The modern state of Georgia has grappled with internal conflicts and ethnic divisions since the collapse of Soviet Union, leading the territories of South-Ossetia and Abkhazia to become de facto independent.
One of the numerous conflicts that erupted in the wake of the Soviet Union dissolution, the region of South-Ossetia has escaped Georgian control since a war in 1991-92. Following the bloody Georgian-Russian conflict of 2008, South-Ossetia has been recognised by a handful of states, but remains poor and isolated. Increased Russian military presence along its border with Georgia and the installation of barbed wire further and further into Georgian territory have occurred in the past years.
Abkhazia is a historically multiethnic region nested between the Caucasus mountain range and the Black Sea. Incorporated into Georgia during the Soviet Union, Abkhazia was torn apart by a ethnic conflict following the break-up of the Soviet Union and unilaterally declared its independence after the 1992-93 war with Georgia. After years of embargo and total isolation, it was recognised by Russia and a handful of countries in 2008; not as dire as in South-Ossetia’s, Abkhazia's isolation nevertheless continues to cripple its development, as its infrastructure and economy have yet to recover from the war.
I first visited the boundaries of both regions in 2014, before spending extended time in Abkhazia and returning for longer periods in the following years.
Along the South-Ossetian line
/// / / / One of them couldn’t t access his toilet, as it was situated in the garden. On the other side of the wire.
/// I was born in this village, I have always lived here. I have this little piece garden I work every day and sometimes I go cut wood in the forest and sell it in town. After 2008, most of the villagers fled, but I stayed here. Life basically went on as before. But there have been many problems in recent months; we have seen more and more Russian soldiers coming: they put barbed wire and cameras everywhere. I can see one of their little cabins with soldiers from my house. They put barbed wire in many neighbouring gardens and fields and one day, while I was away, they did the same in mine. Now, they say I have the right to live in my house, but that the garden is in Ossetia. Since no one is allowed to go Ossetia, when they see me working in the garden, soldiers come to arrest me. I spend a few days (usually five) in jail, I pay a fine and they release me. Everybody in this village has been brought several times to the prison in Tskhinvali in the same way.
/ // /
Towards and within Abkhazia
/// /// // //////
/// //// //////
Modern scholars argue to determine weather the Argonauts sailed up River Rioni or River Enguri to steal the Golden Fleece. Since the 1992-93, Georgian-Abkhaz war, the bridge over the Enguri is the only legal way for vehicles to cross.
/// // // / //// ///
The morning view is beautiful, still full of dew. Mountains among the clouds in the distance. Frogs and cicadas chirping. A cow walks nonchalantly through the reeds; to which other side.
/ /// //
It is raining. Road is full of potholes. Horse-carriages get stuck and moan. Widows carrying heavy loads on the broken road. A man is running: almost closing time.
/ /// ///
Forgot about the time zone change. Arrived one hour early, but there is already a small crowd at the gates.
/ // /////
The same nervousness, always, everywhere, at the passport control. Everyone pushes each other under the soldiers’ gaze.
An old man with a cane wearing Soviet medals is allowed to go ahead of the line. We'll catch up with him before he gets to the passport control.
// // ///////
//////// // At the Georgian bridgehead, a Soviet-era statue of a broken pistol, turned inwards. Symbolising peace, I have been told.
/// // ///////
She told me: "Before the war, there were 11.5 million books in the Abkhaz public library system. She adds: Now there are 1.5 million. She explains: Many were burnt deliberately. But the majority was used to heat. Those were terribly cold winters.
During the years of embargo, I dreamt that hundreds of dolphins had been washed ashore. I walked up to the promenade: a big crowd had already assembled and a construction crane was being towed there. Soon, dozens of dolphins were being scooped up and placed into large containers. Families were carrying the smaller dolphins away. A loudspeaker was announcing: “ Please proceed with order and respect. There will be enough to eat for everyone”.
Two years later I returned to see the snow fall upon the palm trees shivering Ashes covered in ice
/// / ///
Following the Greek government’s decision to build a wall along its land border with Turkey in 2012, Bulgaria became a major gateway for refugees heading towards Western Europe. Largely unprepared to face this situation, the Bulgarian Government created in haste a few camps for asylum seekers before announcing its intention to build a wall on its border with Turkey as well. It was widely observed that this wall was roughly built in the same place the Iron Wall had been torn down only a few years earlier.
I visited the region on my way from Athens to Istanbul in 2014.
/// // //
Some locals have accused the migrants of disrupting public order and have staged demonstrations in front of Harmanli camp, asking for it to be removed.
/// / ///// /// ///
Others have organised to help the inhabitants of the camp.
/// // ///// /// ///// /
The policemen refused to look at our passports/ They detained us for a few hours IN A CELL LIKE CRIMINALS
/ (they didn’t give us food or water)/
AT NIGHT, we were escorted by a group of policemen wearing hoods
/ (WE COULDN’T SEE THEIR FACES)/
BACK TO THE RIVER
We were forced on a boat and sent back to THE OTHER SIDE.
These policemen were speaking different languages
This happened at the end of November/ we have been here even since."
/// // ////
And then? “We got stuck here./We got stuck here./We were stopped here. We don’t want to stay here. It’s cold and people don’t like us.” It’s cold? “Yes. Look at these boxes we live in. Sometimes, it’s so cold we have to make fires inside of them. That’s why they have these black marks.”
/// / /
///// /// / /
I've stopped taking such photos. Tiresome. What does a face reveal. Despite my efforts, inadvertently, I still take some at times; I don't show them to anyone; I keep them hidden, unavowed.
Yet this boy's face has followed me. I have often found myself looking at him, trying to understand his gaze.
I don't remember him at all.
/// / ///
Whose Iron Wall
/// / //////
And for whom
// // ////
Home to both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot populations, the island was plagued by increasingly violent ethnic conflicts in the last years of British colonial rule and following independence in 1960. These events culminated in the events of 1974, when in response to a nationalist coup in the South, the Turkish army invaded the Northern part of the island and recognised its secession. Even though today all Cypriots can travel freely to every part of the country, the dry land remains riddled with barbed wire and families on both sides unable to return to their old homes. Negotiations resume and stall every few years.
According to the official census of 1777, the majority of the population in Cyprus was Turkish Cypriot. This figure grows by 1800, but by 1881 the proportions had reversed and remained thus ever since.
/ //////// //
No official figures are available for years 1689 or 1536, 900 or 30 BC.
/// ////// ///// ////// ///
In recent years, vast oil fields have been discovered in the waters around Cyprus.
We say different things to ourselves and different to the outsiders, or on different occasions. We live with these contradictions. For example we always have some kind of celebrations in schools or remembrance days for this or that historical event, every month or so. Usually there will be speeches and a message by the minister of Education and so on. Within the space of 500 words the Minister will advocate the just and peaceful solution to the Cyprus problem and then talk about the liberation of our occupied soil, which implies a military solution. And this thing has been going on ever since I remember.
If the borders were to open would there be any trouble? I don’t think so. They have been open for 10 years, if there was such a propensity there would have been at least some incidents by now. This doesn't mean that things don't change. Especially in an economic crisis when people are looking for a scapegoat...
Hope you're doing good.
/// //// // / ///
Epitaphs riddle the island like a flock of African cranes; their proud owners have departed. Hidden in the sand.
Like younger siblings, we welcome these New Ruins, welcome them in silence. And silently we wage our battle – the only one that counts – of the old houses against the new.
/ / /////
This strange project, in Cyprus
to hide all the Dead in suburbia.
The Balkan Route
In 2015, Hungary became one of the major transit countries along the so-called “Balkan route” prompting the Government to harden sanctions for irregular crossings and build walls along its borders with Serbia and Croatia. Before the Serbian portion of the wall was completed, thousands rushed daily through the last open portion – a closed down segment of train tracks.
A few months later, the so-called "Balkan Route" was restricted to refugees from three countries (Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq). Before the route was completely closed in Spring 2016, the most used itinerary led from Greece through Idomeni, Gevgelija, Tanabovce (Macedonia) and Presevo (Serbia) before reaching Croatia.
/// //// //
Most often, I'd hide my camera in my bag or under my raincoat. I'd only take it out at the last moment - if at all.
The cruelty of taking a photo
And if I'm one of those who take
Or what makes me different
On this photo, one cannot distinguish who is a refugee, who is a journalist. They are all just watching the other side.
Young Gipsy boy at the bus station in Horgos.
“You look like an Afghan. I thought you were an Afghan in the dark.” Me : “You too look like an Afghan in the dark.” He didn’t believe me.
On the bus from Kanzija to Horgos, a middle-aged worker.
“The atmosphere in the village is very provincial, very petty bourgeois. And since the change of regime, it became worse because the unemployment level is so high and the youngsters leave.” Me : “And what do you think about the thousands of refugees that cross your village everyday ?” He : “I checked on the internet…Some of them travelled thousands of kilometers to get here. You don’t travel such distances if you don’t have to. I feel sorry for them. I am less afraid of them than of those who are afaraid and hate them.”
Guy gets off the bus, mumbling suddenly a quick “goodbye”.
/// //// /// ///
A Syrian on the watchtower.
“What are you doing here ?” Me : “I am taking photos, I am an artist. I work on borders”. He: “You look like a Syrian…I don’t believe you’re not a Syrian. Why are you afraid to tell me?”
FOUR MONTHS LATER
When I was at the Serbian-Hungarian wall in September it was all about train tracks; people walking along the train tracks, people building campfires and sleeping next to the train tracks, the red wagon that would soon be hauled from the other side and block the rails, for ever. People walking along the rails; an image from every war, from every great movement of people, an image that seemed antique and that sucked me inside itself, vividly. The first time I saw the camp fires by the tracks in the darkness, I cried.
In Gevgelija, the train tracks still seem somewhat absent to me. They weren't a road (the road was the train and the few hundred meters from Idomeni to the camp). On this photo, even, the rails' light seems out of place, strange.
// // / / / / / // / /
What for me felt like a lone window on the world, a forsaken outpost, a dump - the last dump - in this great plain beyond the dried up river and the bridge around which the horde of taxi drivers loomed was, for the refugees, only the middle of the journey, a transition point.
/ /// ///
I wondered what this place could mean for them, if the few hours spent there would be remembered or give Vinojug camp an identity, a feeling they would keep in their memories.
During the day, when it is empty, this space seems so abandoned and forsaken that the possibility of a journey is not only remote, but absent and almost unreal. As soon as they leave, they seem to take with themselves the journey itself: the camp becomes silent, stifled, without space or time - far. A cashier's desk with only one ticket to sell. Surrounded by iron bars. With no options concerning the destination, the price, the time. This air of fatality-
That the camp was regularly and quite thoroughly cleaned, I only noticed it while browsing through my photos; while there, I saw and took photos of the cleaners and containers, but that they were actually cleaning somehow never registered. Maybe because however much one would clean there, this place would always remain dirty, smelly, sad, unkempt.
/// / ///
There is a great plain outside the camp, bordered by the train tracks, a forsaken vineyard ; the far-away mountains stretched it out, sending at dusk burning rays of sun through the waste land. Upon first sight: Eliot's The Waste land and the thought "this is the field of the apocalypse". Whose, where's, when's "apocalypse"or what even this "apocalypse" meant, I didn't know and still wouldn't venture to say. But the thought of "this is the field of the apocalypse" remained with me everytime I went to walk in the field.
/// / //// /
Good day today.
sunny and empty in Tabanovce lifted to Skopje by Anglo-saxon evangelical missionaries
now in Gevgelija in a nice and cheap room
/// //// //////// //
Just arrived to Presevo (in Serbia, Macedonian border); in a shitty motel just across the camp- used as well by refugees. Everything dirty and the shower spills exhaustion. Gloomy, but for 10 euros given the location, it's all right. Will try to find something else tomorrow.
Upon my return, up North, almost no traces. All the litter, and the thrown away photographs and sleeping bags and what could constitute a trace: almost completely gone. In the camp of Kanjiža where so many had slept – almost only the traces of the yellower grass where the tents stood. On the frozen soil: a razor, a few coins, the skeletons of Greek and Serbian sim cards.
/ / / / / ///// At the station, lines of people, nervous policemen - already.
So this is it.
/ ///// // /// ///
Lampedusa is the southernmost point of Italy, an island of only 20 square kilometers. It lacks any sources of water. Geologically it belongs to Africa, and Tunisia is only 130 maritime kilometers away. Famous for its pristine waters, Rabbit beach (Spiaggia dei Conigli) was elected the world’s most beautiful beach by Tripadvisor in 2013. In 2015, it finished third.
Starting from the early 2000s, the island has become one of the main transit points for migrants and refugees sailing from Tunisia and Libya to Europe.
I visited Lampedusa in Autumn 2014. For more than a year, no boats had been brough to the island.
They were all here. The Phoenicians. The Greeks. The Romans. The Arabs. The Spanish. The English.
The migrants and the
They were all here.
Without a trace.
Lampedusa : where you disperse your traces, like weapons upon defeat.
/ ///// //
Even the boats have disappeared. Sunk to the bottom of the Endless Sea.
The Island with the Most beautiful Beach.
The most beautiful sand.
/// //// //
These barren lines
full of hope
We met in a coffeehouse in Via Roma. I offered him a cannoli with chocolate, but he said he wasn’t hungry.
“I arrived two years ago/ from Ghana/ I had to leave / Family? No, no family/ Only my grandmother / Yes, we talk on skype / I left Ghana when I was 15 / I’m here for two years now, I’m 19 /
Yes, from Libya/ Well, I go to school /
Yes, for the first time/
I stay close to the Spiaggia dei Conigli / Yes, it’s very nice / I have to work, in a hotel /I wake up at 4 in the morning and then go to school / I was paid at the beginning/ No, for 5 months, no / I like to play football, but it’s difficult / I have to work a lot / I don’t know where I’ll go /
I’m just looking for a place to have freedom / Without freedom, you don’t have anything / Looking for freedom / For Freedom / Freedom.”
Here, a rock without water, without trees (at most, a few palm and olive trees), whitewashed, a dried-out sponge in the middle of the very blue, at times very rough, sea. The first image of Europe for countless scores of Them.
/ /// //
This traceless island –a symbol, a name, a rallying call –To Lampedusa ! Close to, by Lampedusa ! – a headline. Maybe these are the dispersed traces of every migration: dry rocks and bushes, empty fields, cleaned up, sterilized train tracks, burnt down buildings - rather than the Garden of Memory, of memorials I would like to imagine.
Nobody is born here. Women go to Sicily to give birth. People only die here.
Even those who have already reached Europe.
/ /// ////
Greece has in the past decade been the major route for undocumented migration to Europe. As its economic crisis worsened, Greece soon became only a transition zone on the Westward road. Following the construction of a wall on its land border with Turkey in 2012 and the intensified patrolling along the River Evros, the islands of the Aegean became the main entry point to the country.
In 2014, I travelled from Athens to Istanbul and have returned a few times to Greece since.
We heard at the local taverna that a boat had washed up about an hour’s walk away, close to a big touristy beach. Nobody seemed to have more information about it. How did that boat end up there, without any passengers and hardly any traces, hundreds, thousands of kilometers of kilometers from the usual travel routes?
/// ////// //
When I got to the Evros, I knelt down like for a ritual and took a few sips of the water. Its taste was soft and sweet. How do the Dead ones taste
They say that the furious Maenads threw Orpheus’ head into the river; still singing, it was carried by the waters until Lesbos.
Many refugees died in the past decade while attempting to cross the river. Exact figures are not known.
When the city was founded, everybody was an immigrant here. Later on, many people moved to Germany or the United States and became immigrants once again. I believe this is important because it should’ve taught the people to treat immigrants differently. After 2008, there was a big influx of immigrants and there have been talks of building a wall from 2010 on. The majority of the population supported this project.
///// //// //
Is there anything old in this town? I asked Panos in Orestiada,
- The oldest building is the train station people arrived to from Turkey. People here have forgotten that their grandparents were themselves refugees and migrants in the USA or Germany. There was little opposition when the Government built the wall along the land border with Turkey.
- Where’s the station, Panos?
- It burned down almost completely a few years ago.
/ ///// ///
I have two daughters and can’t raise them knowing that so close to us other children and families cross this border and suffer in our gardens and fields. I have to do something about it. Because this wall isn’t a solution for this border. It only diverts the problem.
/ /////// ////
His daughter play in the living room while we talk.
Mitrovica is a multiethnic city in Kosovo founded along the River Ibar. Albanians call it “Mitrovicë” and Serbs “Kosovska Mitrovica” and after Marhsall Tito’s death it was renamed Titova Mitrovica (Serbian) or Mitrovica e Titos (Albanian). This lasted until 1991.
Since the end of the Kosovo War in 1999, the city’s population is roughly divided by the River Ibar between Serbs in the North and Albanians in the South. The Trepca mines, once the most important source of employment and income in the country, have not operated since the division of the city.
I spent some time in the city shortly after a series of riots along the main bridge over the river.
/// // //
It’s not a legal or administrative border. They all say: “it’s a border in the minds”.
/// / /
The imam told me: “ We are only passers- by. There is no more time to lose with hate.”
/// // //
In the South, an archeologist was glad to lead me about the local museum. I marveled at the beautiful Neolithic figures and shards of Romans vases. At the end of the visit, he told me that they were almost all copies – the original ones were taken to Belgrade during the war by the Serbian army. What was left in the museum? Mainly traditional clothes and weapons from the war.
Nobody had wanted to take those.
The Muslim cemetery remains in the North, while the Orthodox one lies in the South and has had the majority of its tombs desecrated in the past years.
People pass by these tombs every day. I wonder what they think. If the sight of desecrated tombs affect their daily walk. If seeing these tombs every day for years has affected their daily walk.
Those in the ground died on the wrong side of the River Ibar.
They were dead long before their tombstones were destroyed. Long before the War. Long before the cleansings and the bombings and before the river became as thick as a wall.
Years after the War, what death has separated, life reunites – both communities share the enormous unemployment rate. On both sides of the river. In the same city.
/ / / / /
Since the start of the Syrian war that began in the wake of the 2011 Revolution, an estimated 7.6 million Syrians have been internally displaced and 4 million became refugees in foreign countries. These numbers have most certainly increased since I wrote these lines.
Turkey is the country that has welcomed the most Syrian refugees; I travelled along the two countries' border in spring 2014, from the Kurdish regions all the way to Hatay.
/// //// ///// // /
My football team. We played all afternoon. They accompanied me along the barbed wire, asking me to take photos of them and then we played. About half of them came from neighboring Syria, the others were locals. It was hard to play on the dirt and the sand – I hadn’t experienced such pleasant tiredness for a long time.
We played until dusk and when it got too dark, we said goodbye everybody and went home. They asked me if I would come back the next day.
I didn’t know if I would. I told them I didn’t know if I would.
/// //// / / /
IDP/ REFUGEE/IN HOME/ IDP/ IN HOME/ IDP/ IDP/ IN HOME/IN HOME/ IN HOME/ REFUGEE/IN HOME/IN HOME/ IN HOME / IDP/ REFUGEE/IN HOME/IDP/ IN HOME/IN HOME/ /IDP/IN HOME/IDP/IDP/IN HOME/REFUGEE/IN HOME
// // // /
I had the fantasy of flying my kite over the border at Nusaybin. I waited days for a wind that wouldn’t come. Shortly before I departed, I gave the kite to my host, a customs officer. The customs officer asked me:
-Have you seen the symbol of our city (what is it?)
-The columns (no)
-The Roman columns (where are they?).
I went to see the Roman columns next day and found them: three still standing – Corinthian order –, two broken down. They were in a field, surrounded by barbed wire, next to a small road with soldiers standing guard: a border crossing by a minefield. The symbol of the city, evoked with pride by all, was in the middle of a minefield, unapproachable, in the waste land of the border.
A few days later, I called my host to ask if he had managed to fly the kite. He told me there was still no wind and that he gave it to his nephew who lived a bit further North.
// ///// /
A. pointed to an old man carrying water behind the barbed wire inside the camp and told me “Look, it’s my father. He’s gone to fetch water”.
// / / // // /
On Monday the 31st of March 2014, three shells and one rocket were fired from Syria into the province of Hatay, Turkey. Shrapnel injured one woman and a mosque across a refugee camp hosting Syrian refugees in the city of Yayladağı was destroyed.
Brought forward a small box, full of coins he had found around his village: Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman silver flowed through his fingers. He told me “All of this is Syria…It’s not only one or the other. It’s all of this.” / ////////
All of Syria in his tired hands.
/ ///// // ///// As we parted, he gave me an old Jewish coin with Aramaic inscriptions and a Roman arrowhead. He told me “you will remember me”.