Is there a way to end domestic violence in Azerbaijan?
Domestic violence in Azerbaijan often appears on the agenda and sparks heated discussions and, in some families, it has even become a normal occurrence. One video that has been shared recently on Azerbaijani social media caused a wave of outrage in the country but failed to bring about a meaningful change leaving people to wonder whether it is possible to end domestic violence in Azerbaijan.
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Quite recently, one of the most discussed topics in Azerbaijan was the event that occurred in the village of Yukhary Nyuvadi, Lenkoran region. The video recording that depicted it showed a mother-in-law beating a young woman and caused a wave of outrage in Azerbaijani society.
After some time, the State Committee for Family, Women, and Children Issues announced that an investigation of the incident had been launched and the issue had been transferred to the law enforcement agencies.
However, a few days later, 75-year-old Girdyanaz Gurbanova and her daughter-in-law, 31-year-old Ramziya Gurbanova, said that there were no issues between them. After this statement, no news came from this family, and it is still unknown how the investigation of the law enforcement agencies ended.
Statistics – the tip of the iceberg
As per the official data released by the State Statistics Committee, in 2020, 1,260 cases of domestic violence were recorded in Azerbaijan. This is 3.7% less than in 2019. The number of victims of domestic violence in comparison to the previous year also decreased by 4.3% and amounted to 1,300. Of the total number of victims, 75.9% were women, and 1.2% were minors. The death toll from domestic violence increased by 34.1% over the year and amounted to 59 people, including 41 women.
Experts unanimously argue that official statistics are just the tip of the iceberg. They state that in reality, the number of victims is much higher, however, they remain unrecorded as due to the existing stereotypes and stigma attached to it many victims choose not to seek help from the authorities.
“Silence of victims is the biggest problem”
The hardest issue related to domestic violence in the country is the silence of victims, says Mehriban Zeynalova, head of the “Təmiz Dünya” (“Clean World”) women organization.
“Education, services, and mechanisms of punishment are important in the fight against domestic violence, they are all very necessary. For example, there is a 102 service, the 860 hotline where the victims can call to report domestic violence, receive first aid and consultation. The State Committee for Women, Family, and Children has 11 centers in the regions, and almost 10 shelters are currently operating in the country. Monitoring commissions work at the local level under the executive authorities; they have the authority to assess the situation directly in the houses where victims of violence live. If the message is received in a timely manner, it is possible to prevent violence at the initial stages”, the human rights activist said in an interview with one of the local TV channels.
In recent years, the means of preventing domestic violence have increased, Mehriban Zeynalova said. However, in most cases, victims of violence still prefer to remain silent.
“Considering all this, witnesses of domestic violence also have the opportunity to inform the relevant authorities, and they must respond to such reports”, Zeynalova said.
In 2010, Azerbaijan adopted the Law on Domestic Violence. In the early years, the efficiency of it was low, but since 2016, the government has launched a number of measures designed to improve the mechanisms of operation of this law. In 2020, the President of Azerbaijan approved the National Action Plan to Combat Domestic Violence for 2020-2023.
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“I was beaten up by people from whom expected love and compassion”
In an interview with JAMnews, G.A. said that she was subjected to psychological and physical abuse from a very early age:
“As an adopted child, I have never seen compassion. At home, they fought a lot, and my parents took out their anger on me. My stepmother is my own mother’s maternal aunt. In other words, I grew up in the family of my biological mother’s aunt. The stepmother never had children, and they decided to give me to her so that she would not divorce her husband.
When I visited my own mother, I wanted to kiss her and she pushed me away. I was hungry for love, but every time I expected compassion, I got hit”.
“I couldn’t answer my phone while I was with my friends”
G.A says that during her high school years, she would get beaten because she would get too tired and wouldn’t hear her mother calling her:
“Back in the day, ice cream was sold in glass jars. She hit me on the head with this jar while I was sleeping. I woke up and did not understand what was happening. Mother lifted me by the hair and began to beat my head on the floor, I started to bleed.
My mother called my father and told him to take me to the hospital. On the way, my father warned me that if I told someone about what had happened, the police would arrest me. I was silent because I was scared”.
She thinks that her parents kept her under control not because they loved her, but because of their concern for their reputation among other family members: “When they’d call me from home and I was out with my friends, I wouldn’t pick up the phone because I knew that they would scold and insult me, I was ashamed of it”.
“A child who is protected at home can learn self-defense on the streets”
The adult victims of domestic violence are often those who have experienced violence from an early age, says psychologist Jamila Rahimli.
“You cannot beat a child for the sake of his mental (sometimes physical) health. If we all realize that, we can then start talking about psychological abuse.
Psychological violence is a kind of behavior and, of course, it does not only apply to parents, but the most painful, perhaps, is the violence perpetrated by parents”, Rahimli posted on her Facebook page.
The psychologist also emphasizes that the danger to a child does not always come from outside: “It makes no sense to protect a child on the street if at home he is abused by brothers, sisters, grandparents, or other relatives. A child who is safe at home will learn self-defense on the streets”.
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Escaping to Turkey
G.A. says that at some point in her life she thought about the possibility of suicide:
“My friends were very worried, every day they called to find out if I was alive or not, and I was determined to commit suicide”.
But an unexpected offer made her change her mind:
“The guy I was in love with offered to run away to Turkey with him. We met in Baku, but he worked abroad. I bought a ticket, and I mustered all my courage and decided to escape. In fact, I didn’t run out of great love for him, I wanted to save myself from my parents”.
“I felt happy but only until we started arguing with his mother. She did not want to see me near her son. After some time, due to a street fight, they began to look for my boyfriend. We were forced to return to Baku so that he would not be arrested in Turkey”, G.A explains.
But at the border, the man was detained, and the court sentenced him to five years in prison.
After returning to Baku, G.A. found out that she was pregnant and she is now raising her child on her own. Neither her parents nor the parents of the child’s father want to help her.
Currently. G.A. works as an assistant accountant in one of the firms in Baku and is trying to get back on her feet.