Baku, Azerbaijan – As soon as evening falls, there is the sound of walking on the cool evening breeze. The women filled the courtyard of a small house, on top of a coffin wrapped in national flags. The men grouped into hushed groups in the narrow ally outside.
Ahmadli’s working-class neighborhood in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, was mourning his first martyr son since the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the southern Caucasus three weeks ago. Elder Aliyev, 26 years old and a volunteer soldier in one of Azerbaijan’s largest finance companies, spent barely two weeks before returning home in a coffin.
Azerbaijan has not released military casualties, but funerals are underway, bringing home the men of war. Mr. Aliyev as well as an army colonel were also buried in Baku on Sunday.
“If the nation says so, it has to go,” said Mr. Aliyev’s father, Suleiman Eldar Aliyev, standing against a wall and leaning on a crutch. He had a deep glow on his face, he had few words. “Long live the nations,” he said.
Azerbaijan is in full war mode as it engages in the heaviest fighting since the original conflict with Armenia in the early 1990s on the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian district inside Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan then suffered a 20% defeat, with 26,000 dead and 26,000 dead and about 800,000 displaced.
It is for this reason that matters stood for 26 years of frozen trusses, which were periodically interrupted by spasms of violence, which were quickly dissipated by external forces. But Azerbaijan, an oil-and-gas-rich former Soviet republic, has been quietly following for years. When the skirmishes occurred three weeks ago, the country plunged into an all-out war to reclaim its lost land.
Around the capital of Baku, it is not difficult to show signs of war fever. The country’s bright three-color flag hangs from every public building, while giant screens along the main streets play terrifying video footage of precise drone strikes on Armenian soldiers. Every few days, President Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled the country since receiving his inheritance of office from his father in 2003, talks to the nation and announces the names of the villages and towns that the new “liberated” has been done.
“The Azerbaijan army has shown its strength,” said 36-year-old Anar Mamedov, a cousin of a volunteer soldier buried in Baku on Sunday.
“We will continue until we liberate the last piece of our land and at the end I would like to note that everyone would understand Azerbaijan.”
“We all waited for it,” he said. “We were waiting for Ilham Aliyev to order.”
Azerbaijan is a tightly controlled society where dissatisfaction quickly dissipates. Criticism of war, where it exists, is silence. Yet the general mood is heavy. In several interviews, the Azerbaijanians expressed their frustration that despite repeated UN resolutions in favor of Azerbaijan, peace efforts led by France, Russia and the US never brought any resolution.
“This is not Aliyev’s war,” said Zaur Shiriyev, South Caucasus analyst for the International Crisis Group, in reference to the president. “This is the war of all people.”
Mr. Shiriyev stated that many Armenian and Western officials working in the region had never fully understood how significant the loss of both life and territory is to Azerbaijan.
An award-winning investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, who was jailed by the Aliyev government for her work in 2015, said that she and other activists were postponing dissatisfaction while the war broke out. “You keep it down because the soldiers are dying there,” she said.
But she said that she could feel the popular anger building in recent months as the Armenian side took an increasingly aggressive stance. “I’m usually quiet about politics,” he said, “but I Was angry. “
In a dilapidated, half-finished school building in the northern suburb of Baku, more than 1,000 refugees still live in cramped, uneven conditions, where they first found refuge from war decades ago. Their rooms are divided by glazed plywood walls and occupants and hung along a narrow underground corridor for cooking and hanging.
“Everybody lost hope with the peace discussion,” said 34-year-old Uleria Suleimanova, who lives in a moist set of rooms with a family of eight growing up that smelled of sewers below. “Our president offered peace for years, but nothing changed.”
But now he has reason to celebrate. Both her family and her husband are refugees from Jabrael, a district near the Iranian border. He took out his cellphone and played a video of Azerbaijan soldiers a day earlier when he raised the national flag on a bridge near his village.
“Since 1993, we were called refugees, but now our land has been freed, we are no longer refugees,” she said. “We have proof. We saw bridges and flags at Jabril. Certainly when we see these things we are very happy. I was 7 years old when we left. “
For Ms. Sulemanova, there is no doubt that she will return home. In Baku, she works in cleaning houses and her husband sells security cameras. But the work has dried up with coronovirus, and they are struggling, she said.
“My grandfather owned land, we had fruit and vegetable fields,” he said smartly. “Now it was not so, this poor life.”
Many of Azerbaijan’s refugees come from agricultural villages and towns in seven districts, including Zabrill, which surrounds Nagorno-Karabakh, which was mainly populated by ethnic Armenians and was always the focal point of the dispute between the two countries.
The districts are now largely abandoned except for military defenses. The withdrawal of the occupation of Armenian troops and the return of Azerbaijani refugees has long been regarded as the first step in any settlement negotiations.
The Azerbaijani army has tried to push back the Armenian troops by force, which focuses on the three districts of southern Iran, Fizuli, Jabrael and Zengilan, which is Iran. On Tuesday, President Mr. Aliyev announced that troops had secured the Third District of Zengilan, although a spokesman for the Armenian government said heavy fighting was on.
The declared occupation of some of their home districts has evacuated the refugees, but also brought back painful feelings.
“We were crying and smiling at the same time,” said Ulkar Allahvaradiev, 78, a refugee in the abusive school building that lost her husband and a son to battle. A widow with five children, she worked as a cleaner in a school, but lost two more daughters as a refugee. “I was working day and night,” she said. “I was afraid of my own shadow.”
A teenager lay on the couch sleeping next to her. “His uncle and his neighbors went to war and we could not reach them and we are worried about them, so we are taking care of him,” she said.
Her memories from the earlier conflict were crowded. “It makes him tough,” he said. “Our children are martyred and I am very worried. They are all my children. “
But he said that he supported the war. “Of course, I want to see peace. I don’t want people to die, but it is definitely worth it. “
Along the underground passage, another refugee, eager to talk, opened the door to a cramped single room, where his wife and two sons have been living for two decades. Ceyhun Seymur Khudiyev today is a ghost town from the city of Agadam, which is under Armenian control. But he was fired with confidence.
“I believe we are going to get our land back,” he said. “Justice is taking its place.”
Even refugees who are able to build businesses and buy property have started planning to return to their homes, 26-year-old Eldar Hamzali, whose family comes from Fizuli.
He pulled out a page from Google Maps to show his family’s home and land. Although the government has said that it has made Fizuli very safe, the village from which Mr. Hamzali’s family comes, is clearly not under Azerbaijan’s control. However, he said that his uncle had already decided where each would rebuild their homes. He said that Mr. Hamzali has also been asked to calculate the cost of transportation of the remains of relatives who were killed in exile for rebelling in the village.
“The feeling that you are temporarily here never left us,” he said while developing his life in Baku. “I think I can get some peace.” Here I am a guest, but this is my village. I think I would feel a lot safer. “