Jangaib village in north-eastern Azerbaijan is just one house on a hill. Eleven people live in the building: the Kichikbayov brothers with their wives and children. Jangaib is otherwise deserted.
It has certainly not always been this desolate here, but resident Reyhan Kichikbayova, 49, cannot even remember now how it happened. People started leaving when she was little:
"My grandparents and my parents lived here. Then, even before I was born, my father landed a job in a neighboring village, and the family relocated," Reyhan says. At almost the same time, about 40 years ago, people began deserting the village. About 50 families left the then large village back then.
Locals had lots of reasons to move: Gas supply pipelines were never built in the village; there was no kindergarten or school or clinic.
“I was not thinking of staying here for long”
Reyhan came back to Jangaib after getting married – she married the younger Kichikbayov brother.
"I was not going to stay here for long. My father-in-law promised us a house in the district center. So, I hoped that I would be moving soon," Reyhan says and adds that if she had known that she would stay here so long, she might not have agreed. It was hard for her father-in-law to leave his home village and move, and he did not want to let his sons leave either because he wanted everyone to live together.
"We live on the first floor, and my brother-in-law's family are on the second floor. We keep sheep, poultry, honeybees, and grow vegetables."
To buy anything else they need in their household they have to travel to the district center. The village is connected to it by an dirt road that snakes along the mountains and can only be driven on in the summer and ideally in dry weather. In winter, the village is often cut off from the rest of the world.
Hence the habit of stocking up on food for future use. “It is still not easy”, Reyhan says, “sometimes you find that you are missing one thing or another… and the shop is far away”.
“It is especially hard here in the winter”
Out of Reyhan's three children, only her son went to school until fifth grade. Her two daughters did not even receive primary education. They learned to write and count at home.
"There was never a school here, and you had to go to the neighboring village," Reyhan explains. "It is far away, and walking in the snow in winter is very scary."
Reyhan's children and nephews have already grown up. Her elder brother-in-law is already a grandfather; his eldest granddaughter is supposed to go to school this year.
"We are not even thinking of putting her in a school in the district center because we would have to rent a place for her to live, which is expensive," says Zabita Kichikbayova, the girl's grandmother.
Reyhan's elder daughter is married in Baku, and her younger daughter works not far from the district center, in Shabran District. Her son recently returned from the army and found a job in Baku. He rents a place and occasionally visits his parents.
The last time Azerbaijan counted its deserted villages was in 2015. According to official statistics, there were only 20 villages in which nobody lived. Statisticians determined yet another nine villages are “disappearing”, or that fewer than 10 people live in them.
It is not yet known how these statistics have changed over the four years, but there will soon be one more deserted village in Azerbaijan – the last inhabitants will leave Jangaib.
Reyhan admits that they continued to live in Jangaib all these years because her father-in-law did not want to leave his home village. Her father-in-law passed away two years ago, after which they started seriously thinking of relocating. "I do not think that my son will want to live here after he gets married. I had a very hard time raising my children here, but I kept silent for the sake of my father-in-law." Reyhan and her husband no longer see a reason to continue living in Jangaib, and they themselves are now building a house in Shabran District.