Karabakh War Disabled Claim Shabby Treatment in Azerbaijan

Institute for War and Peace Reporting, UK
IWPR Caucasus Reporting #670
Dec 21 2012

Karabakh War Disabled Claim Shabby Treatment in Azerbaijan

Soldiers left permanently disabled by 1990s war say they don’t get the
care they are entitled to.

By Gular Mehdizadeh – Caucasus

Azerbaijan veterans from the Nagorny Karabakh war of the early 1990s
say they are often denied the free medical care and drugs they should
be eligible to claim.

Sumgait resident Ulfat Mammadsalahov, 40, was injured while fighting
in the Kelbajar district, which the Armenians captured in April 1993.
He lost the toes on his left foot, he still has stitches in his head,
and he is losing the cartilage in his leg.

`There are never any places free in the rehabilitation centres when I
contact them,’ he told IWPR. `That means I have to go to other
hospitals, but there are no services for the disabled there.’

There are 11,500 registered Karabakh veterans in Azerbaijan, and they
are entitled to free treatment there are 13 designated centres.

Officials acknowledge that former combatants are sometimes turned away
from treatment centres, but say this is because everyone wants to go
to the capital Baku, while rehabilitation centres in other parts of
the country often have unused places.

Saadat Yunisgizi, head doctor at the national Centre for Disabled
Rehabilitation, confirmed that places were hard to come by in Baku,
but said this was because people from elsewhere insisted on being
treated in the capital.

`Other medical institutions also send us patients. No one cares
whether we have space or not,’ she said. `It’s mostly people from
remoter areas like Astara, Lerik, Shamkir and Nakhichevan who come.
The ministry has opened excellent rehabilitation centres in the
regions, but for some reason everyone comes here. We can’t turn them
away, but that leaves the people who live here complaining about lack
of places.’

Saday Abdullayev, director of welfare at the Labour and Social Support
Ministry, said many people living in Baku were registered as resident
somewhere else, making it hard for the authorities to get a clear
picture of who lived where.

`No one is left in the regions. Everyone is moving to Baku,’ he said.
`The centres in the regions have modern facilities, each designed to
have capacity for 14 people. The problem is the big influx of people
to the capital.’

Firudin Mammadov, head of the Garabag Gazileri veterans’ group,
disputed the argument that all treatment facilities were up to the
same standard.

`In the regional centres, the treatment isn’t done properly, which is
why people come to the capital,’ he said. `Of course it would be
easier if people got treatment in their own areas. The demand exists,
but there isn’t the treatment.’

By law, the labour ministry is obliged to send the war veterans abroad
for treatment if there are no places available in Azerbaijan.

Abullayev said the government sent 85 veterans to the Crimea in
Ukraine and 30 to Bulgaria for treatment this year.

`We have a lot of applicants, so we try to send everyone in turn,’ he said.

Ilham Maharramov is among those who have travelled to Ukraine, but he
remains unhappy with care levels in Azerbaijan.

`I will be disabled for the rest of my whole life. My sole desire is
to live independently,’ he said. `Once a year the state pays for me to
go to a rehabilitation centre in Ukraine. Conditions at the centres
here are poor.

`I buy the medicines I need myself. A week ago I got back from
Ukraine, and received a bill for 120 manats [for medicines]. I had to
buy everything myself, although the state provides money for the
treatment of veterans.’

As he is in the highest category of disabled, Maharramov receives 273
manats a month in welfare and disablement payments. With more than 30
pieces of shrapnel remaining in his body, he spends 250 to 300 manats
on medicine and medical care every month, leaving him with nothing to
live on.

Azerbaijan’s ministries of health and labour declined to give figures
for how much they spend on disabled people, saying only that they
covered the costs of medicines, accommodation and transport for war

Rovshan Agayev, an economist with the Society for Assisting Economic
Initiatives, says spending levels need to increase.

`The welfare support given to disabled people doesn’t add up to half
the minimum amount required to survive, as defined by the state
itself,’ he said. `Disabled people have more outgoings than others. So
in view of that, their benefits are too low.’

Mammadsalahov was initially listed as `category two’ disabled, which
includes people with serious but not critical disabilities. He has
since been reclassified as category three, for those whose
disabilities are not so limiting.

`They explained this was because of an improvement in my health. When
I was in the second category, I received 210 manats [260 US dollars]
plus welfare benefits. Now I get 50 manats welfare and 90 manats for
being disabled. That’s 140 manats altogether, which isn’t enough to
feed my family.’

Gular Mehdizadeh is a freelance journalist in Azerbaijan.