Ethnic Conflict and Forced Displacement: Narratives of Azeri IDP and Refugee Women from the Nagorno-Karabakh War

Article excerpt

Abstract

The region that now constitutes the Republic of Azerbaijan has witnessed a lengthy history of conflict between Azeris and ethnic Armenians living in Azerbaijan. This longstanding conflict has had severe consequences for Azerbaijan, and Azeri women have been especially affected as hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes and now live as refugees or as internally displaced persons (IDPs). In this article, I examine Armenian-Azeri ethnic conflict and the plight of Azeri IDP/refugee women both in social historical context and through fieldwork that I have been conducting in Azerbaijan. ! first establish the broader sociopolitical context by providing a social historical overview of this ethnic conflict, including the NagornoKarabakh War, which began in the late 1980s and which has continued under cease-fire since 1994. I then elaborate the qualitative field research that I have been conducting in Azerbaijan to explore issues related to the forced migration of Azeri women who became displaced as a result of this ethnic conflict. Through compiling narratives and oral histories, I provide Azeri refugee and internally displaced women a "voice" and I capture, through their own thoughts and words, the essence of war and of living in displacement, the essence of the difficult and challenging life experiences that they confront and the ways in which they cope with displacement.

Keywords: Azerbaijan, women, refugees, oral history

Introduction

Azeris and Armenians share a lengthy history of ethnic-based territorial conflict. The most recent episode of this on-going ethnic friction began in the late 1980s and subsequently erupted into a full-scale war in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent districts within the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. In this article, I focus on Azeri women-refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)-from the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Although there is an extensive body of published research and commentary pertaining to various aspects of the war, which has continued under cease-fire since 1994, there is no substantial sociological literature in English that provides detailed accounts and insights into the experiences of Azeri IDP/refugee women. My research, in turn, is especially timely and significant as I examine IDP/refugee women's experiences and their perceptions of the war and of forced displacement as expressed through the women's own words, through their own personal narratives and oral histories.

In the first section of this article, I set the broader context with an overview of Nagorno-Karabakh, a social historical account of Armenian-Azeri ethnic conflict, and a review of significant events in the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Given this social historical backdrop, in the second section of this article I focus specifically on fieldwork that I have been conducting with IDP/refugee women in Azerbaijan, and I employ Azeri IDP/refugee women's narratives and oral histories that I compiled to explore how women perceive the war and their forced displacement and how they deal with their continuing plight as IDPs/refugees.

Section One: Nagorno-Karabakh and the Social Historical Context

Geographic and Demographic Overview

Central to Armenian-Azeri ethnic conflict is the Nagorno-Karabakh region located within the southwestern borders of the Republic of Azerbaijan. (See Map-1 below.) Referred to in English as Nagorno-Karabakh, "Nagorno" is a Russian word meaning mountainous, and "Karabakh" is an Azeri word meaning black garden (fertile or fruitful land). The Azeri name is Daghliq Karabakh (or Daghliq Qarabagh), and Azeris frequently refer to this region simply as Karabakh. Approximately 1,700 square miles (4,400 square kilometers) in size, NagornoKarabakh is mountainous, surrounded by lower plains used for agriculture. Indeed, prior to the war, the broader region accounted for about one-third of Azerbaijan's agricultural land. …

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