Social Work in Azerbaijan
Social work, as we know today is a young profession in Azerbaijan. But history of systemized charity which initiated social work everywhere also has old roots in Azerbaijan coming from pre-Soviet era. After the Communists regime was established in Azerbaijan all individual philanthropy efforts were eliminated. During the Soviet time duties of social workers were delivered by volunteers of Communist Party, Trade Unions and social services assistants who had secondary school education.
In early 2000th social work concept started re-emerging and the first gen- eration of social workers were trained in the USA through Open Society Foundation Social Work Fellowship Program. Upon their return home, these alumni, the pioneers of social work played a crucial role in establishment of social work profession and education programs. In 2005, the first formal so- cial work training program, master in social work, and in 2008 the first social work bachelor programs were established in the Baku State University. Later on other universities in the country started their social work programs and currently there are eight universities in Azerbaijan which have social work master and bachelor degree programs. Five of these universities are located in capital city, Baku and the rest in small cities of Azerbaijan.
In 2012, the social work profession in Azerbaijan for the first time was recog- nized by the Law on Social Services. The law has a requirement that in order to call oneself as a social a social worker, they need to have at least bachelor level education. Following after the law, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection jointly with the World Bank developed the national standards and criteria for social workers in 2013-2014. The purpose of this paper is to give brief background of history of philanthropy, recent history and current situation of social work in Azerbaijan.
History of social work in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is located in the South Caucasus, in the shore of the Caspian Sea and borders with Turkey, Rus- sia, Iran, Georgia and Armenia. The country re-gained its independence in 1991 after collapse of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan declared its first democracy back in 1918 and was democratically governed until 1920 when Communists took over. Azerbaijan is one of the oldest oil producing countries in the world, dating back to early 19th century. The country is a major energy player in Europe and developing its natural gas sector rapidly over the past decade.
The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, indigenous charity efforts based on the national philosophy of philanthropy started to be sys- tematized in Azerbaijan. Local political and economic elites and scholars including their wives established local philanthropic organizations such as such as Nashri Maarif (1906), Shafa Society (1912), Baku Mus- lim Women’s Charity Foundation (1914), Saadat Society (1907), and Nijat Jemiyyeti (1906) not in only in the capital cities but also in other small cities of Azerbaijan. The main purpose of these organizations was to help vulnerable groups such as low-income families, wid- owed women, women headed households, children, migrants and their families and veterans or families of deceased soldiers of wars and conflicts, elderly, and people with disabilities
Another group of philanthropists belonged to the one of the leading sector of the economy, to oil sector. Oil millionaires or barons invested in activities through organized effort such as “Jemiyyeti-Xeyriyye” (The Charity Society) or through individual efforts (Huseyn- li, 2007). They opened schools for girls, and provided full scholarships for children from poor families to get equal education as other children. In 1900 oil baron Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev opened first school for girls which called “Girls Seminary” and financed education of all students at this school. This was the first school for girls in the Muslim World. All expenses of seminary were covered by Taghiyev. Students from poor families consisted of more than half the total students and they were exempted from the education fee. In addition, Taghiyev and other oil barons established shelters for homeless and poor people, child institutions to take care of orphans, abandoned children and children who worked and lived on the streets (Azerbaijan NGO Alli- ance for Children’s Rights, 2005). As Suleymanov (1987) noted, the “Jemiyyeti-Xeyriyye” played an important role in coordinating services and helping in the dis- tribution of financial resources for maintaining these shelters, child institutions and other charity activities (Huseynli, 2007). Workers in those shelters and child institutions were trained in the “Girls Seminary”.
In 1920, Communism was established in Azerbaijan. During Soviet time all individual charities were abolished. Communists considered that the life in Soviet time was the best in the world and getting better all the time and therefore, severe social problems were denied and did not get enough attention. In addition, as social work profession was also seen as a capitalist idea it was oppressed and did not get enough atten- tion. Functions of social workers were carried out by the workers of trade unions, party, teachers and workers of personnel departments. These people did not receive any specialized social work education. All social services and benefits were delivered to target groups by different professionals but social workers. People who worked for these services came from different background and education. The personnel who were working for these social services also did not have special job title. Only personal were called social assistant who delivered social service for old, disabled and lonely people. These social assistants did not have any higher education and they were graduates of sec- ondary schools.
Since the nature of social services were about helping old, lonely and disabled people with household chores such as cleaning, shopping and bathing, it did not require higher education. They did not have any relevant training before entering the jobs. These personnel were considered “social workers” during and after Soviet times. Due to this history, there is still a misconception about social work. There is also a general understanding that everyone can do social work without getting right education since it is all about cleaning, washing and shopping food for vulnerable people. In 1991 Communist system in Azerbaijan collapsed. With no prior history of social work nor even a philanthropic tradition under the Soviet domination for 70 years, the majority of the Azerbaijan population had no understanding of what social work was or how this newly introduced profession could contribute to the society. Yet, in just few years from 1991 to today, a profession itself has been established within various international organizations. Every international organization trained its local employees on different aspect of social work to work with target vulnerable groups. However, performing partial roles of social workers, these people do not have professional background in social work which does not allow them to solve the problems from the root.
In order to have professional and scientific approach to social problems Open Society Foundation (OSF) started to establish social work education in several post-soviet countries including Azerbaijan. Efforts made to establish social work education began in 2000 when OSF announced social work fellowship for eight post-soviet countries.
Social work education in Azerbaijan
Taking into account the absence of social work in the former Soviet countries, Open Society Foundation began implementing social work education program to train specialists in this field in 2000. The program finished in 2012. Throughout 12 years, more than 30 Azerbaijan citizens studied in social work within this program. In 2002, alumni who studied in the US began to conduct various lectures students in psychology, sociology and social sciences at Baku State University and Western University. At the same time, they have convened conferences, training and seminars for the recognition of social work in the society. However, alumni established the first ever Master of Social Work Program at Baku State University funded by Open Society Foundation, with administrative assistance of Baku State University and Baku Information and Education Center in 2005. Two or three social workers were trained in master program every year.
In 2008 the first ever bachelor degree was established at the Baku State University with. Currently, social workers are trained on both undergraduate and master degrees in 7 state universities, Baku State University, Azerbaijan
State Art and Culture University, Azerbaijan
Tourism and Management University, Ganja State University, Nakhichevan State University, and 2 private universities such Azerbaijan Labor and Social Attitudes Academy, Azerbaijan University and 3 colleges, Baku Humanitarian Collage, Shusha Humanitarian Collage and Baku State Socio- Economic Collage. Currently there are almost 1000 social workers graduated from local universities in the country. In 2010, the Baku Pedagogical Personnel Qualification and Retraining Institute launched a nine-month specialization course for staff of public child institutions on family and children social work to work with children and families. About 80 social workers were trained in this program. But the program was closed due to lack of demand.
Professional association of social workers in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan Social Work Public Union (AZSWU) is an association of professional social workers of Azerbaijan. It initiated in 2006 by alumna who studied social work in the US and it was officially registered in 2009 at the Ministry of Justice as a non-profit agency. Currently Azerbaijan Social Work Public Union (AZSWU) is a membership based organization and individuals having social work degrees can be members. AZSWU has a mission to promote the social work profession and education in Azerbaijan, with a special focus on promoting welfare of vulnerable groups in the society. In 2012, it became a member of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW). Through this membership AZSWU ensures that the quality of social work is in line with international standards and professionalism. It also makes sure that high standards are maintained throughout social work education. AZSWU strives to increase the number of professional social workers in the country and strongly supports the establishment of social work as an academic career. Additionally, the organization has a crucial role in social development of the country through lobbying for strategies and policies for contemporary social issues to enhance welfare of population.
Azerbaijan Social Work Public Union (2015) Research: Achievements and challenges in social work education, p. 12-15
European Commission. (2011). Social Protection and Social Inclusion in Azerbaijan.
International Labor Organiza- tion. (1999). Preliminary as- sessment of social protection system in Azerbaijan Selwyn Stanley (2011) Social Work Education in countries of the East, p. 13-23
Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of Population (2015) Boarding Houses and Pensions http://www.mlspp.gov.az/en/pages/3/94
World Bank (2017) The World Bank in Azerbaijan worldbank.org