Rattling wagons are a daily sight in a train terminal and Baku’s Bilajary Depot is no difference. Dozens of carriages clatter through the vast maze of tracks and control booths carrying oil and gasoline, Azerbaijan’s wealth. The labyrinth is also home to 25 families who live in dilapidated houses, where civil engineering meets desperation in a mix of wood, metal, and concrete.
Most of the residents are displaced from Zangilan and Djabrayil, which lie around the territory under the control of the army of the breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh. Since the fragile ceasefire in 1994, which enshrined the end of the conflict between the Armenian and Azerbaijan forces, the temporary relocation of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Azerbaijanis have become permanent - and their fate has fallen into oblivion.
The hazardous and unsanitary conditions of the slums means that many children are in poor health or endure long-term illnesses.
“The trains’ rattle pace our days and night, no one can sleep properly,” laments 34-years-old Maya Bakhshaliyeva who has lived all her displaced life in the depot. “When wagons pass, children wake up, scared.”
Bakhshaliyeva’s daughter, Narmin suffers from cerebral palsy. Unable to attend school, the 15 year old girl receives some level of education at home.“She needs constant care, in her conditions she cannot be left alone at any time'
“I also have developed an allergy,” says Bakhshaliyeva. “The stench and the invisible fumes of the oil and gasoline make me cough hard, I often feel that I am choking. ”
A large carpet hangs over one of the external walls in her house.“It is as fragile as paper,touch it and it will crumble.When trains run,all the walls start to shake and crack.I covered the wall with the carpet to hide the cracks.How long we'll live here?
The incessant noise and chronic smell ain't the only problems.Fuel is all around the depo but families do not benefit from it.There is no gas connection in the slums,electricity is scarce and,when available,wires are uncovered providing additional danger.
“Some time ago a fire burned down an entire house,” says Nazila Guliyeva, one of Bakhshaliyeva’s neighbours. “We were lucky. If the fire would have reached the trains, it would have been a catastrophe.”
Arzu Huseynova hails from Zangilan, one of the seven territories around Nagorno Karabakh which have been controlled by Armenian forces since the 1993. The 50 year old lives with her two daughters in a windowless shack.
Her 15-year-old daughter suffers from cerebral palsy and mental issues and is entitled to a monthly social allowance of AZN74 ($41.7)The benefit she receives is vital for the family.Huseynova notes that she is unable to work as she needs to look after her
Huseynova has another daughter of 13 years. “This is the environment where our children and grandchildren grow up,” deplores Gulzar Safarova, 57.
“This is unhealthy and dangerous. One must always have an eye on children as they play on the rails. Months ago an elderly man lost his under a passing train.”
Safarova’s family shares the decaying shelter with other two families - a total of seven people in three rooms
People patch the crumbling walls as much as they can - the rain makes it harder, when it rains water comes through the inevitable slots.
Along the railroad, a three-storey building houses eight families. Djabrail Djafiyev, 47, is one of them. “This is the former building used to oversee the wagons’ traffic in the depot, it burned down years ago..
When we fled our homes and arrived in Baku, gathered became IDPs we did not have a place to go somewhere, so we gathered together here and could create some conditions to live in.” The building is extremely precarious, it can collapse at any time.
“We applied to the Baku City Council asking to be relocated, this construction is dangerous and precarious but nobody has paid attention to our appeal,” complains Djafiyev.
Ruqiyya Bakhshaliyeva is also from Zangilan. Her shack is about 500 metres from the railroad.
“I am not educated, I do not know how to appeal for my rights, and in any case those who did file complaints received no answer, no attention,” says the 46 year old who lives in a train wagon in disuse. “In summer breathing is impossible.”
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