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The Return Journey

Morgan Beach Explores a Way Home for the Internally Displaced of Azerbaijan

Morgan Beach Interview

"Life was good. Everyone had jobs and was happy," remembers an Azerbaijani woman of the time before conflict erupted in her country. "We lived side by side with Armenians, and some Azerbaijanis and Armenians even married each other in our town. When I think of home, I think of family. But I will never have that back. It has all been destroyed." 

Forced from her home in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region 15 years ago, "S." has lived in a settlement camp in neighboring Mingachevir as an internally displaced person (IDP) ever since. With no end to her situation in sight, master of public policy student Morgan Beach is working to shine a spotlight on the precarious condition of Azerbaijani IDPs and the stakes involved in finding them a permanent home.

"The long-term displacement of internal populations is one of the most politically complex and intricate complications of protracted conflicts today," Beach explains.

Their existence is unique and troubling. They often subsist in poor, unhealthy living situations, while safe and well-maintained housing stands just across the street. The government subsidizes their education costs, but jobs are scarce and wages are low. The benefits are just good enough to effectively bind IDPs to the camp rather than encourage relocation.

Morgan Beach with Kids

"IDPs share most of the same legal troubles and logistical difficulties as refugee populations but are overlooked in many aspects of aid," notes Beach, who worked for the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy in Baku, the nation's capital, while conducting research last summer. They "suffer, particularly in longer-term situations, because it falls upon the already troubled home state to care for a now almost entirely dependent sector of the public."

They also tend to feel like outsiders in their local communities, desiring most to feel home again in their own country. S., Beach remembers, "had raised her three children as IDPs, and spoke to me about their lives in those conditions. The most inspiring part was when she expressed a regret that they can't live with Armenians as neighbors anymore. She wanted to reconcile with the Armenians, to go back to the peace they had before."

With an undergraduate degree in international studies and political science, Beach also works with juvenile justice system reform through the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch in Los Angeles, and women's empowerment issues as president of Pepperdine's Women of Public Policy group. But it's the plight of IDPs that has captured her heart.

"I am uplifted every day not only knowing that I can make a difference on a large scale, but I can also be a small comfort in the everyday life of people who have been affected. I was meant to work with people who needed their stories to be heard, who couldn't do it themselves."