Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Karabakh War Disabled Claim Shabby Treatment in Azerbaijan
Ilham Maharramov was left disabled after fighting in the Karabakh war. (Photo: Gular Mehdizadeh)
Azerbaijan veterans from the Nagorny Karabakh war of the early 1990s say they are often denied the free medical care and drugs they should be eligible to claim.
Sumgait resident Ulfat Mammadsalahov, 40, was injured while fighting in the Kelbajar district, which the Armenians captured in April 1993. He lost the toes on his left foot, he still has stitches in his head, and he is losing the cartilage in his leg.
“There are never any places free in the rehabilitation centres when I contact them,” he told IWPR. “That means I have to go to other hospitals, but there are no services for the disabled there.”
There are 11,500 registered Karabakh veterans in Azerbaijan, and they are entitled to free treatment at 13 designated centres.
Officials acknowledge that former combatants are sometimes turned away from treatment centres, but say this is because everyone wants to go to the capital Baku, while rehabilitation centres in other parts of the country often have unused places.
Saadat Yunisgizi, head doctor at the national Centre for Disabled Rehabilitation, confirmed that places were hard to come by in Baku, but said this was because people from elsewhere insisted on being treated in the capital.
“Other medical institutions also send us patients. No one cares whether we have space or not,” she said. “It’s mostly people from remoter areas like Astara, Lerik, Shamkir and Nakhichevan who come. The ministry has opened excellent rehabilitation centres in the regions, but for some reason everyone comes here. We can’t turn them away, but that leaves the people who live here complaining about lack of places.”
Saday Abdullayev, director of welfare at the Labour and Social Support Ministry, said many people living in Baku were registered as resident somewhere else, making it hard for the authorities to get a clear picture of who lived where.
“No one is left in the regions. Everyone is moving to Baku,” he said. “The centres in the regions have modern facilities, each designed to have capacity for 14 people. The problem is the big influx of people to the capital.”
Firudin Mammadov, head of the Garabag Gazileri veterans’ group, disputed the argument that all treatment facilities were up to the same standard.
“In the regional centres, the treatment isn’t done properly, which is why people come to the capital,” he said. “Of course it would be easier if people got treatment in their own areas. The demand exists, but there isn’t the treatment.”
By law, the labour ministry is obliged to send the war veterans abroad for treatment if there are no places available in Azerbaijan.
Abullayev said the government sent 85 veterans to the Crimea in Ukraine and 30 to Bulgaria for treatment this year.
“We have a lot of applicants, so we try to send everyone in turn,” he said.
Ilham Maharramov is among those who have travelled to Ukraine, but he remains unhappy with care levels in Azerbaijan.
“I will be disabled for the rest of my whole life. My sole desire is to live independently,” he said. “Once a year the state pays for me to go to a rehabilitation centre in Ukraine. Conditions at the centres here are poor.
“I buy the medicines I need myself. A week ago I got back from Ukraine, and received a bill for 120 manats [for medicines]. I had to buy everything myself, although the state provides money for the treatment of veterans.”
As he is in the highest category of disabled, Maharramov receives 273 manats a month in welfare and disablement payments. With more than 30 pieces of shrapnel remaining in his body, he spends 250 to 300 manats on medicine and medical care every month, leaving him with nothing to live on.
Azerbaijan’s ministries of health and labour declined to give figures for how much they spend on disabled people, saying only that they covered the costs of medicines, accommodation and transport for war veterans.
Rovshan Agayev, an economist with the Society for Assisting Economic Initiatives, says spending levels need to increase.
“The welfare support given to disabled people doesn’t add up to half the minimum amount required to survive, as defined by the state itself,” he said. “Disabled people have more outgoings than others. So in view of that, their benefits are too low.”
Mammadsalahov was initially listed as “category two” disabled, which includes people with serious but not critical disabilities. He has since been reclassified as category three, for those whose disabilities are not so limiting.
“They explained this was because of an improvement in my health. When I was in the second category, I received 210 manats [260 US dollars] plus welfare benefits. Now I get 50 manats welfare and 90 manats for being disabled. That’s 140 manats altogether, which isn’t enough to feed my family.”
Gular Mehdizadeh is a freelance journalist in Azerbaijan.
This article was produced as part of IWPR's Neighbours project, which seeks to break down mistrust by providing objective news on Armenia and Azerbaijan.
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