes from ruins.
By Seymur Kazimov
  • Parviz Amiraliyev and Firdovsi Gasimov are working together to rebuild their homes. (Photo: Seymur Kazimov)
    Parviz Amiraliyev and Firdovsi Gasimov are working together to rebuild their homes. (Photo: Seymur Kazimov)
  • The Amirov family’s home in Chiraghli was flattened during the Karabakh war of the early 1990s. (Photo: Seymur Kazimov)
    The Amirov family’s home in Chiraghli was flattened during the Karabakh war of the early 1990s. (Photo: Seymur Kazimov)
  • The new house the Amirov brothers are building with help from their neighbours. (Photo: Seymur Kazimov)
    The new house the Amirov brothers are building with help from their neighbours. (Photo: Seymur Kazimov)

As the authorities in Azerbaijan encourage people displaced by the Nagorny Karabakh war two decades ago to come back to villages near the front line of the now-frozen conflict, many of the settlers say security and economic conditions are not yet good enough to prompt a mass return.

Parviz Amiraliyev, 25, has moved back to the village of Chiraghli in the Aghdam district, where residents live within sight of Karabakh Armenian military lines. He is receiving some state assistance under a programme intended to relocate some of the hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis made homeless by the conflict.

The war ended in 1994 with a ceasefire but no peace deal. An Armenian administration controls Karabakh and some adjoining areas, so Azerbaijani civilians cannot return there. The resettlement programme is taking place in areas on the Azerbaijani side of the “line of control”.

When Amiraliyev was five years old, his family fled from Chiraghli to escape the fighting. Now he is building a house a few metres away from the home he grew up in, which was destroyed by artillery and rocket fire.

Azerbaijan’s Agency for Restoring and Reconstructinge Territories Liberated from Occupation is providing free building materials to encourage people like Amiraliyev to repopulate front-line villages. Residents are also provided with a 3.5 hectare plot of land which they can farm.

“We exercise direct supervision over the building work, to ensure that residents don’t use the construction materials they’ve been given for other purposes,” Ahmad Ahmadov, who manages the agency’s operations, told IWPR. “And we don’t give them all the materials at once. As soon as one stage of the work is completed, we provide them with the next load.”

In Chiraghli, Amiraliyev and his neighbours Firdovsi Gasimov and the Amirov brothers are helping one another other put up houses.

Gasimov, an experienced builder, said it was easier to start from scratch as it was almost impossible to restore an old house if it had lain empty for a long time.

Other buildings like the Amirovs’ family home were flattened, so that it is now hard to imagine that anything ever stood there.

“Look, there was a room here, and a room on that side, and a fence over here. Now there’s nothing left,” Vagif Amirov said as he stood on the site of the old  house.

“I am now 27, and I was just a child back then, but I remember that our house had three rooms and a kitchen. We moved into it not long before the war started,” his brother Khayyam Amirov said. “We lived here for less than a year.”

The two brothers are helping their neighbours rebuild, but are in no hurry to move back to Chiraghli themselves. Their former home is too close to Armenian lines for comfort.

They would like the house to be protected by one of the security walls the Azerbaijani authorities have built in a number of front-line villages, to stop the sniper bullets which take a regular toll of civilians. (See Azeris Wall Off Front-Line Zones.)

“A wall would create a safe existence for people living in front-line villages,” Khayyam said. “If they built a wall in front of our old house, then I’d start building a one on the site.”

Amiraliyev will have other new neighbours, though.

Ramig Bayramov is building a house for the village for his nephew.

“It’s been going well so far. Once we finish building, we’ll have an idea what we’re missing,” Bayramov said. “My brother’s house was located in no-man’s land so it was completely destroyed. The [reconstruction] agency wouldn’t allow us to build a house in that location, so we’re building this new one some way away from it.”

Bayramov said the government would need to do more than provide building materials if it wanted to increase the rate of return.

“It’s important for people to feel safe again, physically and socially. Construction of security walls has to continue, and villagers need to have opportunities to build up farms so that they can provide for themselves,” he said. “As long as this isn’t happening, there won’t be many people wanting to come back to their homes.”

Lives on the Line in Azerbaijan has more images of Chiraghli.

Seymur Kazimov is a freelance journalist in Azerbaijan.