Azerbaijani’s suicide prompts controversy over veterans’ care

At least 36 veterans are known to have died as a result of suicides since the end of the 2020 war. The opposition and government are sparring over who is to blame.

Another suicide by an Azerbaijani war veteran has highlighted the ongoing struggles of ex-soldiers to get suitable care in the country, and became the source of political controversy over the government’s care of its veterans.

On July 10, 35-year-old Elvin Jafarov, who fought for Azerbaijan in the 2020 war against Armenia over Karabakh, set himself on fire in front of a local government building in the district of Sabirabad, where he lived. He died two days later in a Baku hospital.

Jafarov had repeatedly complained about the care he had received since being injured in the war. In an interview with Meydan TV in 2021, Jafarov lamented that could not find a job and that the government wasn’t paying for his medical care, which included treating pieces of shrapnel still in his body.

In an amateur video recorded shortly before his suicide attempt, Jafarov complained about not being able to meet the head of the local government, thought he did not say specifically why he was seeking the meeting.

To many critics of the government, the suicide highlighted ongoing trauma suffered by soldiers in the 2020 war, as well as the gaps in state care that some war veterans still suffer from, like inability to get the pensions and disability benefits to which they are entitled.

Independent journalist Habib Muntazir reported that he had documented up to 50 veterans who had attempted suicide, and 35 of them, not including Jafarov, who died as a result.

"Most veterans committed suicide after the negligence and indifference of [the authorities], socio-economic problems, a lack of employment, and lack of psychological support by official institutions,” Muntazir wrote in a Facebook post. “The responsibility for these deaths lies with the authorities, those who are able to help, and we can do nothing."

“Our heroes like Elvin, who won the war over the enemy, are defeated instead by the Azerbaijani authorities, being forced to death, self-immolation and suicide,” wrote opposition leader Ali Karimli in a Facebook post.

Government officials pushed back, accusing the opposition of seeking political gain by the soldiers’ deaths.

Jafarov’s suicide “shouldn’t be politicized,” Siragaddin Jabbarov, the head of Sabirabad’s local government, told reporters. “I want to leave the question around the reasons [for his suicide] to law enforcement agencies and their investigations,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of Population, Fazil Talibov, wrote a Facebook post detailing the different forms of assistance he said had been granted to Jafarov since the end of the war. “We are sorry that our veteran Elvin Zakir Jafarov, who was always surrounded by attention and care, attempted suicide,” Talibov wrote, adding that Jafarov was granted a disability pension of120 manats per month ($71), a “presidential pension” of 300 manats ($176), a job that also paid 300 manats, a one-time compensation 11,000 manats ($6,470), and additional aid from a state veterans’ fund of 6,500 manats ($3,824).

There have been sporadic protests by veterans since the war, complaining about not getting state benefits they were promised. While the protests have for the most part been small they have on occasion erupted into violence.

Following Jafarov’s death, another group of veterans marched in front of the parliament building, but some complained about the lack of public support. “Why won’t the people stand alongside veterans?” one asked in a video report by Mikroskop Media.

Heydar Isayev is a journalist from Baku.