1998 — professional winner
The rugged Caucasian mountains is a magnificent treasure box of different faiths, languages and cultures but it is also a tinderbox which has exploded into war seven times in the past seven years since the fall of the Soviet Union. I believe I must keep on documenting this strategic, turbulent region because I can help erode cultural misunderstandings by shedding light onto the roots of the conflict buried deep in its tortured history.
In each of the past seven years, there has been a succession of blazing conflicts spreading the width and length of Caucuses, starting in Georgia spreading through Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Ossetia, Abkhazia and lastly, the most horrific of all, the tragic and brutal war in Chechnya. Starting as a blitzkrieg by a cavalier Kremlin, it ended in David versus Goliath defeat for the Russian giant, shocking the world and traumatizing both nations. The war against their former Soviet brothers in this tiny Caucasian republic, which has less than one percent of Russia’s population, reached scales of destruction the world had not seen since WWII.
The Caucasus Mountains, home to hundreds of clans and ethnic minorities, is a land apart from the East or West. I would like to continue my photo documentary project there which portrays the spirit and struggle of these cultures that others constantly battle to defeat, control or subdue, or outwit them. It is important to photograph their experiences now because theirs is a universal story to so many zones of conflict around the world struggling for survival in an increasing shrinking world. The Caucasus is a bridge between two worlds yet it distinctly struggles to resist outside domination in a landscape stretching from the Black Sea of Europe to the Caspian Sea of Central Asian. It demanded all the might of the Russian Czars who only after 300 years managed to subdue local peoples, finally wrenching their blood-stained “Prize of the Caucuses.” Their subjugation of the region through cruel, bloody and senseless onslaughts turned the region into a spiritual and physical battleground.
Today, the power struggle continues but this time it includes the smell of oil, the black gold of the modern age. A new scramble for power to control royalties from the oil which will gush forth from huge Caspian Sea oil reserves is happening. The Caspian Basin is expected to be more productive than the Gulf states in the next century. Traveling through Caucasian pipelines, the battle for royalties and pipeline routes across this ancient land makes the Caucasus more attractive to the power-hungry and more unstable then ever before. This is a critical time and I believe it is important to photograph the human dimension of this conflict.
My project is to document this tightrope of a conflict and coexistence in the Caucasus. I intend to show the human face of this diverse and ancient land coming to terms with modern times. The Caucasus is a crucible in which brews Muslim versus Western ways, ancient versus modern beliefs, and a warrior people’s pride versus a conqueror's abandon. All of which is currently seeped in the economic and political intrigue of modern oil wars. It is a unique place during a unique time and I want to photograph the human dimensions behind this clash of cultures to increase cultural understanding between peoples which can and must exist.