Senior Adviser, Center for Social Research
Abstract. Knife-carrying by youth constitutes a serious threat to the lives and safety of others. However, motives for the carriage of this sharp instrument has received relatively limited attention by researchers. Drawing on interviews with psychologists, criminologists and sociologists (n=27) in Azerbaijan, this study attempts to explore the views of experts on the motives for knife-carrying among the youth. The interviews found a set of mixed and interrelated factors as the key motivators of carrying a knife among male youth. Based on the experience of their direct work or consultation with knife-carriers, experts believe that as a result of negative paternal influence, young men tend to suffer from poor socialisation and fail academically, which forces them to seek companionship, status, and identity elsewhere. In such circumstances, adolescents who feel powerless and see themselves unsuccessful become likely to fall under the influence of their peers, as well as the criminal world whose figures are widely popular in the country. Since knife-carrying provides a sense of power and self-esteem, as well as constitutes a core attribute of notorious criminal figures, it becomes attractive to the youth. The findings advance our understanding of youth’s inclination towards knife-carrying in Azerbaijani context. The limitations of this study and recommendations for further research are discussed in the end.
Keywords: knife-carrying, youth deviance, violence, Azerbaijan
With its historically restrictive firearm regulations, knives and sharp objects, in general, have become a tool widely used in violent crimes. However, it is very important to point to a few issues with the data on knife-carrying and crimes in Azerbaijan. First, no data on the scale of knife-carrying and knife crime are available publicly. Secondly, alternative sources of data on knife crime and knife-carriage were not accessible either. Alongside the inaccessibility of hospital admission statistics associated with the injuries caused by sharp objects in Azerbaijan, no self-report study on knife-carriage has been conducted in the country. In the absence of alternative data, the information obtained from the Ministry of Justice by media agencies is the sole source of information on the prevalence of knife crimes in Azerbaijan.
While the Article 120 of Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan states 7-12 years of imprisonment for individuals convicted of physical assault resulting in death (irrespective of the instrument used), Article 228.4 mandates for acquisition, trade and carriage of sharp objects one of these sentences – 320-400 hours of community work, 1- year judicial restraint ¹ or 1- year imprisonment. However, as highlighted by Kershaw, Nicholas and Walker (2008), the availability of kitchen knives in virtually every home presents a problem for legislators and violence prevention specialists, and Azerbaijan is not an exception.
Rationale for study
This study is useful from several perspectives. The findings of this research would be a contribution to the limited literature on the motives of the carriage of knives. Following the calls of researchers  for more detailed research on carrying a knife as a weapon and the motivations for it, this study attempts to shed light on this matter, albeit it does so through interviews with experts, rather than knife carriers themselves. Thus, one should view this study into the perceptions of experts of reasons behind knife-carrying among young males. Put differently, experts, based on their direct consultation with knife-carriers, share their views on motives of knife-carrying. Another potential benefit of this research is the geography it focuses on – Azerbaijan. As highlighted by Wallace , in spite of the in-depth exploration of fighting, bullying, and gangs among adolescence across countries, little cross-national research has centered on weapon carrying. The choice of Azerbaijan as a unit of study is relevant to the world from at least two perspectives. First, with its different cultural and social characteristics, Azerbaijan may provide unique insights into the issue of carriage of knives among the youth. It is a society where gun use and carriage, due to restrictive policies, are significantly limited (Light and Slonimerov, 2019), meaning that sharp objects are the only potential weapon that can be carried, though it is illegal. Secondly, the study of Azerbaijan contributes to our understanding of post-Soviet criminal landscape. This study constitutes the first attempt to shed light on the reasons for knife-carrying among the youth in the country. Finally, although the research on violence and masculinities is growing [29; 38], which includes the perspectives of youths [30; 39], there is still a gap in knowledge about motives of knife-carrying behaviours. This qualitative study aims to fill this gap by examining the motives behind knife-carrying, such as its role in male identity construction.
The following research question guided the study:
– In the views of the experts, what are the main factors motivating some youth in Azerbaijan to carry a knife?
This study adopted a qualitative semi-structured interview data collection method. A social topic of this nature is likely to have a wide variety of standpoints among experts, which can be obtained via a flexible structure. Therefore, it was important to choose a method that would allow participants, to express their views freely without any restrictions. It was made possible through open questions, which also allowed for probing . Probing proved to be particularly useful in the interviews as it allowed me to elicit further details from respondents when their answer was either insufficiently deep or lacked clarity.
All interviews took place between January and March in 2019 at either the office of respondents or a hired room in a book centre in the capital city, Baku. Due to the sensitivity of the topic, not all interviewees agreed to tape-recording. Only 5 respondents rejected audio-recording and asked me to write down their answers on a paper, which led to longer than usual duration of an interview. In these cases, handwritten notes were typed immediately after the interviews to ensure accurate and comprehensive recording of the information. Each interview lasted from 25 to 35 minutes (mean=30 minutes) and was preceded by a 5–10 minutes of introductory remarks, allowing me to provide respondents with background information to the study. The interviews began by asking the respondents general questions about the involvement of young people in crime in Azerbaijan. This was followed by a set of specific questions related to knife-carrying by young people. Some of the broad issues addressed included: the factors that lie at the root of interpersonal violent crimes committed by the youth; the primary factors motivating young people to carry knives in the country; the role of family relationships and delinquency in influencing knife-carrying.
The sample (n=27) in this study consisted of experts from different backgrounds – sociologists, criminologists and psychologists. The respondents had various experiences that made them worthy interviewing. While the psychologists interviewed work directly with the youth involved in knife-carrying, sociologists and criminologists carry out research on a regular basis concerning youth deviance and criminality. Based on their practical experience on dealing with the youth involved in violent crimes, including knife crimes and carrying, experts were in a position to provide explanation as to the motivations behind knife carrying among the youth. The rationale for the choice of different professionals was that while psychologists could have focused primarily on psychological or family-related factors as key drivers of knife-carriage, sociologists and criminologists were in a position to explain the motivations for this behaviour from a social and criminological perspective.
The respondents were found through snowball sampling, a technique where a member of the target population is contacted to provide contacts of other members that meet the criteria set out by the researcher .
The interview transcripts were analysed through thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006). Thematic analysis has been conceptualised as a method for identifying, analysing, and reporting patterns and themes within data. In each transcript, keywords were marked and each theme emerged was given a code, which was eventually ‘checked’ to see whether they appear in other transcripts.
Father as a poor role model
One’s family and community circumstances was seen as an important motivator of knife-carrying by almost all respondents, irrespective of their expertise. It was believed that parents, as the agents of primary socialisation, exert lifelong influence on children. Some of the psychologists and sociologists pointed to poor parenting and aggression-laden values (e.g. supporting violence) as one of the primary reasons of weapon carriage among the youth. Based on their work experience, experts argued that in the problematic families where a male parent is missing or has a criminal background, it is highly likely to see increased incentive to take up knives. When probed to provide further details as to how the presence of a deviant male parent or absence of male parent at all influences a decision to carry a knife, two general responses were provided: a poor role model for the children and a sense of powerlessness. First, regarding the presence of a criminal male parent, the experts, based on their consultations with the youth, felt that as a poor role model for the children, a father with an offending history or exposure to criminal elements (i.e. being a follower of a notorious thief-in-law, encouraging knife-carrying, etc.) is likely to condone violence, and perceive physical force as a solution for problems. When father himself is a criminal and encourages his son to adopt a similar route, it leaves little choice for a son. Some respondents used the word of kişi sənəti (roughly translated as an “art of man”) describing the values transmitted by a criminal or violent father to his son. That is, fathers with such values tend to portray knife-carriage as a masculine thing – confirmation of the power of manhood. A sociologist with 9 years of work experience explained this set of mind in the following sentence: “A man shall carry a knife, just in case, when he or his honour is under attack, he must be powerful enough to protect himself and the honour of his family”.
In fact, the sense of power was widely noted in the interviews as a second motivator for knife-carrying by a youth who lack a conventional paternal role model. Alongside knives’ physical force, respondents also pointed to the mental aspect of it. That is, they argued that in dysfunctional families where a paternal parent is either missing or problematic in themselves, it encourages male adolescents to assume the responsibility of caretaking. Those who lack educational and occupational traits to work in legal employment gradually begin to perceive knives as a source of physical and mental power, which bolsters their confidence. As put by one psychologist, the idea of “I will protect and take care of myself and my family” (E.R. age 30, clinical psychologist) assumes fore importance for male adolescents. In a patriarchal society like that of Azerbaijan, experts felt that male adolescents are expected to care for their families if the father has failed to do so. A psychologist with in-depth experience of working with the deviant youth expresses this situation as the following:
“Through my work with male youth and children, I have observed that mothers in problematic families (where relationships are strained) struggle to provide necessary emotional and psychological support to their male child or children. Once they fail in school, they start to feel weak and doomed to fail in the future life. Therefore, they tend to seek other routes to gain a sense of power, and knife, with its lethal power and social status among delinquent peers, provides that much-needed feeling” (4 years / child and teen psychologist)
Understanding the importance of self-esteem in the development of personality, psychologists stated that in their discussions with the youth about their deviance, the need for self-actualisation and self-esteem is frequently noted as one of the key factors driving them to carry a sharp object due to the status and sense of power it gives. Criminologists, sociologists and psychologists referred to Maslow  pyramid to explain one of the motivations of knife-carrying among the youth. It was argued that as illustrated in the pyramid, one of the most fundamental needs of an individual is self-esteem and confirmation by others. The knife-carriers whom the experts have worked with were overwhelmingly from poor academic backgrounds and had no objectives, such as building a career or going into university. These young people seek identities and self-esteem. Knives give them the sense of power to bolster their self-esteem because they have seen the benefits of it among the thieves-in-law, as well as their peers and school mates. They feel the need to be accepted by their peers, who themselves are almost always made up of school dropouts or failed students who have no perspective in the job market. One of the psychologists provided the following statement that explains the influence of self-esteem in influencing the decision to carry knives:
“Young people, in their transition from school to university, tend to face two routes through which they can build their identity – either admission to the university with the high test result or admission to streets where weapons are the way of survival and identity construction.” (5 years / child and teen psychologist)
Influence of thieves-in-law
A significant proportion of the respondents (24 out of 27) were unanimous in their view that despite their eradication from the society and prison system by the state, thieves-in-law still yield significant influence over the youth, particularly those feeling outcast and marginalised.
Rather interestingly, in the views of those respondents, since knife-carrying constitutes an important element of the life of criminal authorities, a knife tends to assume a core place in the lives of the deviant youth following thieves-in-law. One sociologist with in-depth experience of working with young offenders previously as a social worker described his first-hand experience of understanding the significance of thieves-in-law for the deviant youth:
“In one of the group therapies at a rehabilitation center consisting of young offenders [not all of them were convicted of knife-carrying or use], when I asked them to draw up the pictures of their idols, many of them drew the rough portraits of popular criminal authorities, such as Yaponchik and Hikmat. And when I asked them to name their favourite songs, many of them named the songs which celebrated criminality and prison life, such as well-known Dolya Vorovskaya” (10 years / sociologist)
Some of the respondents with in-depth knowledge of the criminal world believed that their romanticism is an important pull factor among deviant youth in Azerbaijan. A psychologist with 18 years of experience in working with children and teenagers argues that one of the chief attractive features of thieves-in-law in Azerbaijan, as well as other Soviet countries is their so-called Robin Hood picture prevalent among the youth. That is, in a similar way to Robin Hood, thieves-in-law in Azerbaijan have reportedly fought against the unjust economic system that has put deviant youth at the bottom of the social strata. Thus, following the footsteps of thieves-in-law, the deviant youth seek to restore the justice themselves, and knives, in their eyes, provide a sense of power and confidence to them in their cause.
However, nearly all respondents (25 out of 27) noted that knife-carriers, as far as they have observed, rarely take up a knife for aggression or self-protection – rather, it is carried mostly due to its symbolic meaning and self-defence capacity when necessary.
It was claimed by a large number of experts (20 out of 27) that media also plays role in the adulation of thieves-in-law, as well as their lifestyle. 20 experts felt that both TVs and social media yield adverse influence on the youth and subtly and indirectly encourage them to perceive violence as acceptable behaviour. A sociologist neatly pointed to YouTube trends in Azerbaijan, stating that many trending videos on that portal contain elements that support and propagate the values of the criminal world and criminality overall. In general, however, the primary example the respondents gave were films on mafia and the criminal underworld. These films, mostly of Turkish origin (e.g. Kurtlar vadisi and Çukur) portray mafia people and thieves-in-law as wealthy, influential and highly-respected individuals in the world where weapon carriage is a norm. Under the influence of such films, many young people in Azerbaijan deprived of legal opportunities and skills to earn a living and status start to adopt the lifestyle and attributes of those televised figures. Deviant young people come to idolise these TV models and start to believe that criminality provides a relatively easier and shorter route to success.
As found elsewhere, peer influence was highlighted by nearly all respondents as one of the factors motivating knife-carrying. Experts in the sample linked peer influence to family breakdown – those suffering from lack of acceptance, recognition and a sense of belonging in the family seek them in peer groups. Since the youth from such backgrounds tend to fail at school as well, they usually have a greater degree of propensity to deviant behaviour, such as knife-carrying. Either at school or in neighbourhood, they mingle with like-minded adolescents, whose set of shared values more often than not assess manhood based on violence and aggression, not education or legitimate employment. In the views of the respondents, it is in those circumstances where knives become important and attractive to peer group members. In the words of some respondents, the view of “a man is a man if he can solve his problem on his own, without calling the police” is widely accepted in youth subculture, which encourages the possession of some sort of sharp objects.
Many experts also referred to the role of honour crimes in the Azerbaijani context in encouraging knife-carriage among the deviant peer groups. They argued that unlike in Western societies, the issue of honour crimes is more current and influential, and indirectly facilitates some young people to take up knives. The experts felt that in deviant subculture in Azerbaijan, prevalent particularly among those uneducated and prone to violence, those who report to or seek the assistance of the police are frowned upon. Coupled with some deep-seated widespread phrases in the local culture, such as “kişinin xəncəri olar” (a man shall possess a sword), “kişi silah gəzdirər” (a man shall carry a weapon), the majority of the respondents believe that many young adolescents with poor socialisation may look up these cultural expectations and perceive weapons as acceptable. This somewhat culture-related problem was expressed in the statements below:
“On the basis of my observations, in our society, many knife crimes occur on the grounds of honour and interpersonal abuse. That is why, to respond to any potential abuse, young guys in peer groups with propensity to violence and criminality tend to carry a sharp object. They perceive a response to an honour-related abuse as a moral obligation to fulfil – “if you leave that abuse unresponded, you are not a man” is the prevailing attitude among such people” (7 years / cognitive psychologist)
“Those reporting certain forms of verbal abuses, such as honour-related ones, are seen as “satqin” ² and too weak to fight back. In the environment where masculinity and bravado are demonstrated through brute force and deviant behaviour, knives assume an ever-greater importance.” (15 years/ psychoanalysis expert)
Attitude to law and punishment
There was a widespread agreement among the experts that knife-carrying is influenced by neither laws nor the actions of the law enforcement. The experts felt that since knife-carrying is motivated primarily by the forces beyond the realm of the law, such as family breakdown and influence of thieves-in-law, tackling both knife-carrying and knife crime through legislative means and police officers is not a practical solution in long-term. The statement from a sociologist below exemplifies this widely held opinion:
“If a young person has failed at a school, has no proper family and sees no perspective in the future, deviant behaviour such as carrying a knife will seem enticing because of the benefits it yields, namely, the sense of power, relative ease of acquiring material gain and status among the peers. Their concern of being arrested or punished will be at the bottom of the list of personal concerns” (7 years / psychiatrist working with adolescents)
Although increasing the presence of police forces in rundown communities may be a short-term solution to create deterrence among knife-carriers, such a strategy was deemed futile and incapable of solving fundamental underlying problems in the long-term that give arise to taking up sharp objects.
An interesting issue that emerged from the interviews was related to the perception of law among the knife-carrying youth. Many experts believed that far from being a deterrent, going against the law is widely seen as an honorable act among the youth from such a background in the Azerbaijani context. Psychologists often cited the significance and meaning of criminality and prison among deviant peer groups. Referring to the association between thieves-in-law and prison (imprisonment is a prerequisite to earn a thief-in-law status) as well as the “veneration of imprisonment” within deviant peer groups, the interviewees argued that imprisonment is not seen as something to avoid among many knife-carriers. Irrespective of the nature of the punishment, those deprived of employment opportunities and proper schooling, coupled with a lack of self-esteem and social recognition tend to somewhat desire to be imprisoned for several reasons. Referring to the Maslow pyramid, many experts felt that prison meets nearly all needs of a typical knife-carrying, deviant young. The quotation from a sociologist succinctly summarises these views:
“Prison meets all the needs of an individual put forward by Maslow. There, an adolescent finds a shelter, is served food on a routine basis, and finds a higher degree of security (of course, if surrounded by like-minded inmates). He then starts to feel as a part of a group whose identity contains similarities to that of himself. Since deviant values are endorsed and embraced in prison, it feeds esteem, and finally, such an environment enables self-actualisation without fear of resilience and retaliation from others” (10 years / sociologist)
In deviant peer groups where the majority of group members are usually broken with their families and suffer from lack of sufficient parenting, the notion of a home takes a new meaning. Both psychologists and sociologists, based on their work with the deviant youth claimed that street, and ultimately, prison become an important place for the members of deviant peer groups. Many deviant young male perceive prison as a place for the confirmation of manhood. The local phrase frequently referred to by the respondents in the sample was “kişi içəri girib yatıb çıxar” (translated as ”a real man shall be imprisoned”). Such an attitude, therefore, encourages knife-carriage and use. The implication is that knife-carrying adolescents view knives as a tool to demonstrate their fearlessness from law and earn their status.
However, it was noted by all sociologists and criminologists (psychologists did not address this matter) that without changing the severity of the sanctions, the authorities can reduce the prevalence of knife-carrying through effective implementation of existing measures, albeit to a limited extent. Certainty and swiftness of sanctions were perceived as more important than severity by the interviewees. Sociologists, in particular, drew attention to the issue of bribe, arguing that through a bribe, a teenager with a weapon can avoid arrest, or get lenient treatment by the officer. The very possibility of bribe undermines the deterrence of sanctions, thus, contributing to a wide prevalence of knife-carriage. A criminologist’s statement of “you can get away with knife carriage if you bribe an officer” (1 year / criminologist) shows the fundamental problem in crime prevention policies against knives in the country.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
Through interviews with psychologists, criminologists and sociologists this qualitative study attempted to explore potential motivations for knife-carrying among the youth in Azerbaijani society. As highlighted above, the findings are based on the experience of experts’ direct work or consultation with knife-carriers – they are not based on personal communications of the author with knife-carriers themselves. Overall, fathers’ negative role in socialisation, peer pressure, and the influence of the reputation of thieves-in-law among deviant youth as the key motivations for knife-carrying among the youth in Azerbaijani society. Thus, the results generally both support and extend previous research findings from elsewhere.
The quality of family relationships was widely noted because respondents felt that a warm parent–child relationship not only helps conventional socialisation, but it also largely prevents a child from falling under the influence of external groups outside home. Family warmth has been found to be an important factor in parent–adolescent relationships which facilitates development of self . On the contrary, family hostility creates aggression and reinforces negative child behaviours . In families where mutual relationships function well, a male child or adolescent feels less propensity towards a deviant lifestyle because doing so risks the loss of pro-social stakes. Parents, in their turn, exert social and informal control  which minimises the risk of a child falling under the influence of external forces, such as peer groups in which knives are assigned positive importance.
The experts drew specific attention to the role of the father because knife-carriers in Azerbaijan are primarily male adolescents who look up their fathers as a role model. If a father has been involved in criminality, or condones or even encourages violence, a male child is likely to follow and imitate. As found in other studies [5; 19], the experts working with the deviant youth argued that fathers with criminal aspects tend to approve high-risk practices such as fighting or acting tough, perceiving them to be a core attribute of manhood, and thus encourage their sons to follow a violent path and adopt practices such as knife-carrying. This is similar to findings by the previous studies [2; 13; 30; 37; 39]. These studies found that having family members who belong to a gang or the absence of at least one parent increases a child’s likelihood of delinquency and gang affiliation. Thus, this study’s findings largely conform to the existing research.
In his pyramid of needs, Maslow  identified self-esteem as a central and fundamental human need, which, if unmet in the family, could lead adolescents to seek respect, companionship, and identity elsewhere, such as deviant peer groups. Those lacking parental attention are likely to develop doubts about their self-worth. According to Kaplan , therefore, low self-esteem may facilitate delinquent behaviour, which in turn raises self-esteem and satisfies the hunger for recognition and respect. These deviant peer groups, in their turn, positively reinforce the delinquent views and behaviours of adolescents in a group environment .
This study identified group affiliation as an important reason behind knife-carrying in Azerbaijan, the finding in line with a plethora of research [23; 25; 26]. As highlighted by Margo and Stevens (2008) when at-risk groups of young people do not enjoy sufficient parental care and protection, they perceive group formation as offering protection and companionship. In Georgia, Azerbaijan’s neighbouring country, the studies by Koehler  and Zakharova  found that while street become a unit of socialisation for the youth who lack it at home, achieving status on the street becomes their ultimate objective. In the streets, the thieves’ normative code forms an ideological system, and behaviours such as demonstrating knowledge of the thieves’ idiom becomes a precondition for the righteous use of force . Similarly, the knowledge of the thieves’ code and application of it in the conflict resolution and social activities earns a young individual respect and right for use of force . Thus, the findings of the current study point to similarities between the ways young men in two neighbouring countries perceive thieves-in-law and organise their lives in the streets.
Alongside protection and companionship, values held by peer groups also attract at-risk young people. These values are gradually learned through what Bandura  calls social learning theory. According to the theory, deviant behaviour can be adopted through the direct experience of violence or by exposure to violence and aggression among family members and peers. For an adolescent deprived of a conventional, pro-social family upbringing, the development of values and beliefs under the influence of peers becomes a substitute for parental values and beliefs. Thus, peer influence is a strong factor which instigates deviant behaviours such as knife carriage, especially among those adolescents who are psychologically susceptible to peer pressure. As highlighted by MacDonald and Marsh (2005), over time, through their participation in the streets, deviant young people develop a subculturally defined personal identity, values, and lifestyles that are different to societally accepted norms and values. More often than not, in the views of the experts surveyed for this study, this set of norms concerns weapon-carrying, anger against society, and sympathy for thieves-in-law.
This study provides insights into how thieves-in-law in Azerbaijan can yield influence over the decision of youths to take up knives. Thieves-in-law engage in various, often illicit activities, such as protection racketeering . They emerged in the early 1930s as an elite criminal caste within the Soviet Gulag , and have certain distinctive characteristics that are different from gangs in places such as the US and UK. In general, thieves-in-law across the Soviet landscape might be perceived as a criminal nobility or elite . Their code of honor includes several principles, ranging from “a thief-in-law must never work or have ever worked in or outside prison” to “a thief-in-law must attract new recruits, especially from among the youth” [34, p.13]. They derive their influence from their status and profitable activities, such as providing protection and dispute resolution to those using their services, such as organised crime syndicates. Moreover, they have their own laws and rules, as well as lifestyles. As noted by Slade [34, p.6], ‘renouncing material and physical pleasures, promoting a vision of justice that people identified with … the thieves-in-law appeared to offer an alternative in life for those who could get close to them.’ Such an image is one of the reasons of their romanticisation and idealization by the youth in this part of the world, including Azerbaijan.
Although the government in Azerbaijan has largely eradicated the mafia and the thieves-in-law that prevailed in the early years of independence, they still enjoy a positive reputation among many deviant young people, particularly those with no education or job. Many respondents, criminologists in particular, with in-depth knowledge of the criminal world argued that thieves-in-law earned a reputation at a time when the country was undergoing unprecedented upheaval following the collapse of the Soviet system. Through publishing books and sponsoring TV programmes about themselves, criminal authorities commanded notable influence over many sections of the population, with particular effect on the socialisation of the deviant youth. The current study’s findings constitute similarities with those of in other post-Soviet countries. For instance, though not studied in Azerbaijani context, the role of thieves-in-law in facilitating deviant behaviour among the youth has been explored in neighbouring country, Georgia. Writing about Azerbaijan’s neighbouring country Georgia, where the criminal world has historically been much stronger and more influential, Glonti and Lobjanidze  argue that criminal figures are romanticised in the eyes of the youth who see them as ‘business people’ with a social cause. Though different societies, Georgia and Azerbaijan share rather similar histories (both used to be a part of the Soviet Union). Therefore, one may argue that, in a similar fashion observed in Georgia, Azerbaijani thieves-in-law gained popularity among the youth during a tumultuous post-Soviet period when law enforcement was weak and poverty was rife, which made reputable and wealthy criminal figures attractive. Such a portrayal of thieves-in-law both in Georgia and Azerbaijan yields them important social and cultural powers to influence young people’s behaviours.
Because many thieves-in-law enjoy a positive reputation among the followers of the criminal world, these people become attractive role models for male adolescents who lack a role model in the form of a father at home. Alongside the increasingly important peer socialization during the period of late adolescence, the demonstration of violence, accepting certain dress codes, and carrying a weapon  become prerequisites not only for acceptance by deviant peer groups, but also for the demonstration of sympathy towards criminal figures.
Overall, the findings of the current study advance our understanding of youth’s inclination towards knife-carrying in Azerbaijani context, which is culturally and socially different from the Western societies. Similar to the findings elsewhere, the motives of Azerbaijani youth’s inclination towards knife-carrying stem from poor socialisation, lack of role model and peer affiliation. However, it is the view of the author that the current study’s finding regarding the role of thieves-in-law and criminal figures in general is particularly revealing, for this factor has rarely featured in explorative studies in the Western societies. In other words, the current literature has paid scant attention to the ways some young male are influenced by criminal figures in their decision of taking up knives. Thus, this study enhances our criminological understandings of the attraction of criminal subcultures.
The findings should be interpreted with caution for several reasons. First, the motives of knife-carrying among young people were explored through the experts either working with them or people with experience in studying the deviant behaviour of the youth in Azerbaijan. Though insightful and useful, the information provided directly by knife-carriers themselves could have been different. Phrased differently, it is possible that the accounts provided by experts may have been a relatively inaccurate presentation of the motivations of knife-carriers. As a part of ‘impression management’  participants may lie or provide reconstructed, or distorted accounts as to their motivation for taking up knives, thus, undermining the internal validity of the experts’ accounts to a certain degree. Similarly, the results provided in this study are professionals’ assumptions or perceptions of reasons. We acknowledge that without directly interviewing people who actually carry knives, it is hard to understand the reasons.
Secondly, our sample consisted mostly of psychologists and sociologists. The members of professions such as social workers, who tend to work more intimately with problematic families on a routine basis, could have provided much more detailed information on the motivations of knife-carriers, as well as the role of families and communities in facilitating this particular behaviour. Third, the sample in this study consisted of experts working with the population in the capital city of Azerbaijan only. Considering potential variations between motivations of knife-carriers in urban and rural areas, our findings may not be applicable to the youth outside the capital city. Fourth, the experts interviewed in this study had worked primarily with the deviant male youth. The implication is that the findings of this study reflect mostly the motivations of male young people to take up weapons, which may differ from those of females. Yet despite these limitations, and given the fact that research on such sensitive topics is by its nature difficult, the reasoning was that it was better to study those few who could provide insights, rather than to ignore the topic altogether.
It is the position of the author that further research is warranted for improving our understanding of the motives behind knife carriage in Azerbaijan. To this end, a study where knife carriers are contacted directly may be adopted, whereby knife-carriers themselves would explain their motives behind knife carriage. Samplewise, it is important to cover knife-carriers from both urban and rural areas to obtain a more accurate picture of the subject. Future studies may also comparatively analyse the problems in knife crime prevention policies of the local government and other countries to identify issues and potential solutions for knife problem in Azerbaijan.
This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Informed consent was obtained from each participant
Conflict of Interest: The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
The study did not apply for a consent from a research ethics committee, since there is no local research ethics committee in Azerbaijan. The author was not a part of any university as well.
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Keyfiyyət əsaslı tədqiqat: gənclərin soyuq silah gəzdirməsinin motivləri ekspertlərin nəzərində:
27 nəfər mütəxəssislə dərinləşdirilmiş müsahibə
Gənclərin soyuq silah gəzdirməsi bir sıra ölkələrdə sosial problemə çevrilib. Lakin bu davranışın motivləri barədə araşdırmaların sayı məhduddur. Cari tədqiqatda Azərbaycanda psixoloq, kriminoloq və sosioloqlarla (n=27) aparılan dərinləşdirilmiş müsahibələr vasitəsilə gənclərin soyuq silah gəzdirməsinin səbəblərinin öyrənilməsinə çalışılır. Müsahibələrə əsasən, Azərbaycanda oğlanların soyuq silaha meyil etməsinin səbəbləri bir-biri ilə əlaqəli olan amillərdir. Mənfi ata rol modeli oğlanların kiçik yaşlarında normal sosiallaşmasına mənfi təsir göstərir, bəzi hallarda isə cinayətkar keçmişə malik atalar övladlarını bıçaq gəzdirməyə həvəsləndirir. Belə mühitdə böyüyən övladın sosiallaşması evdən kənarda – bir çox hallarda deviant davranışların normaya çevrildiyi həmyaşıd mühitlərində reallaşır. Əlavə olaraq, həmin oğlanlar arasında Azərbaycanda bəzi dairələrdə populyar olan qanuni oğruları idollaşdırmaq həvəsi də gənclərə güc hissi verən soyuq silaha meyillilik yaradır.
Açar sözlər: soyuq silah, gənclərin deviant davranışı, zorakılıq, Azərbaycan
Мотивы ношения ножа среди молодежи глазами экспертов в Азербайджане: качественное исследование среди 27 экспертов
Ношение ножа молодыми людьми представляет собой серьезную угрозу для жизни и безопасности других людей. Однако мотивам ношения этого острого инструмента исследователи уделяют относительно ограниченное внимание. Основываясь на интервью с психологами, криминологами и социологами (n = 27) в Азербайджане, автор исследование пытается изучить мнения экспертов о мотивах ношения ножа среди молодежи. В ходе интервью был обнаружен набор смешанных и взаимосвязанных факторов в качестве ключевых мотивов ношения ножа среди молодежи мужского пола. Основываясь на опыте непосредственной работы или консультаций с носителями ножей, эксперты полагают, что в результате негативного отцовского влияния молодые люди, как правило, страдают от плохой социализации и не успевают в учебе, что вынуждает их искать товарищества, статуса и идентичности в другом месте.
Ключевые слова: ношение ножа, девиация молодежи, насилие, Азербайджан