years after his first reportage from the Caucasus, photographer
Boris Heger returned to the region. Here he shares some of
his personal impressions and snapshots of chance encounters
taken as the harsh Caucasian winter was drawing to an end.
NOT much has changed in the Caucasus
since my last visit. The region remains rugged yet hospitable,
reflecting the character of its inhabitants. The infrastructure
is still just as dilapidated, if not worse, many people who
were displaced then remain so, a number of regional conflicts
have yet to be resolved and the economy continues to stagnate.
Although signs of modernity crop up
here and there, in Armenia time appears to have stood still:
the frontiers with Turkey and Azerbaijan are still closed,
and the country remains cut off. Even so, you can admire lofty
Mount Ararat just over the border in Turkey. Never having
seen it unveiled by clouds — a rare occurrence, it seems
— I savour the moment, the only time in a month spent
in the region that the sun is shining, heralding the end of
We head next for Nagorny Karabakh,
a source of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where
bears roam. More than ten years after hostilities ended, mines
continue to litter the old front lines, and accidents regularly
kill or injure civilians, in many cases children. One of the
few international organizations present in the region, the
ICRC has built safe play areas in schools near mined zones
in order to prevent further tragedy and alert the population
to the dangers.
In Georgia, I found the same residents
of the “temporary” centres for displaced people
who were there the first time I visited: elderly folk living
alone and in poverty (on 24 Euros a month), whom the ICRC
assists. Their gaze still bears that same haunted look: the
hope of one day returning home.
In a prison in Azerbaijan, I am allowed
to take my cameras into an area where detainees with tuberculosis
are undergoing treatment. It is a powerful moment. I have
the impression of being transported back in time in this place
steeped in the atmosphere of the former Soviet era.
Many areas of the southern Caucasus
are suffering the lingering effects of unresolved conflicts.
By contrast, the northern Caucasus and Chechnya are plunged
in turmoil, a plethora of vivid scenes and untold human experiences
— images that are virtually impossible to capture because
of the insecurity. I was nonetheless able to photograph furtively
a group of women doing “normal” work in a typically
Groznian block of flats. With the ICRC’s help, they
have set up their own sewing workshop and are proud to have
thus reclaimed a little dignity. “Some of the women
who come to the workshop are dedicated followers of fashion…
It is just that it’s a little complicated to keep up
with the latest fashions in Grozny,” remarks one of
the women before resuming her task.
Boris Heger is a freelance photographer based in Addis-Ababa.