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

Life-Changing Report on Frenchwoman's Plight

Trip to France seemed impossible dream, but IWPR coverage will help Yvonne Botteau Jacques head for Lyons after nearly 70 years away.
By Samira Ahmedbeyli
  • Yvonne (Joanna) Botteau Jacques at her home in Murguzalli. (Photo: Sabuhi Mammadli)
    Yvonne (Joanna) Botteau Jacques at her home in Murguzalli. (Photo: Sabuhi Mammadli)

An IWPR report on an elderly Frenchwoman living in rural Azerbaijan was picked up by dozens of media outlets and fulfilled her dream of visiting France for the first time in 64 years. It also prompted the local authorities to rebuild her home.

Reporter Sabuhi Mammadli was on assignment in Azerbaijan’s Imishli district to report on flood victims who were seeking compensation, when he came across Yvonne Botteau Jacques, the 83-year-old widow of an Azerbaijani who fought in the French Resistance during the Second World War.

Yvonne – who also uses the name Joanna – is long settled in Azerbaijan, where she has 22 great-grandchildren, but has always dreamed of visiting France one more time. That was impossible in Soviet times, and although Azerbaijanis have been able to travel freely since independence two decades ago, Yvonne never had the money to make the trip.

Mammadli wrote about her plight in Stranded by Love in Azerbaijan which was reprinted 27 times in the local and foreign press. French journalist Pierre-Laurent Mazars phoned IWPR’s Azerbaijan office for information on the story, and then visited Imishli himself, where he met Botteau Jacques and wrote up her story for Le Journal du Dimanche.

The story also attracted interest from television companies. France’s TV5MONDE carried the story while a state-run French channel is sending a crew to Azerbaijan to film a piece about Yvonne’s life.

Nick Sturdee, a freelance reporter who has worked for the BBC and Channel 4, contacted IWPR about plan to make a film. He delved into the French archives and found old photographs from Yvonne’s childhood and from her wedding. He also made contact with Beatrice, the daughter of her only brother, and with two of her cousins. They are all looking forward to meeting her, he says.

The international press interest did not go unnoticed in Azerbaijan itself, where the Imishli district government is providing Yvonne with new housing. Her son Farahim Shirmammadov told IWPR that on August 31, workers took down the existing dilapidated structure and began putting up a new house.

The European Azerbaijan Society has promised to organise and pay for Yvonne’s trip to France. The society’s spokesman Neil Watson contacted IWPR to say its Baku office was arranging the paperwork. As soon as that is done, she will be able to travel to France together with her son, and accompanied by a camera crew.

Yvonne Botteau Jacques is looking forward to visiting a country she last saw in 1947.

“I am so grateful to IWPR, and to Sabuhi Mammadli personally. How long I’ve waited and wondered whether my only dream would come true, that I could visit my homeland could just one more time,” she said. “After this article, the whole world found out about me. So many local and international journalists have become interested in my fate. And kind people have appeared who will help my dream come true. I am grateful to everyone who’s been so kind to me. I’m waiting impatiently for the day when I can see France, and my home town of Lyons, again.”

Samira Ahmedbeyli is a staff writer for IWPR in Azerbaijan.