Balik - "favorite place" or "swamp"?

Visitors are met by donkeys loaded with bundles of firewood. You can reach the village by following these animals with a heavy gait, sinking in the mud with every step. But when you reach the village, you won't see anything special either.
"Village erased from the map"
The village of Balik in the Ismayilli region is located 50 kilometers from the regional center. According to the latest census, the population of the village is 400 people.

According to dictionaries, the name of the village means "favorite place". But for local residents, it is “a village erased from the map”, “a nowhere village of the district”, or simply a “swamp”.

Having heard about a journalist in the village, the people gather in the center. They say they have so many troubles, they don't know where to start.

“We live in the village of Balik. It would be better not to live,” Aga Mirzoev, a 65-year-old local resident, begins the conversation.

Fellow villagers smile at his words, but also support him: "He's telling the truth."

Aga continues: “By God, this is not a village. They have blacklisted us, buried us.”
"As soon as the Soviets collapsed, we collapsed"
Villagers say that on cold winter days the main problem for them is the lack of gas. During the Soviet years they had gas in the village for six years. “As soon as the Soviets collapsed, we collapsed too,” another resident says.

“For some this is a country of oil and gas, but for us it is a swamp. Let everyone hear it, we are dying. Because of the cold our children cannot go to school. Please, people, president, first lady, look at our village at least out of the corner of your eye,” Aga Mirzoev says.

Lack of gas forces residents to go to the forest for firewood. While we are talking, one young villager is walking towards the forest, leading a horse by the bridle. From time to time, the sounds of a working saw are heard from afar.

“There is also no firewood left in the forest,” the villagers complain.
Town of downed electrical lines
Walking around the village you see fallen power lines. According to residents, they have repeatedly contacted the chief engineer of the district to help get them back up, but so far there's been no activity.

“The poles have all fallen. We complain, no one bothers. Like you're talking to a rock,” says Sahib Kamalov, a resident.

He was born in Balik. He says nobody is interested in them, so the village is basically ruined. The young are almost all gone - no education, no jobs around.

“They made the road, but only to the gate of the house of the martyr’s family”
The residents start talking about the roads, which they say was even worse before the war. Only when one local was killed in action did the region decide to build a road - not through the village, but only to the gates of the martyred boy's family.

“In other words, you have to die to be taken care of,” a villager says.

Another local resident, Tofig Mirzamamedov, says the village has many troubles, but no one wants to hear about them.

“Young children go to school trampling on dirt. Neither the municipality, nor the executive branch, nor the deputy cares. Who can we tell about our problems? One president remains, and our voice does not reach him."

According to the villagers, each time they have to pay 300-400 manats [about $180-240] for firewood, which is barely enough for the winter. For example, Tofig had to sell his cow in order to stock up on firewood. And those who cannot find money cut down trees in their yard, burn manure, or even clothes and shoes.

“It is not permitted to cut down trees in the forest, they say we harm the environment. They don't give us gas either. What should we do? There are no more old clothes left to burn, boots are used, ”Aga Mirzoev says half in jest.

There will also be no gas in Balik this year
In the rural representation of the executive branch, we were told that they would consider the complaints of the population regarding the power transmission lines.

And according to the press secretary of "Azerigaz" Eldaniz Veliyev, the villages will be hooked up to gas lines.

His answer will not mollify the people of Balik, because this village is not included in the plan for 2023.
It is getting dark in Balik. People go back to their homes, animals return from pastures. There is more smoke from the chimneys on the roofs. In large houses, light comes from only one window.
Аytaj Mammadli
This story is part of the "Tell Me About Yourself" media project, where young Azerbaijanis whose families were displaced as a result of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict tell their stories. The authors are solely responsible for these materials. This is an European Union-funded project implemented by International Alert.
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