Schools threatened by exodus from Azerbaijan's villages

Photographer: Vahab Isayev
Edition: Rural Life
Topic: Children

Deep in the Greater Caucasus Mountains, the slow migration of people to larger towns and cities has created a crisis for villages like Alik, Jek, Gryz, and Haput. The four villages are slowly emptying out and the dwindling population has created a vicious cycle as schools close and residents seek more opportunities elsewhere.

Children from the village of Jek go to Alik to attend secondary school. But the only 10th and 11th grade classes in the area are 18 km away, in Khinalig. The lack of children means there is always a risk that more schools could close; the school in Alik is also in danger of shuttering in the near future. The situation means parents and children have to make tough decisions if they are committed to graduating from high school. For instance, families send their boys to live at the school in Khinalig. The girls, as there are no female teachers, must make the trip to attend in-person lessons.

Alik is located 226 km from Baku, on the right side of the Agchay River, at the southwestern foot of the Yan Mountains. It is one of the few remaining villages in Azerbaijan where people still speak Gryz, a Caucasus language that is unrelated to Azerbaijani.

Alik is situated 1670 m above sea level in the Greater Caucasus Mountains. Over the years, the dwindling population has led to school closures in the region. Today, children in Alik share their school with their peers from Jek.

Children from Alik travel 18 km to attend high school in Khinalig, a nearby village.

Students play at the primary school in Alik. Residents of Alik, Cek, Gryz, and Haput are part of an ethnic group that speaks Gryz, a Caucasus language that linguists worry is dying out.

Alik village is so remote many residents seek better opportunities in Baku and other cities in Azerbaijan.

The children rely on their parents to transport them to and from school.

Seventh grader Tural Hasanov walks home with his friends after school. Villages in the area have few resources and there is a concern that the constant migration of families from the region will result in fewer people speaking the local language, Gryz.

Local houses fall into disrepair after they are abandoned by families moving to cities and towns for better conditions and opportunities.

Tenth grader Aytaj Abdullayeva waits for her father to drive her from Alik to Khinalig to attend high school. Boys can stay overnight at the school but girls must make the drive to attend classes.

Sixth grader Elchin Abdullayev returns home from school. While there is still a primary school open in Alik, there are fears it will be closed due to the dwindling number of students. 

Elchin relaxes with video games after school. The migration of residents means fewer children living in the village to socialize with.

Natig Abdullayev gives his son, Elchin, his first Quran. The mosque in the village is closed due to the lack of people. This Quran is in Turkish; Natig will teach Elchin to read in Arabic as well.

Elchin cares for his white calf, Ağca (white in Azerbaijani) near his house.

Elchin works on his math homework after school. The diminishing population has resulted in school closures in the region due to fewer children and teachers.

The main area, where children gather and play games before moving from the village.

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