Azerbaijan: the story of a woman left behind
It is one of the harsh realities of war that people disappear. In almost all armed conflicts, the overwhelming majority of missing persons are men, and the burden of trying to find out what has happened to them falls on women; the mothers, wives and sisters left behind. Vesme is one of those women. For more than 20 exhausting, painful years, she has been waiting for news of her missing husband.
Vesme was 25 when her husband went missing on a cold February day in 1992. They had an eighteen-month-old daughter and Vesme was pregnant with their son, who was born a month later. At the same time, she was studying at Azerbaijan Pedagogical University to become a kindergarten teacher.
Vesme developed depression when her husband disappeared. For six months, she refused to name her newborn baby, waiting for her husband to come and name his son. Eventually, she decided to collect her strength, face the challenges brought by the war and bring up her children. "I cried a lot," she says. "Then I understood that tears wouldn’t solve my problems. I had to bring up my children alone; my relatives were already suffering the consequences of the war and had enough problems to cope with. I decided to name my son and chose the Taleh." Her son’s name means “fate” in Azerbaijani. Vesme smiles when she talks about him.
She had to flee her native town of Fizuli in Nagorny Karabakh during the war. For many years, she experienced the hardships of a displaced person, finally ending up in the Azerbaijani capital Baku with her two children.
More than 20 years have passed since Vesme’s husband disappeared. She still hopes he is alive. At the very least, she wants to know what happened to him. Like many other relatives of missing persons, Vesme’s finds that "It’s difficult to survive the loss of a loved one, but it’s even more devastating not to be able to mourn at all or to take our children to his grave." Once, she even tried to bury her husband's clothes next to her father's grave, but found herself unable to do it. She still keeps his clothes and his musical instrument.
When Vesme heard about the ICRC’s psychosocial programme, she joined it without hesitation. She says participation in family group sessions helps her to escape the clutches of melancholy. "It’s good to know that someone is interested in you and is trying to ease your grief. And I see that I’m not alone – there are many families going through the same thing."
She says she detects a positive atmosphere when she comes to the ICRC. Maintaining contact with the ICRC about her husband also makes her feel that she has not given up on trying to trace him. "Our situation is similar to that of a family with a seriously ill relative who has little or no chance of recovery. Whatever the outcome, the family can draw comfort from knowing that they did their best to save them."