Analysis - Monday, November 1, 2010 0:08 - 1 Comment

Experiencing Displacement and Gendered Exclusion: Refugees and Displaced Persons in Post-socialist Armenia and Azerbaijan

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This paper is developed out of an experiment. It started being written by two authors who in 2005 had not yet met in person but knew one another through each other’s research and writings. It had to develop in e-space and through discussions, sometimes on the phone, speaking and writing in a mixture of languages, from Azerbaijani to English and Russian and having to cope with absences through fieldwork periods and travel. Later it was presented by the authors in September 2005 at the University of Bergen, in the conference on “Displacement – Global Dynamics and Gendered Patterns”.[1] It is experimental in yet another sense, such that it tries to look at displacement and gender from the points of views of women and men who belong to two nations from the opposite sides of the same conflict.

The idea of writing about those displaced through the war over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAO) occurred to us when we noticed how many aspects of the discourses concerning the displaced were similar despite the fact that, at least officially, one side lost and the other side won. Beyond this appearance, however, there were immense complexities and differentiations in each case, where the notions about displacement and other kinds of economic and political marginalization become fuzzy and prone to manipulation. In this experimental essay we first present a common story of the events that caused the displacement of large numbers of Azerbaijanis within Azerbaijan and of Armenians of Azerbaijan from Azerbaijan to Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh or to the Russian Federation. There were multiple factors for defining and fixing the identity of those to be displaced: religion was certainly one of them, and a major factor, but other criteria such as language, dialect, bodily, ethnic, and religious markers, were equally used for “choosing” and “defining” those to be displaced. This resulted sometimes in mixed categories of people with for instance an Armenian ethnic identity but married to a Muslim Azerbaijani not being displaced by the Azerbaijanis, whereas in other cases linguistic qualities were assiduously examined. Shahnazarian’s informants, for instance, reported how the linguistic capability or bodily markers could be used to identify the “enemy other,” the Armenian to be displaced:

Elder Armenians cannot to pronounce letter “f,” since this letter appeared very late in the Armenian alphabet, and old people pronounce “f” as “ph.” Knowing this, militant-nationalist gangs in Azerbaijan forced people on the street to say fındıx (hazelnut), and when these pronounced “phındıx,” they were identified as Armenians. As for religion as a marker, a Jewish man was forced to show his genitals in a Baku bazaar in order to prove his Jewish and not Armenian origin. He saved himself from being persecuted in this way.

This story is not easy to reconstruct as with such unresolved conflicts there are (at least) two versions to every single event and the reasons for the turn of the events. We try to unravel which elements of these stories of displacement and resettlement get highlighted and become significant for the displaced men and women. We also look at the relationships between the displaced and the non-displaced and try to analyze the role of social class and urban-rural background. Finally, we examine the signposts of the dependency of gender specific displacement on not only the internationally unresolved conflict but also on the inner state and inner-national gendered socio-economic and political structures.

The materials we use here are based on Nona Shahnazarian’s field research among the Armenian displaced persons from Azerbaijan, who fled to live and settle in Karabakh. The data for her study were basically collected during fieldwork in the town of Martuni, a small district center in Karabakh, which has a population of approximately five thousand people. Her fieldwork there lasted for eight months, from October 2000 to June 2001. This data were complemented by in-depth and semi-structured interviews amongst Azerbaijani-Karabakhi migrants, who live in Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don, and Moscow. These people did not get any help from any state or other institution and had to cope with all the hardships on their own. Their migration often took place in multiple ways and steps, often in extremely unfavorable post-Soviet economic and political conditions. Lale Yalçın-Heckmann has done two months of fieldwork in the settlement Bazar (a pseudonym) in the north of Azerbaijan in 2001 and has revisited the settlement in 2002, 2005, and 2007.[2] Bazar is settled by the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Laçın and Kelbecer, districts that used to belong to Azerbaijan and are now occupied by Armenian forces. These IDPs have been living in this settlement since 1992, in barracks and very poor living quarters. Some sixty households have only one well, and water needs to be carried to the barracks by women either on their backs or with donkeys. Electricity is available, telephone has just been connected, and in 2004 the first school building was finished.

II. Background to the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh

The 1988 declaration of democratic liberties and values conceived a number of ethnic conflicts in the territory of the former USSR. The succession of events started with the dispute about the jurisdiction of Nagorno-Karabakh. The conflict spread out in a snowball fashion and by the early 1990s became a real war with all the usual consequences.[3]

For the chronology of events relevant for our informants, we should mention that after the Karabakh movement for secession from Azerbaijan began, Azerbaijan used economic blockade in order to put the Karabakh political movement under pressure. This followed the travel limitations Armenia had put to Azerbaijan for accessing another Azerbaijani territory (the Republic of Nakhichevan). The war started in 1990 and expanded to cover those areas outside the Karabakh region, resulting in the occupation of the seven Azerbaijani provinces. Karabakh Armenians declared their independence, although this is not recognized internationally. During the conflict between 1988 and 1994 (when a ceasefire was reached, which holds without a peace treaty until today), successive population groups were expelled from Armenia (Azeris and Kurds) and from Azerbaijan (Armenians).

This series of events became a tangible breaking point in people’s consciousness. All the informants of Shahnazarian, without exception, marked this series in their speech. People see their lives as being divided into the periods “before the event” (Soviet period) and “after the event” (post-Soviet period)[4] and hardly need any other comment. Everybody seems to know in details the content and the weight of this informative message, stored in these two words. Those were the events that turned all the foundations of the society upside down.

Despite the idealized and almost sacral nature of the perception of the war and the Karabakh movement for Armenians in general, the Karabakh population found themselves in miserable material conditions. This happened partly because the ex-Soviet/Russian government was absorbed in resolving its own social-economic problems. At a certain point, the still Soviet Russian government virtually lost control, and, consequentially, their routine presence in Karabakh, hence allowing the events take their own course. The District (formerly Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous District) was one of the first areas of the former USSR, where Moscow lost its political influence and the functions of administration and provision. Humanitarian aid and donations from Armenian diaspora populations, even if sent, did not always reach the addressee. Finding themselves in a blockade, the population lost their entire life savings, and also faced the real threat of hunger, cold, and physical extermination. The governmental structures were in а state of deep crisis and demonstrated confusion and incompetence.

On the whole the Armenians’ experience reflects the romanticized nature of the Karabakh movement (emphasizing national unity and collective aspirations for independence), but also of expulsion, loss, and the fearful experience of war and destruction.

The Azerbaijani IDPs do not have any romanticized memories of unity and independence at all; as long as they were not in Karabakh they did not experience the blockade, but have been living through very anxious times with the sporadic and chaotic news coming from state television, first about the expulsions of Azerbaijanis from Armenia, then about massacres and expulsion of Azerbaijanis from Karabakh. They also did not witness the pogroms towards the Armenians in Sumgait and Baku, but were isolated from the events in their mountain regions. The expulsion found them in stages and they finally fled in 1992. Their memories are strongest in relation to how the Armenians who left Azerbaijan could sell their property (even if for low prices), and how they were the real victims since they fled their property without any compensation.

III. Definitions and processes of displacement

In this section we deal with what displacement in the Armenian and Azerbaijani cases means. We look at who is seen as being displaced and what historical and political understandings are available for this definition.

Structure and process of displacement:

Virtually all of the informants of Shahnazarian consider that pogroms and persecutions in Azerbaijan were organized at the high official level, which we as authors do not have the possibility to prove or disprove. Such speculations and conspiracy theories, however, exist within Azerbaijan as well, accusing the Soviet KGB or the Armenian nationalist Dashnak party as being the planners and manipulators of the events. Some other stories of eye witnesses Shahnazarian has been interviewing testify to the mob-like character of the attackers and agitators: some of them recall seeing young men with naked upper bodies and tied back scarves roaming the streets of Mingechaur (an industrial city to the north of Azerbaijan) on horse back and roaring anti-Armenian slogans. According to the eyewitnesses, these persons obviously belonged to the milieu of lower classes.[5]

The unruly and chaotic nature of identifying and displacing the “enemy” or being identified as the “enemy” applies equally to the Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Azerbaijani IDPs report that they left their villages and homes amidst greatest chaos, not really knowing if and when the Armenian soldiers would be coming, if and when they would see their relatives and even family members again. Families got separated, people had to leave behind some old relatives to be brought over at a second round, many men went with the animal herds across the mountains, through long and dangerous routes, almost all had to leave the major parts of their goods and movable property behind, taking only some pots and pans, and some bedding.

Hence the stories of how the villagers and townspeople from Laçın and Kelbecer were displaced are manifold. They are stories reflecting individual anger and frustration, trying to place one’s own fate within the general framework of what has happened. The IDPs in Bazar were unanimous about how unprepared they were and how their flight from the region was organized (officially or unofficially) by “others” who had sent them busses and trucks from other Azerbaijani regions so that they could flee before the regular or irregular Armenian forces. Men were especially emphasizing how they were trying to save their flocks (these communities were primarily cattle herders and sheep breeders) by taking them first through mountain roads to safety to the east of Karabakh where the herders from Laçın had their traditional winter pastures. They went with the herds first and by the time they got back to pick up their families and household goods the situation had worsened and many women and children had to be separated from their husbands and sons and had already left with others, on trucks and busses. The story reflects of course the dilemma of having to make a decision about what and whom to save first and how to organize the flight, if it is at all possible to be organized. Beyond this personal yet collective drama and dilemma, the hinge of the personal story is its political implication: IDPs have been accused of worrying about property and family and panicking unnecessarily, for being a “coward” for running away before they had seen any enemy soldiers. Being aware of such accusations which have been directed to them in the media and in all political contexts, the IDPs add that they had no armaments to defend themselves and that they were nearly pushed out of the region by their own political and military leaders, whom they still accuse with treason or at least with incompetence.

Women’s stories of flight reflect more their suffering for not being in charge of their own flight, how they had to leave all their property behind since there was neither time for nor means of transporting household goods, how they were afraid and worried about their relatives away in different settlements, the difficulty of the journey, and their fear for their lives and goods. Many remember with bitterness how their small children got ill on the way and what sort of dire living and refuge conditions they had during their various stops on the way. One woman remembered and told with great shame how they had to sleep in an animal shed for some time and got ticks from the animals; to them the strongest symbol of having fallen into the status of animal-like living and conditions. This was a time of chaos and anxiety for all.

Within this chaos there seems to have been, however, many instances of humane relations and resistance to the overall politics of ethnic cleansing, too:

Shahnazarian’s informant Inga Grigorian, from Mingechaur, 14 years old at that time, reports: “I went to school and our assistant director Adilya Abdulovna told us: ‘All Armenians, could you please go back home. You need to be at home, just in case. I do not want to be responsible.’ I did not understand what was happening, I was so happy to miss my classes. But my mother started to cry loudly and she hid me in the big and tall pot for pickling on our balcony.”

Karina Chaliyan, 19 years old at the time, piano teacher in a musical school in Mingechaur reports: “Aydin Muällim, our school director, was extremely anxious and he became frightened. He felt respect towards all of the Armenian teachers, whom he knew and collaborated for so long. He called all of us and locked us in a special room. He did not give the key to any of those demonstrating guys, who wanted ‘to take revenge’ on Armenians and were asking him about the Armenian teachers. The crowds of people were shouting just in front of the music school. My father’s Azerbaijani friend accompanied me to and from school. Then we had to go out to Karabakh, to our ancestral village.”

The moment in question is remembered with distress, shock, and experience of loss and destruction during displacement. What women tell about the crucial moment of displacement is entailed in the stories of “gaçagaç” (flight, in Azerbaijani) and “phaxaphax” (in Armenian), which also emphasize the loss of valued property:

We lived in Baku in the Xutor settlement, where 15,000–18,000 people resided. My father-in-law wanted to save his only son, and we went to Yerevan before selling our house. My parents-in-law afterwards had to sell our house for 7,000 rubles, though it really cost 45,000 rubles. We had the good luck to have sold our house. Most of our relatives did not manage to do this at all. In Masis, we lived some time with my cousin’s family. But then we were forced to go to Karabakh because of many relatives who also came from Baku. So we fell into the fate of war and lost some years in Karabakh. We had dreamt to go out from there in 1992, as soon as Laçın was taken by the Armenians. In Yerevan we lived in poverty some additional years and then moved to Krasnodar. (Marina Balasanyan, b.1963, born in Baku)

“I did not want to sell my house to anyone; it was so dear to me. I had spent my whole life in that house. But there was no way out. I thought of selling the house to the daughter of my woman friend; we knew one another for a long time. I thought they would not cheat me; I was wrong. My friend stayed out of the negotiations; her daughter’s husband gave only half of the sum to me, the devil! I was already giving them so many things, without asking any payment, he wanted to have it all even cheaper. He showed me a knife. That evening I realized that it all came to an end, life came to an end. I lost my hope of returning at all. And that is how it really was: I exchanged my house in Mingechaur with three rooms for a house with a single room. I lost that one, too. But according to law that house still belongs to me… I lost so many houses, between 1988 and 1993, only God knows.”[6] (Laura, born in 1947)

Property owned and lost through displacement

Loss of property and especially of houses for which one had worked many years and was proud of is felt deeply by the Azerbaijani IDPs, too. The regions where the IDPs used to live were on the whole less developed, and that is why the IDPs only towards the end of the 1980s were getting prosperous. The economic improvements which were felt in other regions in perhaps the early 1980s reached them towards the end of that decade and they had, for instance, just finished building big stone houses, when villages became better accessible through proper roads. Those who had been accumulating for some years through their better off positions as kolkhoz technicians, agrarian, and husbandry specialists had access — even if with difficulty — to some luxury items like fancy mirror panels in their houses, many sets of beddings, new china, electricity within the house, and new water pipes for having running water within one’s garden. One woman regretted how her husband had spent many months laying the pipes for bringing water from a mountain spring, just before they had to flee from their newly renovated house. They had just started receiving the benefits of perestroika and opening as the war and displacement took everything away from them.

Those living in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Republic were not used to any different economic situation either. This was a depressive agrarian region with a weak economy, determined by both geographical and economic conditions, such as critical shortage of water in the majority of regions, due to the peculiarities of the landscape and primarily political reasons, such as insufficient financing of the peripheral region by the semi-peripheral capital Baku.

During the entire Soviet period the supply of essential goods and commodities was throughout difficult. Hence already in the Soviet times, facing uneven pattern of supply, people had to come out with ways of dealing with the deficit. Money had no purchasing power. The population had to “procure” the goods, making shopping trips to Agdam (the largest semi-legal trade center in Azerbaijan), Baku, Yerevan, or even Moscow. Only the local top elite, integrated into power structures of the government and trade industry, had access to manufactured goods. The rest could only have access to imported goods, acquired through people who were referred as “speculators” (individual and informal traders). Nevertheless, the shortage could not be covered to the necessary extent. Money was accumulated, but there was simply nothing to spend it on. Such conditions initiated people to buy, if an opportunity presented itself, non-perishable goods (soap, washing powder, various cereals, or sugar) in huge quantities, to store them up for future use, inventing, along the way, special rules of storage and conservation.

On top of this economy of shortage came the economic strains of the blockade. Peculiarities of daily life and ideas of hospitality played their indisputably positive role for surviving the blockade in Karabakh. An average family could usually feed itself modestly in everyday life (daily rations consisted of stored cereals: rice, pasta-vermicelli, buckwheat, tea, vegetables, cooked greens, often fried with eggs); but for guests, tables were served with culinary indulgencies. This practice, besides expressing respect and affection towards the guest, marked the “place” and “status” of the family in the local hierarchy, and the status of the married woman as a hostess (a good, far-sighted one, storing up for “the black day” and not thinking only of “today,” or a bad, short-sighed one, not thinking about tomorrow, indifferent, and a selfish consumer). The more elaborately and abundantly the table was prepared for guests, the higher was the prestige of the family, and the evaluation was passed on as word of mouth.[7]

Having no means to sustain oneself, being poor or indigent, was considered shameful. These concepts with all the corresponding facts allowed the population to maintain themselves during the difficult years of the blockade with the stored goods, preserved “just in case.” Some of the families Shahnazarian knows did not only avoid experiencing hunger during the entire period of war, but also adhered to the norms of hospitality and prestige, associated with receiving guests, despite the extreme nature of the situation. In some cases, this reminded a feast in the time of plague.

“We divided one candy into four parts, and drank a whole glass of tea with that one quarter of a single candy. And that’s the way it was day after day. But as soon as an outsider stopped by, mother would bring from the basement candy of the best Moscow confectioners, which neither of us knew she had, would proudly put them in a crystal vase, and treat guests not only with tea, but also with candy. People were amazed – where did she get it from? And that on the eighth month of the blockade? And approved, of course. That’s a real woman! Provident!”

Nevertheless, the goods were distributed highly unevenly, and a big part of the population faced the fact of hunger. Under the conditions of extreme scarcity of resources, the population intensively used natural resources of the environment. People ate wild mountain greens, which were extensively used before the war, as well, but was also considered low-prestige food and for the poor. These were considered spices to be added to the main dishes. During the blockade and the war, these wild greens became the basis of people’s menu. Thyme (a mountain herb) was used as a replacement for tea, while before the war, it served as an aromatic supplement to tea, and was used in its pure state for healing purposes only. Demand for such wild fruits and berries as cornel, blueberries, and rоsеhips, grew. The critical deficit of sugar was covered by bekmez — mulberry juice, boiled out to the state of thick dark-brown, almost black syrup (Armenians in Karabakh still perceive bekmez with disgust, as a reminder of the most difficult and humiliating years of their lives).

Amidst all these shortages and difficulties of procuring food, humanitarian aid sometimes failed to arrive; there was also some abuse of power in its distribution. Similar corrupt practices were experienced by the Azerbaijani IDPs. Money and construction material designed for the IDPs were “lost” in some bureaucratic channels; the IDPs at the end received only bare walls for their house and the rest they had to organize themselves. Their relationship to their ecology and environment reflects their deep resentment and loss of hope for getting resettled in those villages they were expelled from. Despite the fact that they live in an arid and low land area with hardly any vegetation, in contrast to the highlands and pastures where they used to keep their herds, the IDPs refuse to plant trees in this settlement even if they have been living there since 1992. To have a tree could be misunderstood as a symbol of settling and accepting one’s fate; they would rather suffer in the heat than plant trees.

III. Displacement becoming the routine

Distress and loss becomes the routine with time and part of the personal as well the local, regional, and national narratives of displacement. The distress experienced during the flight becomes a part of identity, especially as displayed towards others and as presented in official discourse.  “Pitiful” or “refugee” are the most common ways of addressing IDPs, and referring to their situation. But the use and exploitation of this detrimental status as IDP often arouses anger and resentment. Even if in daily and in official discourses refugees are to be respected and protected, people also resent them since they are thought to abuse their status and exploit their situation for access to special treatment and privilege in allocation of resources. They are often envied for receiving special treatment by the state, such as exemption from taxes, having slightly higher teacher’s salaries, and receiving some aid in goods and food.

Another issue is access to land and pastures. The rural land reform laws do not allow the IDPs to receive land in legal ownership in the areas where they have been resettled, since they are entitled to land in their home districts, which are, however, under occupation. They are allowed use rights in these resettlement areas especially from the land funds of the newly created municipalities. In areas of land shortage and land speculation, this privileged access of IDPs to municipal lands leads others who do not have this privilege to accuse the IDPs for misusing their own fate for access to state resources. So the IDPs face not only disadvantages through their having become IDPs but also face prejudice towards them, by those who assume unjust use of state support at a time when state support has become extremely rare and minimal.

Karabakh Armenians after the war came to experience difficult processes of social mixing, of inclusion and exclusion. Despite the urbanization and modernization that occurred during the Soviet era, there existed a special, respect-driven attitude of the Karabakh population towards tradition and the “ancestors’ customs.” With the war, while the sense of everyday life and reality was being distorted, there emerged an acute need of strict rationalization of life strategies, aimed at the long-term optimal results. Selfish individual interests were pushed to the background for prioritizing the social groups’ survival. Conflicts between individual interests and the ethics of duty were resolved in favor of the latter. The category of kin and the whole system of mystified kin-based relations was revived again. When the town of Martuni was subjected to bombardment by artillery units in neighboring Azeri villages, by tanks, and from the air, whole families started to escape into mountain semi-abandoned villages, which could not be reached by the bombardment. The urban population, which very recently took pride in its different, urban life style, was forced to peasant traditions of a mountain village.

“I was not really happy with the unsettled daily life in Martuni. But when my husband brought my one-year old child and myself to an abandoned village of a few houses, I realized that we were not doing well at all. We lived with the parents of his friend from the army. This family received us very warmly, but living conditions were unbearable. It was constantly very cold. In order to bring some water, one had to climb down a steep hill to a spring. I managed to go down somehow, got some water, but couldn’t climb back up. If not for the hosts’ daughter, I would have started crying.” (Informant K., born 1968, music teacher)

It was social networks that helped to rationalize and normalize the situation during the war as well as afterwards. The most forgotten links and connections were revived and used. The “blood kinship” factor indisputably worked, but at the peak of the national idea it was as if all the Karabakh Armenians became relatives. The receiving side (rural families) generously invited and accepted acquaintances out of patriotism and ethnic solidarity.

In comparison, this affinity that came into being between those who fled and got resettled among the local community as in the case of Armenians does not quite apply to the Azerbaijani IDPs in the IDP settlement. This seems to be due to the fact that the IDPs live separately from the local population and are politically distinguished from the contemporary village societies. The general political strategy is under the tension of keeping the IDPs for putting pressure on Armenia and the international community for reaching a peace agreement and for getting the occupied lands back; and on the other hand, the regime tries to meet their demands of a decent life and security as well. The IDPs in Bazar have their strongest social and political attachment to their homeland communities in the winter pastures of Laçın, where the largest group of IDPs from this and other regions lives. They have their burial ground there as well as the central place for their residential registry, which allows them to claim benefits and vote in elections.

Concluding remarks

In this paper we have tried to outline the complicated story of the conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, which led to the massive eviction and displacement of peoples from both countries. Although the nationalist discourses describe the sides as winners and losers, the actual depiction is harder to make. Processes of exclusion and inclusion follow not only ethnic and national markers but also inner/ethnic, class, and gender lines. Yet national discourses that dominate the state and international level politics and act as a controlling mechanism for social and individual action, limiting individual strategies for movement and access to resources and even their marriage strategies. Women and men are subjected to post-soviet economic changes in economy and society; their loss of social and economic capital as embedded in the former socialist regime and social and economic relations circumscribes their social and economic mobility as individuals. War, displacement and post-soviet changes all act upon women’s chances for familial and individual development; family and kin networks on the one hand act as support mechanisms but at the same time strengthen the formerly criticized but recently rediscovered patriarchal norms, values, and notions about women being placed at the core of family and society. The multiplicity and intertwined nature of post-socialist conditions with the effects of war and the stage of becoming an independent state in both of the cases seems to stifle women’s chances of developing strategies of coping with the consequences of displacement, especially in any cross-ethnic and international form. The national and international conflict solution processes seem to have an overriding weight in any action which would alleviate the conditions for the refugees and IDPs, despite the fact that at the individual and micro-level we have tried to illustrate in this paper, Azerbaijani and Armenian women and men’s fates are in may instances hardly distinguishable from one another.


[1] We would like to thank our colleagues for their comments and suggestions during the conference.

[2] For a full discussion of her ethnography concerning the IDPs and other rural communities, see Yalçın-Heckmann (2010 forthcoming) The Return of Private Property: Rural Life after Agrarian Reforms in the Republic of Azerbaijan, LIT publishers, Berlin.

[3] The conflict caused 160,000 Azeris and Muslim Kurds to be expelled from Armenia proper and 350,000 Armenians expelled from Azerbaijan. (See, Четерян В. Малые войны и большая игра. Кавказский институт СМИ. Ереван. 2003.с. 21). In other sources those Armenians expelled from Azerbaijan in 1991 are cited as being 450,000. (See, Dudwick N. “Postsocialism and Fieldwork of War”. In: Fieldwork Dilemmas. Ed. by H. G. De Soto and N. Dudwick. The University of Wisconsin Press, 2000. p.19.) In Azerbaijan today those who fled from Armenia have the status of refugee, whereas those who fled from the territories now occupied by Armenian forces (6 regions within Azerbaijan proper and the Azeris and Kurds of Karabakh) are formally considered internally displaced persons. Official figures for the total number of refugees and IDPs in Azerbaijan estimate up to nearly a million people.

[4] Here we should note that this designation “before and after the event” entails the overlapping of war and the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, with all the consequences of changing in state structures from being the Union’s republics to independent states.

[5] We think that tying a black scarf on one’s forehead should be understood as a symbol of Shia martyrdom, similar to the practice during the flagellations during muharremliq, mourning time for the death of Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law and his relatives. Such customs did not initially exist in Azerbaijan and primarily after independence people started imitating Iranian Shia for muharremliq (personal communication in 2005 with the late Azerbaijani ethnographer Attiga Izmailova). Hence the young men mentioned above probably were using symbols to express and evoke some imagined religious fervor.

[6]Men evimi heç kesa satmağ istemirdim, ele eziz idi menin ev menim üçün – bütün ömrüm o evde qeçdi. Ancax çıxış yox idi – dedim refigemin gızına satım. Bir birimizi çoxdan tanıyırdıx. Fikirleşdim ki aldatmazlar. Seif edtim. Refigem özü dala çekildi – onun yeznesi pulumun yarısını verdi, vicdansız – onsuzda bütün ev eşiyimi onlara goyurdum, evi de çox-çox ucuz verirdim. Mene puçax görsedti, daha çox şeyi istiyirdi özüne goysun. O gece men başa düşdüm ki – her şey gurtardı, yaşamağ gurtardı. Dala gayıtmag ümüdümü itirdim. Ele de oldu. Men o 3-otaglı evimi bir-otaglı ile deyişdirdim ele Mingeçevirde. Indi de ganun ile getsek menim orda evim var, bir otaglı. Onuda itirdim. Ne geder evler itirdim 1988-1993 – onu Allah bilir.”

[7] These values and norms apply equally to the Azerbaijanis. The IDP women in Bazar were all without exception lamenting their present condition for not being able to receive guests in an “honorable way,” for having had so many guests at such full tables formerly in their home country, where they were living in relative prosperity.

This paper is the shortened version of a longer article written by the same authors



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