Nightingale finding her voice again with the help of UNHCR in Azerbaijan

Making a Difference, 12 May 2010

© Esmira Oridjova/Way of Melancholy Zenfira
Some of the displaced women in Qizil Gum work on sewing machines at the newly established psycho-social rehabilitation centre in the former sanatorium.

BAKU, Azerbaijan, May 12 (UNHCR) As a happy young child, Gulshan* had a voice so sweet that people in her village in Nagorno-Karabakh called her "nightingale." But there was nothing to sing about when war came to the disputed region in 1992, leaving her parents and siblings dead and Gulshan in exile.

The then 10-year-old girl and her grandfather ended up in a former sanatorium near the Azerbaijan capital, Baku, that was being used to house forcibly displaced people from Nagorno-Karabakh. As she grew into womanhood, Gulshan found it difficult to shut out the painful memories and she became very insular, lethargic and distant from the community at Qizul Gum.

But after almost two decades of depression and mourning, she recently found something to live for. The trigger for her renewed hope has been a UNHCR quick impact project offering sewing and embroidery classes and a chance to earn an income to women in Gulshan's community of internally displaced people.

"I am so happy that I have learned some basic skills which will enable me to earn an income and meet part of my household needs," said Gulshan, who has been on her own since her grandfather died a few years ago.

The classes she attended were organized by the UNHCR partner, Way of Melancholy, and held in a psycho-social rehabilitation centre for IDP women located across the road from her house. Gulshan said it was a pleasant surprise when she was asked by a community leader if she wanted to attend. She now helps produce items such as sheets, curtains, traditional dresses and uniforms, which are sold to local shopkeepers.

Arun Sala-Ngarm, UNHCR's representative in Azerbaijan, said he was delighted that the refugee agency could help people like Gulshan. "I strongly believe and hope that Gulshan, with her revitalized spirit and courage, can gain new professional skills and successfully apply them in practice. This will also help her become self-sufficient," he said.

Indeed, she is now able to provide for herself with the money she makes from her new skills. She no longer needs help from the government.

Having a profession and marketable skills should also help Gulshan move on with life and spend less time dwelling on the past. As a young girl in her village, she and her friends had led a happy life and looked forward to a promising future.

But on a harsh winter night in February 1992, Gulshan's family and the rest of the people in their village were forced to leave their homes to escape fighting between Azeri and Armenian forces. They tried to support each other during their flight, but many ended up in captivity. Gulshan lost her parents, sisters and brothers.

Gulshan and her grandfather were among those detained before being sent to Qizil Gum, where some 4,000 of the estimated 586,000 internally displaced people in Azerbaijan live.

Their plight is linked to the unsettled dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is currently under Armenian control. Many of the displaced still struggle to find employment and live a normal and active life.

But Gulshan and the other women who took part in her classes have reason to be upbeat. They believe the UNHCR project will help them to build a sustainable life in Qizil Gum. And maybe Gulshan's nightingale voice will return.

* Name changed for protection reasons

By Zenfira Seyidova in Baku, Azerbaijan