The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway territory of Azerbaijan, has continued for more than 20 years. The conflict began in 1987 and escalated to a period of undeclared war between 1992 and 1994. In 1994, the two countries reached a cease-fire agreement but did not agree on a political resolution to the conflict. Both sides constantly break the cease-fire through the use of light weapons.
The military conflict, characterized by violence against civilians and “ethnic cleansing”, resulted in the injury, death, or disappearance of thousands of people. Armenian forces occupied 20 percent of the territory of Azerbaijan. Military actions destroyed whole territories. Ethnic Azeris fled Armenia, ethnic Armenians fled Azerbaijan, and ethnic Azeris fled Karabakh, thus becoming refugees or “internally displaced persons” (IDPs).
In today's Azerbaijan, being an IDP does not necessarily equate to being poor or disadvantaged. Many IDPs have been able to achieve good living standards and another, even smaller percentage occupies high ranks in Azerbaijani society. All the same, there is great poverty among IDPs, especially in the urban context, and IDPs sometimes inhabit ghetto communities that are physically and socially segregated from the majority population.
Many IDPs still live in inadequate facilities such as hostels, camps, schools, and unfinished buildings. A report prepared by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norwegian Refugee Council states that 30 percent of IDPs in Azerbaijan live in collective accommodation. Housing discomforts and perils render life difficult for IDPs, who are often also dealing with trauma from the experience of war and displacement. IDPs often complain about neuroses associated with the difficulties of daily life and the sorrow of having lost relatives during the war. Many IDPs report suffering from chronic illness caused by damp floors and cesspool fumes.
A great number of families occupy dormitories, originally designed to host university students, where entire families live together in single rooms without any privacy. Although room interiors are kept very clean and are often carefully modified for purposes of aesthetics and comfort, the situation of common spaces and facilities is totally different. Sewage overflows, seriously decayed buildings, and lack of any trash collection are part of the norm in most settlements.
The continuing trauma of this situation, effecting people already torn by tragedies of war and displacement, often goes unrecognised or challenged.
It is enough to pay a short visit to the IDP community in Baku's suburban Binagadi district to witness one of the worst examples of IDP living situations. Here, for more than 15 years, hundreds of families have occupied several unfinished concrete block buildings where they have built brick or stone interior walls to create partitions and rooms. Even if, thanks to the care of the occupants, the interiors of the rooms often appear tidy and perhaps even comfortable, the other parts of the buildings without walls or railings offer startling views.
Gunel Guliyevav, Jvan Yazdani