Winner Of W. Eugene Smith Award 2004
Chalk Lines: A photographic Investigation of the Caucasus
(a direct reference to the outlines around dead bodies made during a crime scene)
The conflict in the mountainous region of Nagorny-Karabakh has cost many lives, untold thousands have died and over one million – five hundred have been uprooted and made homeless – in these beautiful hills of the Caucasus, Armenia and Azerbaijan are still locked in a quarrel that has blighted the entire region between Russia and Iran, from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea.
On the farthest eastern reaches of Europe lies the Caspian Sea, a milky green land locked sea that hides many treasures. It is famous for its sturgeon and the sea is the world’s main source of caviar. The sea also sits upon vast reserves of oil and gas worth trillions of dollars.
Baku, Azerbaijan is a city with great economic future, due to the vast oil reserves. But it’s also a place that has been touched by the specter of war. Today there are more than a million refugees sitting on its doorstep, who were made homeless due to the war in Nagorny-Karabakh. The Azeris were defeated and humilated by the Armenians, 15 years ago for control of Nagorny-Karabakh.
The evidence of ethnic cleansing, famine, and poverty is epidemic of the refugees who were pushed out by the Armenians from Nagorny-Karabakh. The war was senseless and needless. The deliberate brutality inflicted over and above the deaths and injuries were caused directly by military actions.
The dispute over Nagorny-Karabakh made the first tears in fabric of Gorbachov’s Soviet Union in 1988 and so lay claim to ending the Soviet Empire. In 1991-1994 it became the first interstate war in the former Soviet Union.
Today Armenia is the wild card in the Caucasus. Dispite massive american and western aide to the state that lays claim to the label ”the first christian country” Armenia’s real friends in the region are Russia and Iran. They are friends largely for political expediency. Recently pro-Azeri lobbies have joined forces with oil interests to try and counteract the highly-successful (and well financed) Armenian campaign to identify Azerbaijan as exclusive aggressor in the 12-year conflict over mountainous Karabakh, a break away black hole ”statelette” that just happens to straddle energy export pipelines.
Armenia has recovered from the complete economic collapse it underwent during the conflict over Nagorny-Karabakh, a mountainous region of western Azerbaijan now controlled by its native Armenian population. But the failure to resolve the conflict, in which thousands died, has left Armenian’s borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey closed. Armenia enjoys a close stragic relation ship with Russia and Iran.
After over one million Azeris were ethnically cleansed from their homes by the Armenians, the new Caucasus features yet a new rising tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Landlocked Armenia is also feeling left out, dependent on aging soviet nuclear reactors and no oil revenue. Armenian soldiers regularly shoot across the frontier at Azeri soldiers .
Azerbaijan could be as wealthy as Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. The Baku government under the control of the Aliev family (“Azerbaijan is ruled by a ghost of Heydar-Baba ”) can give you fifty resons why the country remains in poverty conditions, but the simple reason is that Baku doesn’t care about the rest of Azerbaijan and its refugee problem. What occupies the Baku government is the prospect of the billions of dollars with-in its. It sometimes seems that foreigners -aid organizations and the united nations – are committed to the problems of the country than the Baku government is.
The people in Azerbaijan are ignored – no one wants to acknowledge the refugee’s plight. They have become a symbol of shame because they represent azerbaijan’s defeat in the war with the armenians. They are a reminder that azeri men were unable to defend the country.
It is not only the prepetrators of crime and evil who commit sin, but also those stand by – eeing and knowing – and who do not condemn it or try to advert it …. blessed are the peace makers, for if we wish to be the children of god, we must learn not to hate, if we believe in god’s love and we want god’s love, we ourselves must love our fellow beings on this earth. Even if there are demonic forces at work, not only from this conflict but in other wars and conlicts in other parts of the world …. we must still find love.
Stanley Greene, an American photographer residing in Paris, has received the W. Eugene Smith Grain in Humanistic Photography for 2004 for his project, “Chalk Lines: A photographic Investigation of the Caucasus.”
Mr. Greene’s focus is the profound human catastrophe now playing out in the Caucasus region. He plans to “make a detailed portrait of the region’s principal players: the militaries, militias, rebels, multinationals, workers, children,” and to cover the “principal geographical flashpoints, the Caspian Sea, Armenia, Georgia and Chechnya.”
“Very little in the Caucasus is obvious,” Stanley Green wrote in his proposal. “There is no free and open press, travel is arduous, foreigners are viewed suspiciously, war lords and cynical ethnic politicians operate terror fiefdoms. To get into some regions, one must pass through the Russian military. Generations of narrow ethnic nationalism have bound an illiterate population to hatred, whose flames are now fanned by global powers. Soaked with hundreds of years of blood, the last 12 years in the Caucasus have been the most vicious. After many years of work in the region, I see this project as an investigative return to the scene of the crime.”