Azerbaijan International

Winter 2003 (11.4)
Pages 48-51

In Search of Inner Light
Turning 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 war.

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 Forces.

Below: Faig Karimov (left) with a friend military service in the Karabakh War (1992-1993).

Faig Karimov (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 all that.

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 to forget.

My Accident
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 take revenge.

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 to survive.

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.

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.
Recovery process
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 years.

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 pieces.

Faig Karimov and his wife Aygun Asgarova, who were married in Summer 2003 in Baku.
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.

Learning English
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 and studied.

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 University
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].

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 life.

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 patient person.

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.

Handicapped Veterans
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.

Faig Karimov, 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:
Arzu Aghayeva, his fellow classmate at the university, interviewed Faig. She is currently the Baku Manager of Azerbaijan International magazine.

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