Despite war and displacement, in Azerbaijan the people of Nagorno Karabakh keep democracy alive

Qobu Park, in the north-east of the Lokbatan settlement of Garadagh district of Baku, Azerbaijan, is home to some 6,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), forced from their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh, in the south-west of the country, following the invasion and occupation of their homeland by Armenian forces following a period of instability and conflict in the region. The residents of Qobu Park are amongst no less than one million Azerbaijanis so-displaced by the conflict, and living in 110 such communities throughout the country.

On February 9th, along with their fellow citizens they went to the polls to elect their Parliamentary representatives as the country voted in a snap General Election. Although their homelands are currently occupied by a hostile military power, they continue to receive the same level of parliamentary representation and support as is the right of every citizen.

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As part of an international team of journalists, EU Today was granted unrestricted access to Qobu Park to observe the elections, and to speak with the displaced people of Nagorno Karabakh.

Despite the passage of time, and the stalemate in their homelands, these voters are very clear in their minds as to the purpose of the exercise; they are voting for their MPs, and they are, they are certain, going home. Maybe not this year, maybe not the next, but they are going home.

What do I want from my MP? I want him or her to come here and talk to me and listen to my problems. I don’t want money, I want to be heard, and I want to go home. My real hope is to return to Karabakh. I have been waiting 25 years.

One interlocutor, a former teacher, explained to EU Today how the people of Zangilan, a small town which during the fighting found itself surrounded by Armenian forces on three sides, and with the Aras river to their south. The civilian population were able to escape to safety in neighbouring Iran only after President Aliyev ordered a dam on the River, at 1072 km one of the largest rivers in the Caucasus, to be closed.

Having thus caused the flow of water to stop temporarily, Heydar Aliyev, the father of the current President of Azerbaijan, made the escape of his people possible in the most dramatic of fashions.

The night of October 29-30th (1993), when the Armenian soldiers came, was very cold. Armenia was backed by Russia, and we were very weak. I was a teacher, I didn’t even have a gun. If Aliyev hadn’t saved us by stopping the water we would have been like the people of Khojaly (where some 600 Azerbaijani civilians were massacred by Armenian forces on 26th February 1992).

In recent years the occupying Armenian government has been conducting a programme whereby Zangilan is being re-populated by Armenian refugees from Syria.

The people of Qobu Park, after many years of living with relatives, or in cramped emergency accommodation, now enjoy purpose built modern homes, and are generously provided for by the government. Modern well equipped schools and sports facilities are provided, and their youth enjoy the benefit of free university education. Their communities, whilst displaced, are at least together and safe.

Confidence in the government, and particularly in their President, is high amongst this community, and is seemingly universal. Their democratic institutions and processes, despite the ravages of war, have survived and continue to function.

However, as proud, patient and dignified as they are, whilst they fulfil their civic duties and elect their next government, one thought clearly preoccupies their minds above all others: they want to return to their homes.

We just want to go back to our homeland. We are not comfortable here. President Aliyev has promised he will get us home.

Read also: Generational change expected as Azerbaijan heads to the polls

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

Gary's latest book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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