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End Of The Line
August 24, 2007 13:07 GMT
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Azerbaijan - IMISHLI, Azerbaijan; August 24, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- For the past 14 years, abandoned cattle and freight cars sitting on decommissioned railway tracks in the town of Imishli, 250 kilometers southwest of Baku, have served as makeshift homes for hundreds of Azerbaijanis displaced by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service traveled to Imishli to look at conditions in the camp.
Azerbaijan -- map for Karabakh IDP slideshow - International monitors say there are 690,000 internally displaced persons, or IDPs, living in Azerbaijan. Nearly all are victims of the country's 1988-94 war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabkah, an ethnic Armenian enclave located within Azerbaijani territory. More than a decade after a cease-fire agreement ended hostilities, the dispute remains at an impasse.
Azerbaijan - The Imishli camp is home to some 460 families from Jabrail, Kelbajar, and Fizuli, all Azerbaijani regions currently occupied by Armenian forces. Residents of the boxcar settlement refer to it as "achig lager" -- a combination of Azeri and Russian words meaning a prison or concentration camp.
Azerbaijan - IDPs are entitled to small monthly allowances of food provided by the United Nations. Residents complain the food often arrives months past its expiry date because of bottlenecks in Baku. The train cars themselves are likewise neglected. "Do you see how this wagon is rotting away?" says Gulgez Akhmedova, a woman in her 60s. "The people here are rotting in the same way."
Azerbaijan - Energy-rich Azerbaijan has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with projected oil earnings of $160 billion over the next two decades. Little of that wealth is visible in places like Imishli. Although the state provides for electricity and other basic services, residents receive state subsidies of just $13 a month.
Azerbaijan - A single well provides bathing and drinking water for the more than 1,000 people living at the Imishli camp. Local doctors say there are frequent outbreaks of waterborne illnesses and stomach ailments at the camp due to contaminated water supplies. Occasionally the well dries up, leaving residents no option but to walk several kilometers to retrieve water in the Imishli city center.
Azerbaijan -- boxcar refugee slide show 22Aug2007 - Small attempts to beautify the otherwise bleak surroundings are visible throughout the camp. Many families add low-tech balconies, gardens, and other additions to their boxcar homes.
Azerbaijan - Camp residents keep ducks, chickens, and other poultry as a way to supplement their diet. This represents a potential health hazard, following an outbreak last year of bird flu in the neighboring region of Salyan. The World Heath Organization in 2006 reported five deaths in Azerbaijan related to the H5N1 virus.
Azerbaijan - The rusty boxcars provide little shelter from either freezing winter temperatures or scorching summer heat. An intense heat wave sent this year's summertime temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius, even in the shade. At night, many residents throw aside mattresses and other bedding and sleep directly on the metal floors of the railway cars in an attempt to stay cool.
Azerbaijan - The only place to seek relief from daytime heat is directly underneath the rusting train cars. Baku says it has plans to relocate the Imishli IDPs to a new location. Some oppose the move; others are grimly resigned. "We live in hell," says Gizbes Asadova. "If they can return our land, fine. Otherwise they can take us to any hell they want. In the end, it doesn't matter. Either we die here or we die there."
Azerbaijan - Although most of the Imishli camp residents are unemployed, roughly 10 percent have found work at the train station or in the town. To move now, they say, would mean starting from scratch. Relocation would also put a massive burden on the camp's hundreds of elderly and ill residents. Nearly every family has at least one member suffering from illness.
Azerbaijan - Many children have been born at the camp and have never known another life. Five-year-old Mehriban lives with her parents and her three older brothers, all of whom work as shepherds. It's a common option for older children in the camp looking to help their families. The pay, however, is meager: just $0.25 per animal per month.
Azerbaijan - Work often takes the camp's children away from school. For those still able to study, each day begins with a long walk to the city center, where the school buildings are located. None of the camp's children have ever gone on to study at university. (Story by Babek Bakir; photographs by Hijran Babayev)
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