"Slave Market"

People from Azerbaijani provinces believe that Baku is a city of opportunities, but are left with nothing

In the regions of Azerbaijan, there is a persistent myth that the capital of the country, Baku, is a “city of opportunities”. Weak economic development of the regions, mass unemployment - this is the context in which most of the country lives.

But official statistics and state TV channels report that poverty has been virtually eliminated. And tens of thousands of people in the provinces believe that they are not lucky, but in a metropolis like Baku with 3 million inhabitants, there is no poverty and there is work.

They leave their families in the villages and go to the capital. But most are left with nothing.

Gulu Imanov is one of them.

Near the Khalglar Dostlugu metro station in Baku, under the bridge, there is a “slave market”, which everyone knows. This is a conditional open-air market, and it is here that the unemployed who came to the capital from the regions are mainly looking for casual work. Gulu Imanov is one of those unemployed.

He is 54 years old, the father of seven daughters. Originally from the Sabirabad region, located about 150 kilometers southwest of Baku. After his house in the village was destroyed for no particular reason, he came to Baku in the hope of earning a living.

There was a conflict between my family and my sister's family. She got divorced and came to live with us with two children. I don’t know what they agreed on, they gave a bribe, but in the end they destroyed my house in Sabirabad. At that time I was not at home. I arrived, I see that I am not at home, my wife and children are sitting with a neighbor. Then we had nowhere to live. We lived with a neighbor for two years. Then I decided to come to Baku to work, they said that it was definitely possible there.

At first, I did not know anyone here, the city was also unfamiliar. I started driving a wheelbarrow at the market in the 8th kilometer (one of the districts of Baku). There, some people learned that I had nowhere to live. There was no money to pay for the rent of an apartment or a room.

One of my acquaintances gave me a room where I could sleep at night. Everyone helped as much as they could - one gave potatoes, the other - greens, and ate like that. He was a worker, and saved up some money, bought equipment, started working as a welder. For several years now I have been standing at the "slave market" from morning to evening. I take on any work, as long as there is money for food."
When Gulu Imanov first arrived in the capital, his wife and children stayed in Sabirabad and continued to live in a neighbor's house. Gulu gave part of the money he earned to taxi drivers he knew from his area, so that they would pass it on to his wife.

"We endured a lot of troubles. In the end, I called my husband to take us to Baku. He talked to a friend, said that the family had nowhere to live. When I arrived in Baku, we went together and talked with that person. He said that his country house the house is empty, we can stay there as long as we like.We monitor his dacha, and for 16 years now we have been living here without compensation,” says Nushaba Imanova, Gulu's wife.
Official statistics: both unemployment and the poor are very few
According to the State Statistics Committee of Azerbaijan, as of January 1, 2022, out of 5 million 304 thousand able-bodied population of the country, 4 million 988 thousand people are actively employed.

Thus, officially the unemployment rate in Azerbaijan is only six percent.

According to the State Statistics Committee for September 2022, the average monthly salary in Baku was 1,067 manats [about $627]. Across the country, the same figure is 831 manats [about $489]. Data on average monthly wages for individual regions of Azerbaijan are not provided.

Expert: "There are a lot of unemployment and the poor"

Economics expert Ali Akhmedov says it's really hard to believe the official figures published by the state statistics committee.

There is no independent economic bureau in Azerbaijan that would deal with statistics. Therefore, we have to start only from official indicators. But they, as in most post-Soviet republics, are very underestimated or exaggerated.

In neighboring Turkey, for example, an independent assessment of inflation is always many times higher than the official one. I am sure that the situation in Azerbaijan is similar, or maybe even worse.

As for the migration of the population from the regions to the capital, at one time several state programs for the development of regions were adopted in Azerbaijan. But judging by the real state of affairs, they were either forgotten, or the government had other more important things to do.

There are practically no jobs in the regions, and people are paid meager salaries. Therefore, it is not surprising that people are trying to get to Baku and earn money here. But in fact, the capital is a place where you have to spend a lot of money for living, but it is very difficult to earn it, including for locals. Expensive rent, transportation costs and much more. Visiting people in most cases do not expect this at all, do not take it into account, and cannot cope with this imbalance.

They do not know the local "rules", they are not familiar with the city system, they are not included in the rhythm of society - and this makes it much more difficult for them to fulfill the dream that "in a rich big city there is room for everyone." Therefore, many are disappointed in their choice and sometimes find themselves in an even worse situation, forced to return home, having squandered what little they had saved for the trip.

If there is no real invitation to a job in Baku with a good salary, I would not recommend anyone to come "at random", says Akhmedov.

Gulu Imanov currently lives with his family in Pirshagi (a suburb of Baku on the seashore). A large part of his earnings goes to the road. He says that there is a day when he manages to earn 20 manats [about $12], sometimes even 30 [about $18]. But it happens that there is no work for days. But in any case, he needs to be at the “slave market” every day, which means that every day he has to pay 6-7 manats for the road.

As a result, at best, earning 500-600 manats [about $300] a month, he spends almost a third of his earnings on the road alone. This family was lucky that their acquaintances allowed them to live for free in their dacha. But most of those who come in search of work need to pay for housing. Of course, we are not talking about the city center, here a one-room apartment costs 700-800 dollars in equivalent. On the outskirts - from $ 100 to 300.

In fact, just the amount of the subsistence minimum, which officially amounts to 240 manats [approximately $145], is left to feed oneself. But in the case of Gulu, this money (as well as the purchased food) must also be divided among 5 family members.
In the morning I had a bite at home somehow and went out. Throughout the day I drank a glass of tea, they sell it there for 20 kopecks [about 12 cents]. A thermos of tea costs 1 manat [about 60 cents]. We buy when there is money, and if not, then no. I only eat in the evenings when I get home. We have applied to the executive branch several times, but they do not help - I am not a local, after all.”
According to the observations of local residents, only at the "slave market" under the bridge near the metro station "Khalglar Dostlugu" there are usually about 50 people at the same time who offer their services as laborers or narrow specialists. They are not registered anywhere, do not pay taxes, and therefore there is no reliable information about them. There are several other such places in Baku, although they are less popular and well known. Immigrant unemployed also try to find work in the wholesale markets. In general, it can be assumed that this is a habitat for thousands of migrants from the provinces.
Working in the "slave market" is not only hard, but also dangerous.

I was digging the ground in the village of Akhmedli. It turned out that there was a high-voltage cable running underground, and I accidentally cut it off. Burned out. There was absolutely no money at that time.

The news of this reached the region. Everyone there respects me. And as soon as they found out, the guys collected money, sent it to us, and cured myself at the expense of that money. Even when I was discharged from the hospital, I had about 900 manats [$550] in my hands. But I didn't take it and sent it back.

The doctor prescribed medicine for the eyes. Left the house, went to the side of the pharmacy to buy. But he remembered that there was not much money in his pocket, he took bread in the store, and returned home."

In case of incidents and accidents, Azerbaijani residents have state insurance. But it is basic and can cover a very small part of the bill, which can reach several thousand manats, especially if an operation is needed. But even this small amount is not available to those who come to the capital in search of work, since it can be obtained only if medical assistance is provided at the place of registration.

Nushaba, Gulu's wife, says that the whole burden of the family falls only on her husband's shoulders. And because of the pain in his knees, he cannot go to work every day in winter:

It often happens that there is no bread and sugar at home. I haven't cooked anything in weeks. You have to take stale bread in stores, it's free."
Daughter broke her leg
Nushaba Imanova, Gulu's wife, is 50 years old. She says that the older four daughters are already married. Three are in school. Two are in the ninth grade, the youngest is in the fifth. She says that sometimes there is not even bread at home. "We have to persuade children to be content with what they have."

A month ago, my daughter fell in the yard and broke her leg. There wasn't a penny to my name. My son-in-law came, my daughter was taken to the hospital in a neighbor's car. Still haven't paid the neighbor for that ride. We went to the nearest hospital, they didn’t accept me there, they said that it was not in their line. We went to the trauma hospital. They said they needed an operation. It cost 850 manats [about $520]. The eldest daughter pawned her gold jewelry in a pawnshop. There, too, interest has run up, we won’t pay it yet.
The younger daughters of Gulu and Nushaba study at a school for internally displaced persons from the Zangilan region:

If there is not enough school supplies, they give out at the school itself, they help. We didn't buy any school clothes this year. Wear what's left from last year.

Nushaba also says that they applied to various authorities, to the municipality. They want to know on what basis their house was destroyed in the area: “What law says that they destroy the house and throw the family out on the street?

After we learned about the Imanov family, a fundraising campaign began on social networks to help them. Soon we managed to collect the amount necessary for the treatment of Gulu Imanov's daughter. With the rest of the money raised, the family bought basic necessities and groceries. Fundraising for the family continues.
The fashionable railway station in Baku is not popular with the poor. Regular trains stopped running here during the coronavirus lockdown, and high-speed tickets cost 20 manats ($12) per fare.

Migrants come to the capital mainly by buses, and then not to the bus station, but by illegal minibuses for 3-4 dollars directly to the largest wholesale market "Syadaryak" in the suburbs of Baku. If you are very lucky, you can find at least some work on the same day - someone carries a wheelbarrow with buyers' purchases, someone helps merchants to drag huge boxes of goods.
Text author
Sevgi Ismailbayli

Ulviya Guliyeva
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