by Ed Kashi
In 2013, Ed Kashi visited several camps in Western Azerbaijan, housing some of the estimated one million Azerbaijani internally displaced persons (IDPs), who are the on-going victims of the unresolved Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. By capturing vignettes of their lives and interviewing people in the community about their histories and aspirations, he demonstrated how IDP populations were surviving in the face of adversity. This work was later included in a book and exhibition that toured London, Berlin, Brussels, and Paris.
In October of 2017, Ed returned to Azerbaijan on a more upbeat mission – to capture the work undertaken to rebuild Jojug Marjanli, the first Azerbaijani territory to be liberated from Armenian control in over a quarter of a century. Azerbaijan armed forces were successful in seizing back this territory and withstood a determined counterattack by the Armenian armed forces. Azerbaijan is still trying to temporarily house nearly ten percent of their population, who remain as IDPs, in an orderly and decent manner. The government and local communities constructed a new town of at least 50 homes with another 100 on the way, proving the commitment of the inspiring people there. One man that he had met, 50-year-old Ogtay Haziyez, had only left his village of 25 years for a total of approximately 5 days prior to the invasion. Two young teachers who recently moved to Jojug Marjanli to raise their young families and teach at the primary school are inspiring examples of next generation pioneers for a new future.
Nagorno-Karabakh is the disputed mountainous region located between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Beginning in 1988, Azerbaijani troops and Armenian secessionists started a war, which left the independent state in the control of ethnic Armenians by the time a truce was signed in 1994. Since then, negotiations for a permanent peace agreement have become “frozen” and unresolved.
Christian Armenian and Turkic Azeris have populated the Karabakh region for centuries, living in relative peace until the early 20th century brought about brutality from both sides. Following WWI and Russia’s Bolshevik revolution, the new Soviet rulers (as part of their divide-and-rule policy) established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous region within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan. Decades later, in the 1980s, intense Armenian-Azeri friction turned violent after the region’s parliament voted to join Armenia. At this time, an estimated 20,000-30,000 people were killed as ethnic Armenians took over and occupied Azerbaijani land outside of Karabakh. After the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, Karabakh declared itself independent, which escalated the conflict into war.
3 years later, when a Russian-brokered ceasefire was signed in 1994, Karabakh and other Azeri territories were left to Armenian control. While the war was taking place, over one million people fled. Before the war, about 25% of the total population was Azeri. They fled Karabakh and Armenia as ethnic Armenians fled Azerbaijan, and both sides have suffered severe casualties.
A stalemate has been in place since the truce due to Azeri resentment over land loss and Armenian refusal to give back what Azerbaijanis believe is rightfully theirs. Russia, France, and the US have been working towards an end to the dispute.
Azerbaijan declared the new constitution approval from a 2006 referendum illegitimate. The peace process has slowly shown progress as Armenian and Azeri presidents meet. Over the last decade, the region has seen its fair share of struggles with violence and ceasefire violations.
The republic of Azerbaijan hosts a population of 9.6 million with Azeri and Russian as its major languages and Islam as its major religion. Azerbaijan’s main exports are oil and oil products.