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Families of war dead protest ‘flooded graves’ in Azerbaijan

29 January 2021
The cemetery in Baku’s Garadagh District lies on the side of a road. Photo: Farhad Mehdiyev.

The family of 17 soldiers from Baku’s Yasamal District killed in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war have continued to protest the burial of their loved ones in a cemetery that they say is not fit for purpose.

The Second Karabakh War began on 27 September and lasted 44 days, leaving 2,855 Azerbaijani soldiers dead.

The group have been protesting since 29 December that their relatives were not buried in Yasamal District’s Second Alley of Honor cemetery.

The families say their loved ones were buried without their permission in a ‘swampy’ area of the Sadarak Cemetery. They say the site, near the side of the road, has been flooded with groundwater.

On 25 January, a small group blocked Baku’s Tbilisi Avenue and Parliament Avenue in front of the Defence Ministry demanding a meeting with Defence Minister Zakir Hasanov.

‘We have sent a request to the Yasamal District Executive Power to bury our children again in the Second Alley of Honor or in a park in the Yasamal District,’ one of the protesters said on Wednesday. ‘We were told they would respond within a week.’

The second Alley of Honour. Photo: Sharg newspaper.

 A Representative of the Yasamal District Executive Power said that the families would receive a response by 3 February. The protestors have stated that if the issue was not resolved within a week, they would bury their children elsewhere.

Graves sinking in water

On 26 January, police prevented family members from exhuming the bodies of their relatives. The families said they had discovered that their relatives’ graves had filled with groundwater. 

Several of them continued their protests at the cemetery overnight and a representative of the Baku City Executive Power who came to meet them was turned away by the protesting parents.

‘The families of the martyrs have been silent for four months and were trying to resolve the issue calmly’, one of the protesters said.

‘We wrote to the ombudsman, [vice president and first lady] Mehriban Aliyeva, the president, of all possible relevant agencies. But there have been no results. Everyone promises, but there is no resolution in the end,’ said Durna Aliyeva, whose son-in-law Huseyn Tagiyev died during the war.

‘Every time the water floods, they bring sand and pretend to fix it. But it’s a swampy area, it can't be fixed,’ she said. 

Farhad Mehdiyev, a Professor of Public International Law and public figure, claimed on Wednesday that after a ‘fact-finding mission’ to the cemetery, he had found no groundwater in any of the graves. He said the area was not a swamp and was on a slope. 

‘I dug 30 cm deep near a grave, and even half an hour later there was no accumulation of water. Some of the graves were flooded because the cemetery was unfinished’, he wrote on Facebook.

He also claimed that the real reason the families were upset was that the graveyard was further from the families’ homes than the Yasamal Second Alley of Honour. 

Mehdiyev said that the head of the Yasamal Executive Power may have been responsible for the unfinished state of the cemetery, speculating that he may have wished to save money from the district budget or to misappropriate it.

‘Whether the graves are relocated or not, they must be repaired immediately in any case. Another solution would be allowing families to move the graves wherever they wanted’, concluded Mehdiyev.

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