Ara Oshagan, an Armenian photographer born in Lebanon and now living in America, is a child of the Diaspora. He takes the viewer on a personal journey through Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian homeland in which he has never lived. His photo essay, conducted with his father, a famous Armenian writer, explores the ambiguity of belonging and not belonging, the history of Armenia and its people, and Ara’s relationship to the country.
The tradition of early marriages in Georgia provides Georgian photographer Daro Sulakauri the backdrop for her powerful images. The custom is illegal, yet Georgia has one of the highest rates in Europe of marriages below the age of 18. These weddings occur predominately in the Kvemo Kartli and Ajara regions among religious and ethnic minorities. Daro’s photographs generate a discussion around the issue of early marriages, providing insight to the outsider.
Jan Zychlinski, a photographer based in Switzerland, travelled from September 2014 to February 2015 around the South Caucasus to document the inhumane consequences of armed conflict after the collapse of the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago. He skillfully documents the internally displaced people who left their homes to seek shelter as refugees in camps, collective centers or newly built settlements far removed from the rest of society — many of them still living under these conditions.
Forgotten Caucasus: Article
While topics like the Syrian refugee crisis, Islamic State-sponsored terrorism, and the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians dominate the news, there is another region facing tremendous challenges: The South Caucasus. A pivotal junction located between Russia, Turkey, and Iran, it straddles the periphery of the Middle East encased between the shores of the Black and the Caspian Seas and crisscrossed by the Caucasus mountains.
With a millennia-long history, the Caucasus is one of the most diverse regions imaginable. Nowhere else can you find such a richness of religious, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and geopolitical identities that feed an endless manifold of conflicts. The region has historically been an area of war and contention for centuries. Ruled by the Persian, Ottoman and Russian Empires at the beginning of the 19th century, each left behind their own political and cultural legacy. The daunting web of challenges which lies ahead for the South Caucasus is no less vexing than the complex history it strives to leave behind.
A tinderbox of conflicts and challenges
It was just after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 that the states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in the South Caucasus became not only independent nations, but also areas of renewed conflict. Violent ethno-territorial strife in Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia divided the region providing a tinderbox of instability and worsening challenges. The clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, coupled with the Russian occupation of two enclaves in Georgia — Abkhazia on the Black Sea and South Ossetia — have resulted in massive upheaval and the suffering of local populations. Both conflicts resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands, as well as trauma, insecurity, displacement and seemingly insurmountable challenges for those who survived.
Relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagarno-Karabakh remain tense. Populated by ethnic Armenians but lying within Azerbaijan, the conflict that began in 1988 reached its peak between 1992 and 1994, leaving at least 25,000 people dead and more than a million displaced from their homes.
Tension lingers and the risk of a re-escalation of hostilities in this landlocked region of divided societies remains a very real possibility as the latest developments in Nagorno-Karabakh show. Dozens of people have been killed this April, including a young boy, in the worst fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the 1994 ceasefire. As of April 13, when ZEKE went to press, a ceasefire has been announced ending four days of heavy fighting. Still, the danger that the often-referred to “frozen conflict” may escalate into a full-blown war remains an ever present threat.
Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in 1992 and the 13 months-long war that followed resulted in the deaths of more than 12,000 and the displacement of nearly a quarter million ethnic Georgian refugees who fled their homes in Abkhazia. What followed in 2008 was a five-day war, involving Russian and Georgian forces in South Ossetia. The Russian Federation, recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations, stationed military forces in the region exposing people living in frontline areas to future escalations of conflict.
The challenges do not end there. Humanitarian concerns bedevil the region including child marriages, meager living conditions of the rural populations, and internally displaced persons. Refugees who left their homes as a consequence of the armed conflicts after the collapse of the Soviet Union are further distressed and hampered by the general lack of basic human rights. “Freedom” in the democratic Western European sense is not applicable in Georgia, Azerbaijan or Armenia.
“The South Caucasus is a quite complex region with differing developments in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia,” Giorgi Kanashvili, Executive Director of the Caucasian House in Tbilisi, Georgia, says. “In a nutshell, there is a tangible process in Georgia regarding democratization. People are quite optimistic and have trust in the future. The situation in Azerbaijan, on the contrary, has worsened every year concerning the growing authoritarianism. Although we don’t observe the same type of regress in Armenia, there are also negative tendencies. And the Georgian breakaway regions? In South Ossetia it is very difficult to talk about any type of democracy, as the situation is quite depressing and we can actually observe an ongoing depopulation of this region,” Giorgi explains further. “But in Abkhazia, though we cannot talk about democracy, we can talk about a certain form of ethnocracy. People there are more optimistic than in South Ossetia for sure.”
South Caucasus role on the global political stage
The EU, Russia, Turkey and the US all have varied interests in the South Caucasus countries.The European Union and the United States interests in the South Caucasus are similar — stability, development, trade, and energy as well as democracy and human rights. Russia’s interest lies in maintaining its influence, manageable conflicts, and energy infrastructure. Turkey, for its part, is focused on the interests of energy and trade, Nagorno-Karabakh and the subsequent relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as cultural and ethnic ties to the region. As all of these countries maintain close ties with the Caucasus, they are understandably concerned with its instability. Recently however attention has turned to the issues posed by the Arab Spring uprisings, the rise of the Islamic State and the unfolding Syrian refugee crisis, which has led the focus away from an engagement in the South Caucasus.
Additionally, diplomatic initiatives of the late 2000s that were supposed to vitalize regional development have broken down thereby raising failed expectations for the people of the South Caucasus and providing fodder for further disputes and challenges. The instability of the South Caucasus due to geopolitical rivalries and external partners and the kaleidoscope of fractious relationships between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia undoubtedly provide negative influence on the economic development, governance and security of the entire region.
Challenges as opportunities
One of the main questions the South Caucasus now faces is how social well-being and economic growth on a sustainable level can be achieved in such an explosive mix of challenges given the lack of a common identity. In the end there won’t be stability in the interlinked Caucasus region if there is no cultivated culture of tolerance and recognition for the ethnic diversity the region is characterized by. Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia face many challenges — yet every challenge provides an opportunity for reforms and positive steps forward.
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ZEKE is published by Social Documentary Network (SDN), an organization promoting visual storytelling about global themes. Started as a website in 2008, today SDN works with more than 1,500 photographers from around around the world to tell important stories through the visual medium of photography and multimedia. Since 2008, SDN has featured more than 2,000 exhibits on its website and has had gallery exhibitions in major cities around the world. All the work featured in ZEKE first appeared on the SDN website, www.socialdocumentary.net.
Spring 2016 Vol. 2/No. 1
Executive Editor: Glenn Ruga
Editor: Barbara Ayotte
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ZEKE is published twice a year by Social Documentary Network
Copyright © 2016
Social Documentary Network
Print ISSN 2381-1390
Digital ISSN: Forthcoming
ZEKE does not accept unsolicited submissions. To be considered for publication in ZEKE, submit your work to the SDN website either as a standard exhibit or a submission to a Call for Entries. Contributing photographers can choose to pay a fee for their work to be exhibted on SDN for a year or they can choose a free trial. Free trials have the same opportunity to be published in ZEKE as paid exhibits.
Cover photo by Daro Sulakauri. Georgia. Leila fell in love with a boy that she met online. She escaped from her home and crossed the border from an occupied territory of Georgia to marry.
Photographers and writers featured in this issue of ZEKE Magazine.
Photographer Jan Banning was born in Almelo in 1954 and currently lives in Utrecht, Netherlands. He studied history at the Radbout University of Nijmegen before becoming a photographic artist. He puts the social and political environment at the fore of his work and often features subjects that have been neglected within the arts and are difficult to portray: state power, consequences of war, justice, and injustice. His project “Bureaucratics,” a comparative study of government officials, showcases his academic, socially conscious approach. This exhibition earned Jan worldwide recognition, and it was shown in museums and galleries in some 20 countries on five continents.
Among Banning’s books are Traces of War (2005), Comfort Women (2010), and Down and Out in the South (2013). Among Banning’s many awards is a World Press Photo Award. His documentary artwork has been widely published and is featured in both private and public collections, including the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Lisa Liberty Becker
Lisa Liberty Becker has written 90-plus articles for publication in Boston magazine, Boston Sunday Globe, Boston Globe magazine, Sports Illustrated Women, Women’s Basketball magazine, and others. She also has one published nonfiction book.
In addition to being a writer, Lisa is also an editor and a writing instructor. She lives in the Boston area and is currently working on her second book.
Caterina Clerici is an independent multimedia journalist based in New York. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, she’s currently a freelance photo editor at TIME and the Special Issue Editor at SDN. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, La Stampa, Libération, Die Zeit, among others. You can follow her at @caterinaclerici.
Ara Oshagan’s work revolves around the themes of identity, community and bearing witness. Since 1995, he has been photographing and recording the oral histories of survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 — a collaborative work with Levon Parian and the Genocide Project, iwitness. For over eight years, Ara photographed extensively in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia for Father Land, a book project with his father, author Vahe Oshagan. Father Land was exhibited at the LA Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Park from December 2010 to Februrary 2011 and at the powerHouse Arena Gallery in NY in December 2010.
Ara received a California Council on the Humanities Major Grant in 2001 to photograph the Armenian experience of Los Angeles. This work, “Traces of Identity,” was exhibited at the LA Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Park and at the Downey Museum of Art.
Ara has received a grant from the California Council on the Humanities to photograph Ethiopian life in Los Angeles. In 2012, Ara spoke at the TEDxYerevan event, presenting a talk on “The Documentary Image as Identity.” That same year, he did a photographic/ architectural installation on the theme of “(Re)Population.” Ara’s work is currently in the permanent collection of the SouthEast Museum of Photography in Florida, the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, Downey Musuem of Art in Downey, California, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Yerevan, Armenia. Recently he has published A Poor Imitation of Death, a collaborative portrait of youth in the California prison system, and Mirror, reviewed in this issue of ZEKE.
Jordi Pizarro Torrell was born in Barcelona, Spain in 1985. He is a freelance documentary photographer currently based in New Dehli, India. He is mostly interested in his personal reportages, but also covers breaking news in South Asia. He currently is working on a long-term project entitled “Believers” which looks at traditions, cultures, and religions from an anthropological perspective in many different regions globally. He was awarded an honorable mention for this work from SDN in 2015.
The emphasis of Jordi’s work is largely focused on current social and environmental concerns that affect different communities, most of them not covered by major media. His main goal is to aid and increase awareness of issues affecting people and their environments in the world we live in, and he hopes that his photographs will contribute in some small way towards creating a more critical reflection of this world. He has been published in many international magazines including The New York Times, National Geographic, Time, Sunday Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, Forbes, and El País. His work has been shortlisted for many awards and scholarships, earning recognition from Pictures Of the Year International (POYI), PDN Storytellers, Sony World Photography Awards, Burn Magazine, San Jose Foto, LensCulture Exposure Award, and Lucie Foundation, among others.
Margaret Quackenbush is a freelance reporter based in Boston. She graduated with a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University in January 2016. Her writing has appeared in the Boston Business Journal, The Dorchester Reporter, Eater Boston and other publications in the Boston area.
She was the 2016 coordinator for Boston University’s annual Power of Narrative conference, and was previously the managing editor of the Boston University News Service and a teaching assistant at BU. Margaret received a BA in English and history from St. Lawrence University in 2010 and previously worked at WGBH, Boston’s PBS station.
Probal Rashid is a documentary photographer and photojournalist working in Bangladesh, represented by Zuma Press, USA. He earned a post-graduate diploma in photojournalism at the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism (ACFJ) at Ateneo De Manila University in the Philippines through a World Press Photo scholarship program. He also holds an MBA.
His work has been published in many national and international newspapers and magazines such as National Geographic, Forbes, GEO, New York Post, Days Japan, Paris Match, The Wall Street Journal, Stern, RVA, The Telegraph, Focus Magazine and The Guardian. Moreover, his photographs have been exhibited in Bangladesh, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, UK, and USA. Additionally, the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts selected some of his works for their permanent collection.
Probal is the recipient of numerous awards for his work including the Pictures Of the Year International (POYi), Days Japan Photojournalism Award, China International Press Photo Award (CHIPP), NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism Awards, Yonhap International Press Photo Awards, KL International Photo Award, FCCT/OnAsia Photojournalism, “Zoom-in on Poverty” Global Photo Award, CGAP Microfinance Photo Award, WPGA Annual Pollux Awards in UK, International Year of Biodiversity Award, and the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar Contest.
Anne Sahler is an internationally published writer, photographer and graphic designer who divides her time between Japan and her homeland of Germany. She holds a master’s degree in Cultural Studies, History of Art and Religious Studies which fuels her interests in Japan, art and social activism. Her curious nature and never ending need for travel helps lend a clarity of prospective to an evermore complicated world.
Paula Sokolska is a freelance journalist in the Boston area and the Strategic Communications Associate at Health Leads. She has a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University where she specialized in science and narrative writing.
She has written for BU Today, BU News Service, Zeke: The Magazine of Global Awareness, and Spotted by Locals
Jamey Stillings, originally from Oregon, earned a BA in Art from Willamette University (1978), and an MFA in Photography from Rochester Institute of Technology (1982). Over three decades, Stillings built a commercial photography business, integrating both fine art and documentary work. In 2009, Stillings embarked on a personal project, “The Bridge at Hoover Dam,” documenting its monumental construction over the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. Work from the bridge project has been published in over twenty magazines around the world and has won many awards. It has also been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including the 2013 London exhibition “Landmark –- The Fields of Photography,” curated by William Ewing.
Stillings continues to seek new opportunities to integrate his aesthetic interest in the human-altered landscape with concerns for environmental sustainability. In October 2010, he commenced aerial photography over the future site of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert of California. “The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar” has received The Epson Creativity Award in the PDN Photo Annual 2015, First Place Fine Art in the APA Awards 2014, and First Place in the 2013 International Photography Awards (IPA) in the Editorial Environmental Professional category, among others. First published in June 2012 by The New York Times Magazine, this work has since been published around the world. Photographs from the project have been exhibited in the United States, the Netherlands, and Colombia. “The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar” is now both an exhibition and a book (Steidl, 2015). Stillings’ extended project, “Changing Perspectives,” will build upon the Ivanpah Solar body of work by expanding his look at contemporary energy development. Over the next few years, Jamey’s goal is to develop “Changing Perspectives” into a global study.
Daro Sulakauri was born in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1985. After obtaining a degree from the Department of Cinematography at the Tbilisi State University, Daro moved to New York to study photojournalism at the School of the International Center of Photography (ICP). Before graduating in 2006, she was awarded the John and Mary Phillips Scholarship and recognized by the ICP Director’s Fund. Upon finishing, she returned to her native Georgia and continued doing photojournalism. She earned second place in the Magnum Foundation’s Young Photographer in the Caucasus contest for her series “Terror Incognita.” She was recognized by PDN as one of their “30 Under 30 / Women Photographers.” She also has won many other awards, including the 7th Julia Margaret Cameron Award, LensCulture Visual Storytelling awards, the EU Prize for Journalism, Human Rights House in London, shortlisted for the Magnum Foundation’s Emergency Photographers Fund, OSF grant, and more.
Daro is now based in Georgia, where she documents social issues of the Caucasus. Her work has been published in many well-known publications such as Forbes, Mother Jones, Sunday Times, New York Times Lens, Saveur, The Economist, Vision, and Bloomberg.
Jan Zychlinski was born in 1961 in Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz) in the former GDR/East Germany. He studied history and German philology and, after the end of the German Democratic Republic, social sciences and social work. For more than 15 years, he has been involved in many activities such as social work, urban development, and flood relief projects in East Germany and after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Since 2007, Jan has been a lecturer in Social Urban Development at the Berner University of Applied Science, with an additional focus on social photography. He is a self-taught photographer who has taken his humanitarian perspective around the world to document human experiences during crises and in everyday life. From September 2014-February 2015, Jan travelled through the South Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan) to document the fate and living conditions of refugees from the conflicts after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The resulting book, Beyond the Borders, focuses on people whose stories are representative of the millions of other “forgotten” refugees. In his work and travels, Jan insists on being human first, and photographer second.