Winter 2003 (11.4)
In Search of Inner Light
Tragedy into Triumph - The Story of Faig Karimov
by Faig Karimov
What happens when war
leaves its terrible scars forever on the lives of soldiers and
their families. In the case of Faig Karimov, who became instantantly
blind when their location was shelled during the Karabagh war,
it's been a long, tortuous journey to recovery since 1993. Curiously,
part of the therapeutic process has been in Faig's incredible
intellectual achievement in mastering the English language.
It was the beginning
of 1990s - a very complicated period in the former Soviet Union.
The USSR was on the verge of collapse. Throughout this vast expanse
of land that spanned 10 time zones, people were rising up to
struggle for their independence. In Azerbaijan, there was revival
of national ideology. It made a profound impact on me as well.
I was passionately patriotic and paid close attention to the
political events that were unfolding, both within our Republic,
as well as in the neighboring countries.
Fortunately in 1991, our Republic gained its independence from
the Soviet Union. Everybody was so excited; we had been waiting
ages for this day. But our good fortune was short-lived when
the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia turned into a serious
I was zealous to do everything in my power to help my country.
I love my Motherland. Unlike many young people, I knew the history
of Azerbaijan quite well even though it had not been taught very
well during the Soviet period. And so, I decided to drop out
of the university and go to war - to join the Rapid Reaction
(left) with a friend military service in the Karabakh War (1992-1993).
The real face of war
Many people really don't understand what war is all about. But
I've experienced it. War is utter destruction: broken lives,
broken fates and broken loves. It's very difficult to survive
Of course, everyone who has gone off to war has so many war stories.
The one that stays forever in my mind took place back in 1993.
At that time, we were wearing this apparatus that had little
pockets and compartments for holding bullets, grenades and other
necessities. It wasn't very long and only covered our chest.
We used to strap it on and pull the strings through a small ring
on either side close to our arms and secure it in the back.
Well, as you know, grenades have fuses, which are activated by
rings. When we put those grenades in those small pockets, we
had to be very careful not to confuse the rings - the ones on
the grenades and the others on our apparatus.
One evening when we were about to change shifts, one of our soldiers
asked his buddy nearby to tie the strings in the back. But when
the buddy pulled the strings to tie it, the soldier realized
that the rings had been confused, but it was already too late.
The fuse had already been pulled out and the grenade was going
to explode in a few seconds. Because we were in a basement, the
soldier had no time to run outside and toss the grenade away.
Everybody was at a loss, nobody knew what to do. Suddenly, the
soldier started shouting for everyone to run to the opposite
corner of the basement. And then he ran in the other direction
and pressed himself up against the wall and blew himself up.
It happened so fast. His death was such a shock. We weren't able
to save him.
It grieved us all so deeply. He had been so courageous to save
our lives. Had he run towards us, there would have been many
casualties. Simply, he sacrificed himself for us. It's impossible
to forget such people who are so brave: their courage remains
forever emblazoned in your memory.
Of course, we had already witnessed so many of our friends dying
right in front of our eyes. But this was different. This guy
had died as a result of an innocent accident. So, it's impossible
About my own experience: I was in injured in 1993 in Sadarak.
November. I was a gunlayer of the APC (armored personnel carrier)
in my troop. But that day, my APC was out of order. That's why
we decided to send it back to headquarters, which was located
behind the front line. But I didn't go. I didn't want to, as
the day before there had been fierce fighting and we had lost
some of our buddies. I was so emotionally upset and wanted to
That's why I didn't go back, even though the commander himself
had ordered me. "Let me stay here, I have to stay here,"
I had told him. And so, I didn't go back.
So I joined some other guys who had taken their positions on
the post. We called it Bloody Post because so many guys ended
up getting killed there. By the afternoon, we had our orders
to attack. I was in charge of the grenade launcher. Our first
attack was very successful, but we realized we wouldn't be able
stay there because it was very dangerous. A few minutes later,
we decided to carry out the second attack. Again, we pushed forward.
When I moved to open fire on the enemy, something hit me. I had
a very strange feeling as if I were flying through the air. Then
I totally blacked out.
A few minutes later when I regained consciousness, I found myself
lying on the ground. Something had hit my left temple, and I
felt blood running over my face. My friends took me to the field
hospital. Those who saw what happened told me that about 10 or
15 shells had exploded all around me. No one had expected me
Below: Faig Karimov and his
mom (woman standing at extreme right), who dedicated herself
for years to teach her son English after he became blind. Now
Faig teaches Oral Translation at the State University of Languages.
By the time I got to Baku a few days later, some doctors thought
that I had only two hours to live. Other doctors thought it best
to remove my eyeballs immediately.
But we refused. Later I was taken to Moscow for an operation
where from the very beginning, they told us that the situation
was very serious and that they couldn't promise anything.
But one physician who had been very famous during the Soviet
time gave me hope. She said, "Don't worry, I think you'll
get your sight back."
The first operation was to put my left eye back into its right
position. I don't know exactly what had happened with the right
eye. The bullet didn't damage it. But doctors said that, maybe,
because of the strong concussion, a blood clot had formed. Doctors
were telling me that even if they failed to save the left eye,
the right eye would be saved. The news made us so happy.
But when the time came for the next operation, they told us that
they could do nothing.
Those were terrible days. I thought that my life was over and
that there was no reason to go on living. I didn't know what
to do. I was totally devastated.
In 1995, two years after the accident, with the help of Ambassador
Sadikhov and his wife Rafiga, we made plans to go to Germany
where I visited three clinics. But, again, those doctors could
not help me, so I returned home.
Of course, I was surrounded by my family and relatives, but they
kept saying: "We don't know how to comfort you". This
was such a new situation for my family. We had never dealt with
such a serious accident before. Nobody knew what to do. Nobody
knew how to help me.
We have an expression: "A drowning person will even grasp
at a straw." But, frankly speaking, there was not even a
single straw to grasp. I thought that I was fighting a losing
battle. But now I realize that we don't know how much energy
and potential we carry within us. And with time, it was that
invisible energy which enabled me to rise up and deal with this
crisis in my life. As they say, "Time is the greatest healer".
Step by step, I found myself psychologically. But it took three
It's important to distinguish between a congenital blindness,
and blindness that is acquired later in life. Those born blind
get used to their situation from infancy. But I had been a normal
person with normal vision. Therefore, this disaster tore me into
Left: Faig Karimov and his wife Aygun Asgarova,
who were married in Summer 2003 in Baku.
At first, I couldn't reconcile myself to the situation. All I
wanted was to get my sight back, but no one could help me. One
cannot imagine how tormented I was, and how badly I suffered.
You know, a person can lose various parts of his body. But to
lose your sight is the most devastating because you can't find
anything to rely upon.
It was like an emotional roller coaster - up and down, up and
down. The crises were always related to my treatment. Before
each examination, I had such high expectations. Then, after receiving
the bad news, over and over again, I would be completely devastated.
For example, just before going to Germany, I had such great hopes
that I would get my sight back. Upon returning, I was in such
a bad state that I had lost all hope in my future.
Gradually, my close relatives began telling me stories about
people who had had traumatic accidents and then recovered. They
kept bringing me newspapers and magazines articles about individuals
who had lost their arms, legs, eyes and other parts of their
bodies but, nevertheless, they could still function within society.
In other words, they were able to overcome their isolation and
make a contribution to those around them. Those stories helped
me a lot.
About three months after my injury, the Dean of the Law Faculty
of Baku State University visited me and suggested that I change
the course of direction in my university studies. Before going
to the army, I had been enrolled in the Architecture University.
When I lost my sight, I understood that it would be impossible
for me to continue my studies. The Dean promised to help me to
become a lawyer if I were interested. But, Lawyer?! Can you imagine?!
Me, a lawyer?!!! It was the furthest thing from my mind.
Why? Because the psychological pressure intimidated me and made
me think that I would never again be able to appear in public.
At that time, the war was in full swing, and there were such
very kind people who took care of soldiers and wounded people.
They even offered financial support, and there were groups helping
the veterans who had been injured in the war.
Below: Faig Karimov (wearing
glasses) at a friend's wedding party, 2003. Arzu Aghayeva (standing
at far right), a fellow classmate who studied English together
with Faig at the university, interviewed him for this article.
As you know, in 1995, VOA (Voice Of America) started airing in
Azerbaijan, two hours a day. By listening, it suddenly dawned
on me that I could learn English and that it might be very useful
for me as a source of information. I had been a person who loved
to read and had derived great pleasure from it. You can't imagine
how difficult it had been for me to be cut off from reading.
And though I switched to TV and radio; intellectually, it wasn't
enough for me.
Frankly speaking, when I first told my mother about my plan to
learn English, she was really surprised. I wanted her to teach
me because she was an English teacher herself. Her first reaction
was skepticism: "How? How can I teach you English?"
She didn't know how to go about teaching me. Nobody knew how
to deal with my problem.
So, I gave her some ideas. I told her to record English for me
on tapes and that I would listen and learn. The main thing for
me was to figure out how to deal with the grammar. So my mother
began recording the grammar rules, and after that, I listened
I had studied English a bit in high school so I had some basic
knowledge and some very rudimentary vocabulary, but the truth
is that I had paid much more attention to math and physics rather
than to English.
While learning grammar, I also did some exercises and was introduced
to new words. This process lasted about a year and a half. In
1996, I enrolled in the University of Languages, transferring
out of the Architecture University. I studied there four years
and got my Bachelor's Degree and then went on for two more years
and earned my Master's Degree. Now I teach Oral Translation (from
English) at the same university. It's thanks to the Rector there,
Samad Seyidov, who is also a Member of Parliament, that I've
had no problems in getting a position there.
Teaching at the
Frankly speaking, I was quite nervous and uneasy at the beginning.
I didn't know if I had sufficient experience to teach. I didn't
know if the students would accept me. It was Gilinjkhan Bayramov,
Head of the Translation Chair, who had been my own teacher who
gave me such good advice. He came to my class that first day
and introduced me to the students.
The first time the students saw me, I think they were really
surprised. It was a new experience for them - having someone
blind as their teacher. At our University, the only other blind
teacher was Arif Zeynalov who had taught my mother.
Of course, it was only natural that some students would have
some misgivings and hesitations about me. They didn't know me,
nor my capabilities. That first lesson I spent time just trying
to get acquainted and establishing a good rapport with my students.
After that first lesson, I calmed down and my self-confidence
began to grow.
As time passed, good relations developed between my students
and me. I "put my shoulder to the wheel," as they say.
I wanted so much to make the lessons interesting. As well, I
was very strict and my students knew that I wouldn't tolerate
laziness. I wanted them to work hard.
I want so much to strengthen the ability of my students to speak
English. At the beginning of each lesson, I spend 10-15 minutes
(out of a class session of 80 minutes) discussing the political
and cultural events that are taking place both within Azerbaijan
and throughout the world. This increases their ability to speak
English and, on the other hand, it challenges them to stay current
in world events.
Of course, we have a program to follow. But nevertheless I put
some additional methods into practice. From time to time I also
take some magazines from the British Council. I also take tapes
for my students to listen to.
Sometimes, I use articles from Azerbaijan International. I try
to choose interesting articles related to all kinds of topics
to stimulate the interest of my students.
Sometimes they say that blind people hear better than those who
have their sight and that they can identify so many objects just
by touching them. But to tell you the truth, I don't have any
such supernatural abilities. Maybe now, I do hear better than
in the past. My family tells me that I react to the slightest
sound, but I'm not quite sure of it. But there is one problem,
which should be taken into account. When it's noisy, it's very
difficult for blind people to catch words. As you know, eyes
also help a person to identify speech.
At first, it was very difficult for me to adjust to the new situation.
Step by step, I got used to it. At home, I have no problems.
I know where everything is in our apartment. I can maneuver without
any difficulty. I can turn on the radio and TV, go to kitchen,
make some tea, take something from the refrigerator. Inside my
apartment I have no problems. And on the street, too, I've learned
to walk very comfortably, by taking someone's arm. Often people
don't realize that I'm blind. Of course, now I'm moving around
at the university as well with assistance.
Future of Karabakh
Let me mention briefly about the conflict we have with Armenians
about Nagorno-Karabakh. I'm a person who has suffered immensely
from this war. That's why I don't want other people to suffer.
That's why I don't want war to be resumed again. At the moment,
as you know, Azerbaijan wants to settle this problem peacefully.
Our country has already made compromises, offering autonomy for
Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan. But, unfortunately, Armenians
have not agreed to this arrangement and, consequently, they jeopardize
the peace talks.
In my opinion, the international community should pressure Armenia.
Since Armenians don't feel any pressure, they take great liberties.
Note that not a single resolution passed by the United Nations
relating to Armenia about relinquishing Azerbaijan's occupied
territories has been implemented. [For more details about these
four resolutions which were passed in 1993 and 1994, see "The
Nagorno-Karabakh Question: UN Reaffirms the Sovereignty and Territorial
Integrity of Azerbaijan" by Yashar T. Aliyev, AI 6.4 (Winter
1998). Search at AZER.com].
The policy that Armenia is pursuing will not lead to the resolution
of this problem peacefully. The international community should
realize that Azerbaijan's territorial integrity must be restored;
otherwise, Azerbaijan will resort to taking it back by force.
Let's hope that in the near future, this process will be resolved
peacefully. We don't want to resume the war again. But, in this
case, the international community must create the situation to
restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
By nature, I'm a rather quiet person. But at the beginning of
1990s, I was intensely patriotic. I supported drastic changes
and radical steps. But after my injury, I became a much more
moderate person. Now I do not support drastic changes. I do not
support violent confrontation between people. I have suffered
a lot and now realize that the consequences of such drastic and
radical steps cause so much trouble for people. Therefore, these
days I don't take a hard line in planning the strategy for my
I'm getting used to my reality and in working in difficult situations.
One cannot imagine how difficult it was for me to sit for hours,
listening to tapes and learning material in a foreign language.
All of these experiences have made me a much more tolerant and
And now this year, I got married. I met my wife, Aygun Asgarova,
a biologist at the home of one of my relatives. She impressed
me and we would meet each other very often. At last we arrived
at the conclusion that we had much in common and decided to get
married in June 2003. Now she works together with me at the University
of Foreign Languages at the Chair of Civil Defense.
In addition to teaching at the university, I have private students
that I teach at home. My mother also has a lot of students. So,
sometimes I help her out. Most of our students are in their final
year of high school and are preparing to enter a university.
It's a very responsible task to teach them because it greatly
depends on the teacher whether they will do well on their entrance
exam in English or not.
In the future, I hope to have the chance to do translations from
English into Azeri. Another dream of mine is to work in radio
- in English. Developed countries like France, Germany and Russia
have English radio programs where they speak only about their
cultures, customs and habits. Unfortunately, we don't have such
a radio yet. I hope such possibilities will be established in
the future. Maybe, I'll get a chance to do such work, as it would
suit my talents and interests.
At present, there are many people who are handicapped in Azerbaijan.
Most of them have been injured in the war. In general, our society
is rather negligent towards our handicapped people. To tell the
truth, in my youth when I could see such a person, I didn't know
much about them, either. The main reason, I think, is because
handicapped people are quite isolated from society. Often, people
don't know about their problems.
During the Soviet times, the situation was better than it is
now. At present, the economic situation in Azerbaijan isn't so
good, and so these humanitarian societies have to survive on
their own. First of all, I think the government should provide
more support for these people and become involved in their problems.
Secondly, the government should encourage them to get higher
education. Very few disabled people in Azerbaijan have been able
to get a higher education.
The state should also improve the situation for handicaps. In
many countries, blind people use guide dogs to navigate in the
streets. Unfortunately, in Azerbaijan, we have no such opportunity.
There are no centers to train dogs.
Or, for instance, blind people have no opportunity to get some
tapes or CDs with some poetry, prose just to listen to. This
field is very much developed in the West. In these countries,
not only the blind, but even normal people can obtain and listen
to such tapes and CDs. So, as you see, there are many problems
in Azerbaijan related to handicaps. Much work needs to be done
in this field. And I hope that our government will be closely
involved in this issue in the near future.
who learned English after becoming blind and who went on to get
his Master's degree in English, has been teaching Oral Translation
at the State University of Languages since 2001. Faig married
in the summer of 2003, and he and his wife are expecting their
first child. Contact Faig at: email@example.com.
Arzu Aghayeva, his fellow classmate at the university, interviewed
Faig. She is currently the Baku Manager of Azerbaijan International
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