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Family Of Gunman In Azerbaijani Army Shooting Wants Answers

Elxan Azizov's father, Bayali, says he believed his son was forced to shoot the officers, possibly out of self-defense.
BAKU -- Elxan Azizov was born and raised in the Azerbaijani capital. But the 20-year-old's grave is in Zeyva, in his father's native Ismaili region in the country's northeast.

Azizov died last week after he and a fellow soldier reportedly shot and killed four officers on their army base in Azerbaijan's western Dashkesan region.

Two additional officers were wounded in the January 28 shooting incident, which ended when Azizov and his fellow soldier, 19-year-old Sadiq Mammadov, either shot themselves or each other.

"He only had five months left to serve. Why would he do it?"
Few details are known about the incident or what might have prompted it, although rampant corruption and abuse are generally believed to contribute to a culture of violence and despair in the Azerbaijani military.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Azizov's father, Bayali, says he believed his son was forced to shoot the officers, possibly out of self-defense. "He wouldn't do it," he said. "He only had five months left to serve. Why would he do it?"

Bayali Azizov describes his son as uncomplaining. But he and other family members suggest that Elxan might have acted out in response to repeated abuse or hostility.

Elxan's aunt, Latafat, says her nephew was a person who "wouldn't tolerate insults." She adds: "He was forced to kill himself and others because of insults. We don't know exactly what happened. He took all his problems with him."

Many Azerbaijanis consider the Defense Ministry to be one of the country's most corrupt institutions. Despite Azerbaijan's oil wealth and a steady increase in state funding for the military, conditions at most army bases remain abysmal, with frequent reports of conscripts being subjected to hazing and ill treatment.

Plight Of The Poor

On the day of the shooting, Bayali Azizov says, Elxan called a cousin with a strange request. "Forty-five minutes before the incident, he called his cousin," he says. "He asked for a blessing from all of his family members; he thanked them for everything, and then he hung up."

Elxan's aunt, Latafat Azizova, says the army must investigate the case properly.
Family members were worried by the call, and Bayali Azizov resolved the next day to travel to the Dashkesan base. But then several men arrived at the house, asking questions about his son's psychological state. They left without explanation; it was only several hours later that Azizov learned about his son's death, from a TV report.

Television cameras were not permitted to record footage of either Elxan Azizov's body or his subsequent funeral on January 30. The family says it saw no trace of torture on his body. But Latafat Azizova says the burden is on the military to ensure the incident isn't glossed over.

"He had a bullet in his heart," she says. "He was safe and sound when we sent him there. We were supposed to get him back alive, and they sent us a body. We want this case to be investigated properly."

Bayali Azizov raised three children on a meager salary earned by doing odd jobs on Baku construction sites. The plight of poor families, who are unable to bribe themselves out of compulsory service, has also embittered the Azizovs.

Latafat Azizova says that if her brother had not been poor, Elxan could have avoided military service on an army base, and last week's tragedy could have been prevented.

"He raised his children through hard work," Latafat says of her brother. "We didn't have alcoholics, drug addiction, or psychiatric problems in the family. We worked hard to make a modest living. My son also served in the army. He was treated badly, and had ulcers, but he never complained."