Around the world, Azerbaijan is seen as the victor in the 44-day Nagorno Karabakh war. But for scores of Azerbaijanis who lost their homes during the fighting, the atmosphere of triumph has been overshadowed by a growing uncertainty about what the coming months will bring.
Nasimi Huseynov, 41, is from Husanli village in Tartar, a district immediately to the east of Nagorno Karabakh which was badly hit during the fighting. Huseynov’s house was struck by heavy artillery on September 27, the very first day of the war.
Just hours before, Huseynov had sent his wife and young child - as well as his mother and sister - to the relative safety of Barda, a city in a neighbouring district further from the frontline.
He had returned to Husanli and was standing outside his house when it was hit. Although he was unhurt, most of the family’s possessions were destroyed. Having salvaged what he could, he drove the 20 kilometres back to Barda.
Since then, the family has struggled to find a place to stay, at times forced to spend the night in a tent or a relative’s car.
“We had very difficult times,” Nasimi Huseynov said.
Many other local residents also face an uncertain future.
During the fighting, Ulviyya Babayeva, a 31-one year old from Barda, volunteered to help distribute aid from Baku to families displaced from Tartar and Aghdam.
“There were people [sleeping] at most of the schools, which are far from the front line…people stayed in schools, kindergarten, cafes, restaurants, hospitals, private families and elsewhere,” she said.
There were at least ten families at most of these locations, and in larger buildings more than 50 squeezed into the available space, Babayeva continued.
Although some were allowed to stay in Barda’s schools for over two months, the building had now been evacuated, leaving many scrambling to find safe housing as the weather gets colder.
The government has taken some steps to address their precarious situation. Three days before the November ceasefire was signed, President Ilham Aliyev
signed an order to assess and repair property damaged during the war. A special commission was created, chaired by Prime Minister Ali Asadov.
“All houses destroyed during the war will be rebuilt at the expense of the state, damaged houses and lost property will be restored,” Aliyev
The Prosecutor General’s Office said that as of November 16, 3,410 houses and 120 apartment buildings were damaged during the war, as well as 512 privately owned properties were damaged.
Working groups are in the process of assessing the damage, with most of the 11 districts affected by the fighting assigned one committee.
However, the damage was so extensive in the Tartar region that three working groups had been dispatched, APA.az reported.
The head of the Tartar working groups, Gubad Heydarov, told APA.az that 796 damaged properties—including 611 private houses and 147 apartments - had already been inspected, with the survey nearly complete.
This still leaves hundreds of families in a difficult position, according to economist Toghrul Valiyev. He noted that based on the government’s track record of rebuilding homes following a major earthquake in 2012, and more recently the 2016 April War in Karabakh, restoration is a slow process.
“Today's events are even more devastating because they took place right before winter, and people can’t stay in those [damaged] houses. It is not clear how this process is going as it is a matter of allocating and distributing funds from the state budget,” he said.
Valiyev said that the ministry of emergency situations was allocated over 20 million manats (12 million US dollars) a year to deal with disasters, with these funds likely to be used to finance the rebuilding.
But he noted that this process would be launched at the same time the government planned to fund major infrastructure projects in the territories Armenia ceded to Azerbaijan under the ceasefire—potentially slowing things down.
“All attention and energy went to the liberated lands,” Valiyev concluded.
Some have already returned to their damaged homes.
Gulgun Gasimova, 28, said that she and her extended family had initially rented a house in the Barda region after her home in Tartar district was hit twice. But with money running low, they eventually decided to try and make do in what remained of their own house.
“They offered to let us stay at the school in Barda, but due to the coronavirus we said no. The number of cases is increasing, and I have kids,” she continued.
Gasimova, her two small children, her husband and her in-laws, are all now trying to live in one small room. The damaged windows barely keep out the wind and rain and the family struggles to find room to sleep.
Etibar Huseynov described a similar situation in his home in Aghdam district. Originally from Kalbajar, his family had already been displaced during the first Karabakh war.
Their home had been virtually destroyed during this latest round of fighting, with only one small room left intact to shelter the 58-year old and his wife.
Huseynov managed to send their sons to Baku as a temporary solution, but he and his wife have few options as winter approaches.
Their situation is complicated by the fact that Etibar has a chronic problem with his gallbladder and requires daily injections to treat his condition. On a fixed income of 240 manats a month, the family cannot afford to rent lodgings while they wait for the government to repair their house.
“Furniture, everything [has been destroyed]... We can’t live there. The windows and doors are broken,” he said. “The house is in bad condition.”
Valiyev, the economist, said that he feared people had been forced to leave the shelters too soon.
“People were returned to their homes right after the war. This is not right,” he said.
“The government should have planned for people to return to their homes after they were rebuilt—and paid their rent until that date. But unfortunately, they didn't do anything towards this.”
This article was produced as part of the partnership between Chai Khana and Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).