The Road West: 36 Photos of Life in Azerbaijan

Having lived here for three months now, it's easy to forget how oblivious I was of this country before I arrived.  Few even know where Azerbaijan is on a map. You (just about every one of you) has never and probably will never see this place

So, here is a collection of photos from three months of travels.  It’s but a glimpse, an unworthy speck of what can be called life in Azerbaijan.  Pictures from Sabirabad, Imishli, Bilasuvar, Agsu, Goychay, Beylagan, and Agjabedi.

Some towns are centuries old; others no more than a decade.  Socioeconomic progress is slow to arrive for most.  Life here hasn’t changed much in generations.  The grazing sheep and nutrients of the dirt still dictate one’s future.  The modern distractions of phones and television fill the void of free time left empty by stalled progress.

It is a different type of poverty here.  Most people do have electricity and water.  Many have sturdy homes and land for agriculture.  Every day, they eat fresh meat and vegetables with their tea and candy.

But they wait.  They can only support themselves to some extent for so long.  In the meantime, the state-sponsored infrastructure and industry of the communist past is deteriorating; the nascent capitalist market painfully correcting a horribly inefficient economy.  Most need the support of others, formal and informal.  This inclues your support.

Here are some of those people and places, and their stories.

Almas has been running this produce stand since 1982. Her husband used to work as a repair man, but due to an injury had to stop. They opened the stand together and after one year Almas ran it on her own. He now manages the loan and she runs the store. During the winter, she makes pickled produce. In the Spring, she sells fresh vegetables as they grow abundantly in Azerbaijan.

Almas’ husband revels at his wife’s photo on the internet.

Shahla, the Kiva Coordinator with VF AzerCredit, with a loan officer discussing Kiva over tea and sweets.

Baby sheep at a client in Sabirabad.

The Lada was bought from the proceeds from their retail business. It allows them to purchase goods farther out in town for less.

Home in Sabirabad. Two years ago a major flood ravaged the area. The water damage clearly exposes the underlying wood, mortar, and plaster where the water level reached. The government has promised to build them a new home, but right now all that stands is a dirt mound for the foundation.

A woman with her livestock in the cold of late winter.

The VF AzerCredit office in Sabirabad. Loan Officers discuss applications with prospective clients. Over 60% of Azerbaijanis borrower money, formally and informally, to make ends meet.

The road out of Sabirabad.

Beside the road to Sabirabad, women walk along pipeline carving up the hills.

The AqroInvest team in Agsu.

Kamran in his store in Agsu.

New apartment buildings for IDPs northwest of Baku. 30% of displaced people moved to Baku in the aftermath of the Karabakh War, causing a housing crisis.

The streets of Bilasuvar, a new IDP settlement built by the government in 2003 after the decomission of the Saatly refugee camp.

Outside Bilasuvar.

A neighbor's daughter posses with turkeys.

Old Soviet cars are still the most common vehicle on the road. Over 50% of cars are Ladas in the far regions.

Gunay with her son. He hopes to be a wrestler when he grows up.

A sidestreet in Bilasuvar.

Home front in Bilasuvar.

A typical backyard has livestock roaming free, growing for the family.

'Wall of Martyrs' in Bilasuvar. It is now the “temporary” home for the town seat of Jebrail, currently occupied by Armenian forces.

“What I did not accomplish, my son will during his lifetime.” Former President Heydar Aliyev speaking about his son, the current president. His quotes can be found everywhere.

Outside Bilasuvar.

Latafat with her sheep, the main source of income for the family.

The boy loves tending to his sheep, much the way his parents do.

A typical residential backstreet. Dirt roads, closed off homes with metal doors.

Decorative roofing like this is commonplace on homes, to add some style.

Relatives enjoy a lazy weekend in the shade at their home in Imishli.

A typical poster of Heydar Aliyev, the former president, ubiquitous in the country. He is revered for his leadership of the nation out of tumultuous times of war, poverty, and political upheaval.

Gurban, first from the left, attempted to repair and resell cars for a profit. He was unable to break even and chose to move to Moscow to work as a mechanic. Pay is much higher in Russia and Azerbaijanis can easily travel there for a few months.

Elshad, a handyman, with his new banya under construction. He has to make his home presentable for his upcoming marriage.

Tarana and her 6 year old daughter, who has had several operations due to organ complications, putting heavy financial pressure on her family. Tarana started a hair salon with her sister 16 years ago. Today, she has to stay home to take care of her daughter.

Derelict Soviet factories are common throughout the countryside. Industrial production plummeted with the collapse of communism. Only recently is industry picking up again.

An aging dam near the Iran border.

The flat, endless plains of central Azerbaijan provide no respite against the forthcoming summer heat.

You can supprt Azerbaijan loans today.  Visit the Kiva lend page and browse through the dozens borrowers uploaded by our three partners.

Dimitri Zakharov is a Kiva Fellow (KF20) currently roaming Azerbaijan. He has been living in Baku and working with three diverse field partners: Komak Credit Union, which lends primarily to internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Nagorno-Karabakh War; Aqroinvest Credit Union, which focuses on both IDPs and Azerbaijan’s rural poor; and VisionFund AzerCredit, Kiva’s newest and largest field partner in Azerbaijan. Join the lending team Supporters of Azerbaijan, and make a loan to a Komak, Aqroinvest, or AzerCredit borrower today!

About the author

Dimitri Zakharov

Dimitri was born in Moscow, Russia, and moved to the United States in 1991. He grew up in Princeton, NJ, and graduated NYU's Stern School of Business with a degree in finance and international business, spending a semester at Bocconi University in Milan. After graduation, he worked as a Sales Associate for S&P Capital IQ, a financial technology company, in New York City for 3 and a half years. He has also served as the Director of Fundraising and Administration for the Shanti Bhavan Children's Project, based in Bangalore, India, which he has visited twice. Dimitri enjoys discovering the world, having traveled to South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. He is also an avid skier, and is looking forward to exploring the Caucasus during his fellowship in Azerbaijan with hopes of carving a few runs during his time there.