“The Caucasus Triangle” – a documentary on youth media and democracy in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan (2011).
The Caucasus Triangle is here! Watch the trailer….
ctrp355 Dissecting the Caucasus Triangle
Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan make up the Caucasus Triangle; a region that is not often mentioned in the mainstream news. Over the past year, Letizia Gambini has made it her business to learn all about this complex region and its many layers.
Her project, a documentary that will follow three young activists from the three South Caucasus countries, is the focus of this podcast. Together we also talk about her travels as delve into the world of culture, politics, history, conflicts and human rights in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
To listen to the podcast, click here: Citizenreporter.org on The Caucasus Triangle
Original Source here: ctrp355 Dissecting the Caucasus Triangle
Due to the frontline and to the blocked borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Karabakh is only accessible from Armenia. The 8 hours ride turns out to be quite an interesting one, with a crazy driver speeding through a stunningly beautiful landscape, made of green mountains, rivers, monasteries and little villages. When we arrive in Karabakh, we’re just exausted by the driving style and glad to be still alive.
Stephanakert, capital of the region is a nice city, but certainly not a capital. The flag of Nagorno-Karabakh is always paired with an Armenian flag; the money is Armenian Drums; the language is Armenian. It’s a small version of Yerevan, on the top of the mountains.
There are no visible signs of war, a part from a higher military presence in the streets. Stephanakert has 50.000 inhabitants, its calm pace reminds me of my grandmother’s village in Italy. People strolling in the streets when the heat goes down, ice-cream, young people walking on the main road up and down.
We note little details: touristic pictures and tanks covering the renovation works of one of the main roundabouts; our taxi driver is from Baku; a lot of Armenian flags.
A museum on the victims of the war and the history of NGK is the main attraction of Stephanakert. Around these symbols, the identity of the non-existing Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh is build everyday. For example around the 9th May celebration for the liberation from the Azeri. Or around the creation of national symbols, like the flag, where the Armenian colours are paired with a strange white sort of squared arrow. “The steps that separate us from Armenia,” explains Hayk, who moved from Armenia to Karabakh to bring European ideals here, and wants to found a European Movement branch.
The day after, we visit Shushi (or Susa – according to the Azerbaijani), 12 km from Stephanakert. Once the cultural capital of the region, now it’s an half-destroyed town. The Armenians renewed the Church, but the Mosque, only a few meters away is falling apart.
In Shushi, we meet a couple of young Armenians who moved here recently and are getting married the weekend after. Armen grew up in France and Caterina in Romania.
“Why did you move to Armenia? And why to Karabakh?”, I ask. “Well, because this is our land. Karabakh is part of our land,” explains Armen. “We want to contribute to the construction of civil society here. Currently I’m developing a project to open a website on information about Karabakh. There is not enough you know?”
Armen and Caterina are part of the re-population programme of Karabakh. They have been offered some money and a house to move here and start their new life in Shushi. Karabakh lost more than half of its population during the war, partly due to the armed conflict itself, partly because of the forces migration of Azeris.
But also, there are many Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan who live here. For them, it’s almost a cultural shock. They had to escape from their flats of Baku and move to a town in the middle of the mountains…
Karabakh, all in all, seems a land that has lost. It has lost the mixture, the variety of ethnicity and cultures that used to meet at this crossroad of the world, between East and West and North and South.
Many of the young people of Karabakh haven’t experienced life Before. They don’t have any memory of coexistence of Armenians and Azeris in the same territory. How can they see peace, when they know only war?
They are all touched by the war, though. They have fathers who have fought the war, they have relatives who have escaped from Azerbaijan, they remember the cruel scenes on tv of the massacre of Sumgait. It’s a deep scar in their minds and hearts. Lost in the mountains.
Mountains. We’re surrounded by them. In spite of everything it’s impossible not to be amazed by the stunning panorama. The richness of culture and the simple things of simple life. ard to reach, who would have thought that there is such a paradise in the heart of the Caucasus?
Before heading back to Tbilisi and then Baku, we decided to take the opportunity to go to Karabakh.
Karabakh for the Caucasus Triangle has a special symbolic meaning. After months of research, after months of interviews with Armenians and Azerbaijanis, we felt we somehow needed to see with our own eyes the origin of the conflict that is dividing the region.
Since I put on this blog the itinerary of the trip, including (possibly) Karabakh, we’ve been warned by several people that, if we would visit Karabakh, we would be personae non gratae in Azerbaijan.
In spite of all, we decided to take our chances and go!
This little montaneous area that proclamed itself as the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1994. But, as a matter of fact, this Republic doesn’t exist. It has not been recognised, not even by Armenia. Karabakh today is de facto independent, and Azerbaijan has lost control of most of the region since 1991.
Nonetheless, we still need to go to the “Representation of NGK in Armenia” and get our visas. 3000 AMD to have all the official documents (a fancy sticker visa – which we asked to get separately from our passport to avoid having a visible trace of this visit on our passport – and a “permission of entry”).
We’re immediately warned that many of the regions are not accessible, following the recent (two weeks before) attacks of Azerbaijanis troops. So, only touristic places and the capital, Stepanakert, are included in the list of sites we can access. And there is a big “No access to the front line” on our permits, too.
An interesting reading, while we wait for the visas, is the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. “We, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh…”. But the procedure for the visas all in all is not longer than 15 mins. We only manage to avoid being stuck with the “official driver” recommended by the lady of the Representation and finally we are let out…
Karabakh here we come!
Khor Virap in Armenian means deep pit. Only 30 mins by car away from Yerevan, Khor Virap is one of the oldest Monasteries in Armenia. The legend says that here Saint Gregory was imprisoned for over 12 years in a deep pit. After being released the Saint converted the King who imprisoned him and made of Armenia the first nation to adopt Christianity as state religion.
Unfortunately, though, the monastery is not only famous for its beauty, but for the fact that this is for Armenians the closest spot from which they can observe Mount Ararat. Khor Virap is in fact literally a bunch of hundred metres away from the closed Armenia-Turkey border.
From the monastery, on the top of a little hill you can observe quiet Eastern Turkey villages. Farmers doing their job. Minarets of the mosques. Cows wandering around. In the back of this bucolic landscape, the enourmous Mount Ararat, in all its splendour.
Ararat has a special connotation in Armenian history. Together with its religious connotation (it is legendary considered the place where Noah’s Ark came to rest), it came to be a national symbol, despite being unreachable from Armenia itself.
Earlier this year, some sparkles of hope had been given on the reopening of Armenia/Turkey border, after the Presidents of the two countries signed (with the blessing of Hillary Clinton and the USA) protocols towards the normalisation of their relations. The issue lays in the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in East Turkey at the beginning of 20th century.
Many historians have been studying the massacres of Armenian population in these regions, but at the present moment there is no agreement between Turkey and Armenia on the recognition of these facts. Much more detailed information can be found on the issue, but with caution when it comes to nationalistic propaganda practiced from both sides.
Regardless of this complicated past, the border between the two countries is nowadays surprisingly peaceful. I didn’t miss the opportunity to get close to the border. It’s not the first time I find myself in front of a closed border: last year I was on the Golan Heights, where Syrian/Israel border is also closed (in that case for a territorial dispute).
Borders are all the same. I don’t like them. It’s strange to think that borders still exist. It’s unconfortable to think that this fence prevents me to go on the other side. The more close I get to them, the more I feel uncomfortable. What’s the meaning of wired fences?
We arrived in Yerevan with the plan of leaving it very soon, but ended up in staying for a couple of days to film instead.
Manana is an old friend, since they’re members of European Youth Press. I first visited them in March. They are doing great things! Besides having daily courses for children and young people on film, photography, animation, creative writing… they are award winners for many of the films or pictures produced by their members. Gor is very modest and discrete, but Manana should be super proud of the great achievements!
I’m curious to know about their last projects and film ideas. “We’re filming on the border between Turkey and Armenia”, tells me Gor. It’s for their new film: Neighbors. Next week, Manana’s crew is off to Turkey to shoot. “The film will describe the life of families on both sides of this closed borders,” explains Gor. “These families live close to each other, know each other, have the same daily routines, but they’re told to be enemies.” Breaking stereotypes through films.
It is a controversial topic. Armenia and Turkey have a long lasting dispute on the recognition of the Armenian genocide. “We started this project hoping that the border would reopen soon,” he continues. “We had no luck.” The dialogue between Armenia and Turkey, that had hopes to be reopened early this year, when protocols where signed by the governments, is de facto at the moment blocked.
I can’t wait to see the film!
Note on location: Yerevan is super hot these days (up to 36°C), but it turns out we were super lucky, as we had the chance to see one of the clearest sunsets over Mount Ararat! Hanging out in Cascade seems to be very popular among young people in Yerevan, especially couples. Here they can enjoy a beautiful and romantic view over the city and sometimes hide to kiss passionately away from indescrete eyes.