"Our" Chechens, or Russian refugees in Azerbaijan
Date: March 19, 2002
About situation of Chechen refugees in Azerbaijan
At first sight, there are barely any Chechens in the two-million- people Baku, but there is a "Cultural center of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria" in the courtyard of a residential building near the fifth hospital, where several hundreds of women, children and men get together every morning. The same picture can be observed in the center's narrow corridor - residency of the official envoy of the President of Chechnya in Azerbaijan Ali Asayev. According to him, there are around 9,000 Chechen refugees in Azerbaijan now, mostly in Baku because this is where their national representative office is and where they hope to obtain at least some assistance. "In Chechnya proper people have been deprived of the most important things - food and shelter. This is why they are coming here. Chechens are thankful to the people of Azerbaijan who have taken our problems as their own". Asayev himself has been here since January 7, 1995. "There are only 2-3 Chechens with their own businesses in Baku and they too are facing major difficulties due to their origin. The rest are simply starving. Azerbaijan itself has more than a million of refugees and widespread unemployment, therefore, we cannot blame the Azerbaijan government for not helping our refugees. We are seeking ways out of the problem with the aid of foreign humanitarian organizations - Arab, Finnish and Swedish".
The Cultural Center of CRI has no money. Asayev had a contract with Arab organizations, which were helping till the end of 2000. But the agreement ran out and the representative office has been unable to give people food for more than a year. It has been extremely difficult for Chechens to find a job in Azerbaijan even though they are ready to take up any work. Neither are Chechen refugees able to receive pensions or other legal social allowances. The representative office is trying to find affordable accommodation for Chechen families on the outskirts of Baku. However, the families are often ousted from their apartments on grounds that they don't have registration. Many others are even unable to find temporary lodging. "I think a deliberate campaign has been launched against us. People are saying that we are thieves, not trustworthy, etc. In reality, however, we lease apartments on written agreements and the representative assumes responsibility for the apartments", A. Asayev explains. Azeri frontier guards let Chechens enter the country after checking their documents. However, the old Soviet passports and temporary Russian documents Chechens bring to Baku are not good enough for a temporary registration in the Azeri capital. In Russia, the Chechens who are poor and not close to the administration are being denied passports for leaving the country abroad, while what they do get is not enough to obtain a visa to Baku, Turkey or any other country. A. Asayev has even asked President Aliyev to accommodate Chechens with such documents and to issue an order not to impede their registration and staying in Azerbaijan. The President did instruct his employees. This happened before the start of the second Chechen war. Today the documents Chechens have are again considered illegitimate. "It has happened that entire families were evicted and we couldn't find them any other accommodation. In the past few months I have been unable to meet with executives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, while the Prosecutor's office is categorically refusing to talk to me".
A. Asayev has repeatedly met with the Minister for Interior, who then issued instructions to his staff, but the problem of a temporary registration of Chechens still remains a heavy burden. Chechen refugees have serious difficulties with the Ministry of Health. All medical clinics in Baku are self-sufficient, while refugees have no money. Therefore, the CRI center, which sends sick people to various medical institutions, has major arrears to clear. One of those waiting for assistance at the representative office is Malika Dudayeva from Grozny, a mother of six. Speaking about her story she could hardly hold back tears: her brother was killed when a refugee camp was bombed. Their house has been completely burnt. When she was leaving Chechens, Russian soldiers brutally tore her earrings off her ear lobes. Her fingers were bashed before a golden ring was taken off. The woman lost her consciousness and was found in the street and taken to hospital. After the soldiers beat her for the second time, Malika took her family to Azerbaijan. "On the Azeri border, she is saying, there were no problems. I was registered in Baku. We now live in a cellar for AZM150,000 a month (around $40). There is no more money left. I have sold everything I had at a low price and I don't know how I will feed my kids and pay for the accommodation. My children can't walk because they are hungry, my sick daughter is without medicines, the UN and Russian "Red Cross" have not provided any help, and there are no relatives or acquaintances here."We have simply given up and are not addressing government bodies for help any more. We feel that the Azerbaijan government just wants to get rid of us. I am sure that President Aliyev is unaware of our difficulties", A. Asayev says. "We are given a warm welcome only in Georgia, Ingushetia and USA. They have got to recognize me as an official representative, as I am here on an assignment on behalf of President Aslan Maskhadov. I have been received by President Aliyev and other Azeri government officials. But this was the case at the time of the cease-fire with Russia, while as soon as the new war erupted, we started to face serious problems", Asayev says. "Nevertheless, I am hopeful that Azerbaijan, a member of the Council of Europe, will not ignore the needs of refugees who have found refuge in the Azeri soil".
When thinking of what has been said and shown in the meetings with "our" Chechens, one feels that they speak very kindly of ordinary Azeri nationals and suffer a lot from the bureaucracy and indifference that they encounter in our government institutions on a daily basis.