The renewed risk of Azerbaijani IDP crisis caused by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

CC BY SA 2.0

By | Rachel Brooks

October 22, 2020

CC By SA 2.0, Taken in 2006, in Qareh Zia od Din, Azarbayjan-e Gharbi, Iran shows what life looks like in Azerbaijan after the first conflict. What will it be like after the second?


It was a crisis before, but with conflict raging once more in the Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani civilians now face unprecedented rates of becoming internally displaced once more. 

The World Bank documented the number of internally displaced Azerbaijani at seven percent of the country’s population as of July 2016. The internally displaced people of Azerbaijan are considered one of the most vulnerable people groups, states the World Bank. As of 2016, which was the era of the Four Day War, Azerbaijani Internally Displaced People or IDPs lacked access to quality infrastructure, social services, and jobs. 


In 2016, the World Bank Board generated $66.7 million in additional financing to support IDPS of Azerbaijan. These funds were transferred to the Internally Displaced Persons Living Standards and Livelihood Project. The project’s objective was to improve the living conditions of people displaced by the continued conflict. 


IDPs are Azerbaijani citizens of mixed ethnicity, including ethnic Armenians 

It is worthy of note that the IDPs of the current Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are of mixed ethnicity. In addition to ethnic Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenians who live in the conflict region, there is a mixture of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds who are caught in the crosshairs of the continued territorial conflict. 

Caspian News reports that the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan has taken into account the ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh as well. This was reported on October 8. 

Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Leyla Abdullayeva stated that the ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh are “citizens of Azerbaijan of Armenian origin” and would be granted all the rights of citizenship. She also told Voice of America reporters that “tens of thousands” of Armenians had already come to live in safety in the Azerbaijani territory.  

Yet, even with the rights of Azerbaijani citizens, the ethnic Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabakh are at risk of the same hardships that their Azerbaijani neighbors face due to the continued shelling of civilian settlements in the occupied region. Due to the conditions of the occupation, Nagorno-Karabakh, a legal territory of Azerbaijan, has a predominantly ethnic Armenian population.  

Realities of life for an IDP

A new reality sets in for the people displaced by the shellings of civilian settlements in the Nagorno-Karabakh and in residential Ganja. Yet, their new reality has been felt by many of their countrymen for years. Both Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenians who were displaced by the Soviet Union downfall-era conflict have lived as IDPs within Azerbaijan and surrounding regions for decades. 

Historically, IDPs and foreign asylum seekers in Azerbaijan have faced the issues of the war’s aftermath. Infrastructure’s destruction leads to many living in substandard housing and likewise it contributes to the problem of poor water source quality. 

Risks to Azerbaijan’s foreign asylum seekers 

In 2016, the Borgen Project commented on the fact that among the IDP people of Azerbaijan, there are also foreign refugees who are asylum seekers within Azerbaijan. Ethnically, these people include Afghans, Chechens, Pakistani, Iranians, Iraquis, Palestinians, Meshketian Turks who were deported from Georgia en massed by Joseph Stalin, and various others. Many of the foreign refugees sought asylum in Azerbaijan in the wake of regional conflicts including the Chechen Republic conflict. The Borgen Project was citing the Refugees IDP Committee of Azerbaijan, which reported receiving $1Bn in aid dollars to put toward the developmental program for those who are internally displaced in Azerbaijan, including the influx of immigrants and asylum seekers from the surrounding region. 

An ongoing problem since 2001, RefWorld stated that these foreign refugees were eligible for citizenship and faced no threat of expulsion from Azerbaijan. However, the infrastructure issues within the country created a scenario where there was no permanent accommodation for a mass number of these people. Despite the poor living conditions, these asylum seekers had mostly integrated into Azerbaijan as of 2001. There was not an accurate report at that time of how many of these people had become naturalized citizens. The issues of an ongoing period in asylum status and not as naturalized citizens had many of these people at risk of becoming stateless. 

The current offensive against the Nagorno-Karabakh, the seven occupied territories, and the whole of Azerbaijan puts at risk all of these foreign ethnic groups as well as the Azerbaijani population and Azerbaijan’s internally displaced citizens. 

ReliefWeb report on internally displaced people in Azerbaijan 

ReliefWeb stated that, at the close of the 1991-1994 era of the conflict which sparked at the end of the Soviet Union, 600,000 people were reported internally displaced in Azerbaijan. Relief Web quoted two of these people. 


“‘We don’t exist, this is not a life. We are ready to live with the Armenians of Karabakh and we have not forgotten our historical home there. But we won’t see peace for at least ten years, that’s why we want decent living conditions now.’ -Internally displaced Azerbaijani man, Goranboy region. 


‘I don’t need benefits, I’d rather have my compensation and integrate into society here in Baku. I’d gladly lose my status as a displaced person. The government should stop deceiving me that I’ll be able to return. So many people have already died since being displaced – and they have nothing to leave to their descendents. It’s my choice whether to return or not.’ -Internally displaced Azerbaijani man, Baku. “_____as quoted by Relief Web. 

Relief Web noted in the reported “Azerbaijan, Displaced and then discriminated against…”which published in 2007 that, in the 1991-1994 era of the conflict, the Azerbaijani government cooperated with the international community to provide immediate relief to those who were internally displaced. Yet, as time elapsed, Amnesty International found that these efforts were “protracted” and were not able to meet the need. Amnesty International made a specific note that the efforts were not able to rise to the occasion of the rights that IDPs had under international law at that date. 

If the conflict of 2020 era follows this pattern, then internal displacement within Azerbaijan could be forecast as a humanitarian crisis. 

A man plays piano amid the ruins of his life.

Reprisal of sorrow

The pattern of social discrimination alongside displacement has already been seen. In the wake of the bombing of Ganja, photos of the scene of IDP people’s issues circled via social media outlets such as Twitter. Armenian social media users attempted to discredit the photos. One example of this was the photo of a man who had lost his entire family to the bombing of Ganja. He was seen playing a piano in a photo taken of him shortly after the incident. On social media, it had been inferred that the photo was from the film “The Pianist” despite the fact that there were details that would not have been included in the film, for example the man is seen to be wearing a protective face mask common worldwide in the COVID-19 pandemic era. 


A glimmer of hope 

As the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resurges, there is a glimmer of hope for the people of the 27-year-long displacement. Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense has liberated from occupation neighborhoods of the Nagorno-Karabakh that were occupied during the end of the Soviet Union war. As liberation of these sites continues, many Azerbaijani hold hopes of returning to the lives that they lost during that era. Reports that former business owners, such as the owner of a cinema in the 1990s, will return to the townships they once lived in and resume their business just as they owned it before. 

Looking ahead 

The international community continues to pursue diplomatic talks. As conflict persists in the meantime, the risk of internally displaced people escalates. Civilian area shelling continued as of October 21, citing AzerNews. Recently shelled civilian locations include the general vicinity of Tartar. Addressing the aftermath of the shelling of civilian settlements, particularly that of Ganja, will be a major issue as both the region and the international community looks ahead to the future.

At the Truth Unpolished, we are examining every detail of the IDP crisis, as conflict continues. Look for more updates on the IDP crisis as it relates to Azerbaijani citizens, ethnic Armenian citizens of Azerbaijan displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh, and foreigners who escaped one war only to find another.