Sometimes it is easier for war survivors to recover from physical wounds than undergo psychological rehabilitation. Azerbaijan has been in a state of constantly aggravated conflict for several decades now. People continue to be killed and crippled in military flare-ups. While it is obvious to everyone that a physical injury needs to be treated, psychological trauma if often not addressed. As a rule, even people affected do not realize what is happening to them.
Psychological trauma experienced during war may develop over time into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is impossible to cope with on one's own.
Surprisingly, however, no one in Azerbaijan talks about post-traumatic disorder. Neither the state nor war-affected people pay due attention to the psychological consequences of never-ending armed conflicts, and this needs to be addressed.
Used to gunshots
It has been almost 30 years since the day the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh began. In 1994, both parties agreed on a ceasefire. Ceasefire violations, however, occur almost daily, and both military and civilians continue to be killed on both sides.
According to Azerbaijani official statistics, approximately 1 million people currently hold the status of internally displaced persons (IDP) from Karabakh. Those are people who did not fight, but "lost everything except their lives" in the war. This is how Salim Salimov, a settler from the Lachin District of Karabakh, described his situation.
Salim Salimov is now 65 years of age. When the war began, no one thought that it would last for so long. However, locals gradually got used to gunshots and scary news from neighboring areas.
On 13 May 1992, it was the Salimov family’s turn to leave their home. They fled with just the clothes on their backs, taking nothing with them.
"Leaving along the road was dangerous as well, therefore we had to hide all the time. It was not clear whether we would get out alive or not", Salimov recalls.
Rukhsara Jumayeva worked as a volunteer in a military hospital.
Once, after a serious operation (a young soldier's arm was amputated), Rukhsara could no longer sit back and stay at the hospital and went to the front lines. She wanted to help the wounded right on the battlefield. At the front, Rukhsara was nicknamed Tutu, which people still call her.
Tutu recalls that not an assault rifle, but a medical bag weighing 40 kilos was her weapon in the war.
"In one of the battles, we had 96 people wounded, dozens of people were killed, and our tank crewman Baloglan went missing. Nothing is known about him to this day," Tutu recalled. "Our guys stayed under snowdrifts on Murov Mountain. We retrieved our wounded men from under the snowdrifts, but not all of them. And now, every time it snows, I remember the guys who remained under the snow".
Road to the front
Journalist Rey Kerimoglu, a native of Karabakh, returned from the war with a second-degree disability.
He had hit mines twice while performing reconnaissance missions in 1992, and a year after he received his second wound, he was transferred to the reserve.
After his native Agdam District was occupied on 23 July 1993, Kerimoglu had to settle down in Baku.
The Soviet Union had collapsed, Azerbaijan had just gained its independence, and there were many problems including unemployment and a food shortage. But dealing with psychological trauma was the hardest thing.
"It was very difficult after the war. After all, we had gone through so many battles, so many people had been killed right before our eyes, so many people had been crippled. This is a great trauma for us", Kerimoglu says.
Kerimoglu says that the overall indifference of people around him made the situation even worse.
"You look around, you see absolutely indifferent people. They do not know anything about the guys who died in our arms or lost their arms and legs. Reconciling with it is even harder. This is yet another trauma for us", Kerimoglu says.
Nobody was warned
The symptoms of post-traumatic disorder are similar in different people.
"A person starts to behave the way did not behave before. For example, previously, the person was the life of the party, but you can no longer recognize them; they have let themselves go, they drink, and cannot find a job. That person has a need for therapy", explains Olga Zaporozhets, a licensed psychological consultant in Virginia, and associate professor at the School of Psychology and Counseling at Regent University. Meydan TV reporters contacted her after failing to find even one psychologist working on PTSD in Azerbaijan.
Neither Jumayeva, Salimov nor Kerimoglu received psychological help after the war. As a result, they all had difficulty adapting to post-war life.
"We have not been able to adapt, neither women nor men, and it is for this reason that it is difficult for us to communicate with children and neighbors and in society. We did not meet with or talk to psychologists. Nothing was explained to us", Tutu says.
Although she says that she perfectly understands how badly they needed the help of a specialist or a qualified psychologist, she believes that if people who had come from war had been at least told about PTSD in due time, they would have had a much greater chance of finding themselves in civilian life.
"It would be easier for us to adapt both in family and society", she says.
"The war took a lot away from me. For example, I have not been able to have a family I had dreamed about, and I have not been able to enjoy life, despite the fact that I was only 24 when I returned from the war," Kerimoglu says.
After returning from the war, Rey began working as press secretary for the Karabakh War Veterans Organization, and that is why he knows for sure that the government has not made any attempts toward the psychological rehabilitation of military personnel in Azerbaijan:
"Even if it has, it has only done it on paper. And for this reason, it was hard to deal with it on my own. Many of the guys continue living with trauma to this day".
Dealing with it on one's own is impossible
Psychologists explain that treating PTSD is not an easy process, and an individual approach needs to be applied.
"Every person’s case is unique. After all, you cannot say that everyone who enters your room will automatically trust you and that you will be able to understand everyone. We believe that it is very important to establish contact. It is important to understand a person's values, their way of thinking, what other problems they may have had adapting after the war or communicating with their close ones, and their family problems", Zaporozhets explains. But the main thing is that it is almost impossible to cope with PTSD, whose symptoms normally worsen even further over time, on your own.
Salim Salimov says that he has not even heard that there is a cure for all these symptoms that have become an everyday experience for people with PTS: insomnia, nightmares, sudden outbreaks of aggression, or loss of meaning in life. It is for this reason that he could not figure out the cause of his nightmares. He lives with the constant feeling that life has long been over.
"War took everything away from us, except our life. But I wish it had taken it away, too", he says.
"A person will never be the same as before, because war changes people, but all these symptoms can be alleviated", Olga Zaporozhets explains.
We were not able to find a psychologist specializing in the treatment of PTSD in Azerbaijan. There are no statistics in the country on how many people may be suffering from this disorder.
However, international statistics suggest that up to ten per cent of people in the world have symptoms of this disorder.
Produced with the support of the Russian Language News Exchange
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