The Cost of a Funeral
The sadness of a funeral is already a pretty weighty issue here in Azerbaijan, as it is anywhere. And it doesn’t help that they are costly in almost any country. The Arab Times, however, highlighted Azerbaijan’s hefty funeral expenses a few weeks ago:
When Arzu Gahramanov’s father-in-law died, his family didn’t just have to endure the grief of losing a loved one — they also had to go into debt to pay for an expensive mourning ceremony.
Mourning ceremonies have become increasingly extravagant in mainly Muslim Azerbaijan in recent years. Meals are often laid on for hundreds of friends, relatives and neighbours, served by waiters in large tents which are set up by the roadside for several days.
Specialist companies now offer to provide tents, waiters and cooks — an indication that the mourning process has also become a lucrative business opportunity.
Gahramanov, a butcher in the capital Baku, said that he spent around 3,500 Azerbaijani manats (4,300 dollars/3,300 euros) on the ceremony and the funeral itself.
“Of course the funeral arrangements cost a lot. But there is no other way out,” he explained.
Yep. It costs a lot. I certainly wouldn’t want to be saddled with that bill, especially if I was a citizen of Azerbaijan, with a GDP Per Capita of about $4900. That’s almost 90% of your income for the year.
My experience at an Azeri funeral is that the family of the deceased has to go through a lot of work to make the event happen. Last year, when we had the funeral event for the 1-year anniversary of my host-father’s death, my host family easily spent upwards of 6-800 AZN ($750-1000). With all the food and the renting of a tent and whatever services had to be provided, the costs add up quickly. (For more information on my Azeri funeral experience, read here.)
One of the problems is mentioned above, the ‘specialist companies’ that provide tents and staff and services. These are essentially monopolies on funeral provisions. A few people get the required amount of dishes and tents rounded up to be able to host one of these large events, and they become the monopolists on funeral day. It’s not uncommon to see these large tents, where the men sit to drink tea or eat a meal while listening to the local mullah, in the streets of any city outside of Baku (in Baku, they have rules keeping the tents out of the street).
The hardest part though, aside from the monopolists, is the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ factor, where you have to show to your neighbors how selfless you are in remembering your loved ones. You don’t want to be known as the stingy neighbor who only provided tea with lemons for your funeral guests:
“Guests supposedly come to a mourning ceremony to help the deceased’s relatives, but it turns out to be quite the opposite in practice,” said Surhay Mamedzade, a junior cleric at the Juma mosque in Baku.
“Relatives face problems because of the numbers of guests. Sometimes people only manage to pay off debts a year after the funeral,” he added.
Some people feel that they have to go into debt to show they can live up to the standards set by their neighbours or friends, believes sociologist Rufat Guliyev, the President of the Azerbaijani Sociological Association.
“Lavish funerals are not a sign of respect towards the deceased — people actually just want to demonstrate to others that they have a certain status,” Guliyev said.
I’m not sure how Azerbaijan is going to handle this issue, but it seems problematic that anytime there is a funeral, someone has to go into debt. And they can’t even drink their sorrows away:
“Mourning ceremonies are often held with excessive wastefulness, and it’s difficult sometimes to distinguish a funeral from a wedding party,” said the chairman of the parliamentary committee for social policy, Hadi Recebli.
“The only difference is that alcoholic beverages are not served at funerals.”