A Note On Military Conscription
One of the distinct features of living in Azerbaijan is that there are a lot of əsgər hanging around. An əsgər is a soldier. There’s probably a military establishment in any municipality that’s larger than a village. In Lənkəran, the base is located on the other side of School #4, between the school and the Caspian. There’s also another section of military folks on the north side of the city.
Serving in the military is mandatory here, and you can tell. Every soldier seems to be wearing fatigues at all times. And 90% of them look to be about 16 years old. They look like children, really. They stick out. Interestingly, some of them may actually be 16. If youth do not go to college, they must go into the military at age 16, 17, or 18. If they choose college, then they are steered into the service directly following their graduation from university.
Hearing that some of these soldiers are 16, I looked up what it meant to be a child soldier. Apparently the UN says that anyone under 15 is classified as a child soldier. Azerbaijan skirts that limit. As well, with the change of rulers over the last 100 years, there have been a lot of dissolutions and rebuildings of the military here. You can check out a decent military overview and history in the ever-reliable Wikipedia article.
This has already affected us in the Peace Corps, too. During training in October, a few weeks after training started, one of our Azerbaijani language instructors had to leave because he was called into the military. This coming summer, another one of our instructors during training will be leaving for the military, too. He’ll graduate from university and then be off to the service. I would never be a proponent of mandatory military service, but I can see how it’s helpful for this country. As it stands, there’s already a high unemployment rate, yet the military conscription program means that a large quantity of those potentially unemployed youth are busy with their army activities.
Correction: I was wrong. We had discussed the age at which Azerbaijanis can go into the military, and amongst the small group of PCVs we were fairly certain that they could join as early as 16. Instead, confirming with Miri and his brother, Nayıl, the age is instead 18. Sorry for the mistake.