Mental Health Crisis Among Azerbaijani Veterans

Since 2020, 45 former combatants from the Karabakh war have taken their life as ex-soldiers continue to struggle with trauma and socio-economic difficulties.

Mental Health Crisis Among Azerbaijani Veterans

Since 2020, 45 former combatants from the Karabakh war have taken their life as ex-soldiers continue to struggle with trauma and socio-economic difficulties.

A war veterans protest on April 25, 2022 in front of the Yashat Fund in Azerbaijan's capital Baku when dozens of former combatants from the Karabakh war asked for more support from the state.
A war veterans protest on April 25, 2022 in front of the Yashat Fund in Azerbaijan's capital Baku when dozens of former combatants from the Karabakh war asked for more support from the state. © Mikroskop Media
Wednesday, 19 October, 2022


Institute for War & Peace Reporting

In mid-October 2020, a few weeks into the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorny Karabakh region, Amid Amanov was in a military base with his unit when the garrison came under shelling. The attack killed 24 of Amanov’s comrades and he was only rescued after 48 hours spent lying trapped under slabs of concrete and twisted metal.

The 26-year-old said that he was no longer the same person as he was before: memories haunt him and a traumatic brain injury has left him struggling with a stutter. He has contemplated taking his own life more than one. 

“I think about it [suicide]. Then I regret thinking about it. But with all the distress, it’s impossible not to consider it,” Amanov told IWPR. “Suicide wouldn’t be a difficult thing, after everything I’m going through.”

Amanov also faces a struggle with Azerbaijan’s bureaucracy to acquire his veteran privileges. He receives a monthly allowance of 80 manats (about 50 US dollars), which mostly goes towards repaying a family bank loan. Amanov lives with his parents; he is unemployed and unmarried.

“I almost cut my wrists. A friend, also a veteran, was near me, he stopped me from doing it, even though he is as angry as me,” he said.

Independent sources say that 45 veterans have committed suicide since the end of the November 2020  war, which ended with a Moscow-brokered ceasefire and Azerbaijan taking control of part of Karabakh and seven adjacent districts. But with no official data available, the number could be higher.

The latest victim took his life on September 30. Javid Sarvar oghlu Majidov, a 27-year-old from the Goychay district in central Azerbaijan, set himself on fire. His death came three months after that of Elvin Jafarov, who in July 2022 burned himself in front of a local government office in the east-southern district of Sabirabad. In a 2021 interview with Maydan TV, the 35-year-old veteran had lamented that he could not find a job, and that the government was not paying for medical care to treat shrapnel still in his body.

The public anger that met Jafarov’s death pushed authorities to try to fend off criticism. On July 11, Fazil Talibov, a spokesman for the ministry of labour and social protection, detailed on Facebook the financial assistance and employment support that authorities had provided to both the veteran and his mother since the end of the war. 

Psychologists maintain that socio-economic challenges exacerbate frontline trauma, with little understanding of how debilitating it can be. 

The ministries of defence, emergency situations, and of labour and social protection have dedicated units to support both soldiers and civilians affected by the war.

The social protection ministry oversees two agencies responsible for post-war trauma-related issues. The social-medical examination and rehabilitation agency is specifically tasked to helps veterans be placed at one of 12 state-run rehabilitation facilities around the country.

In a statement, the ministry told IWPR that since November 2020 “a large-scale social support package has been unrolled for war veterans and martyrs’ family members of martyrs. Within its framework, measures have covered 119,000 people and 243,000 support-oriented services have been provided [to them]".

The social services agency told IWPR that “[its] psychologists and psychiatrists have visited 3,000 families of martyrs and veterans, and provided initial psycho-social support to family members…[and] provided with free medicines.”

Support, it added, is also provided online and, since February 1, via a dedicated hotline.

But while both state entities and NGOs provide psychological assistance, considerable challenges remain.

“Firstly, there's a shortage [of specialists], we can't manage to provide help to everyone in need,” said Azad Isazada, a psychiatrist who has been working with veterans and other conflict-affected civilians since the first Karabakh war of the 1990s. “Secondly, there's no centralised programme. Every specialist uses the methodology they studied. There's no one centre to coordinate the assistance.”

Specialists are also geographically concentrated.

“They are mainly in large cities, like Baku, Ganja, or Barda,” Isazada continued. “In rural areas, there are next to no professional psychologists.” 


The 80 manats allowance is granted to all veterans. Disabled former combatants are then entitled to an additional contribution and a so-called president's pension upon confirmation of their disability status. The state has set three grades of disability and, depending on the severity, veterans can receive 300, 350 or 450 manats, (175, 205 or 265 dollars). For instance, a veteran with a second-degree disability would receive 350 manats as a president's pension and 130 manats as a disability allowance.

In December 2020, President Ilham Aliyev founded Yashat, a fund aimed at supporting veterans and families of fallen soldiers through financial and medical aid, housing, utility fees, bank loans, and even childrens’ tuition fees. As of June 2021, the fund had collected 73 million manat (about 43 million dollars) through various donations.

Getting onto the benefits ladder, however, is also a struggle. The government has tightened disability assessments in the last couple of years, which disgruntled many ordinary citizens and former soldiers in poor health who were denied benefits.

Veterans like Amanov found themselves in a vicious circle.

After undergoing all the state-required medical examinations, he was told his health condition was not severe enough to qualify him for disability status. He then began to look for a job, as veterans are told they are given priority in recruitment. 

“I passed both the physical exam and tests, and then was told that they can’t hire me because of my speech impediment,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense, if I’m disabled, grant me disability status and give me my pension. If I’m not disabled, give me a job. To be able to breathe in this country, you have to work.” 

Embittered veterans have taken to the streets calling for their benefits. Demonstrations have mainly been small, attended by a few dozen people, but in some cases theyhave erupted into violence. On June 2, Karabakh veterans broke into the social protection ministry after being denied access to the building.  

Many veterans feel abandoned and argue they don’t receive the aid they were promised. 

“We weren’t even done with those from the previous war,” said Isazada, who now works with soldiers who fought in the September 12-14 border clashes with Armenia, which sparked criticism among a society traditionally supportive of the military operations to regain the country’s lost territories.

“Now we have to work with new veterans. It means we have to create a new programme urgently. There is no guarantee that there will be no more fighting.”

He maintained that one solution to help veterans was to train ex-soldiers who already have undergone therapy and employ them in psycho-social work. 

“While helping their fellow veterans, they will also benefit because they can see the value of their work,” he said. “It’s the feeling of being useful and being part of society again."

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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