history, borders and future projects!

Today 24th April 2016 is the recurrence of the 101 years Armenian Genocide. I have lived in Armenia and it is a country that is part of my artistic development since 2011.

In 2011 I walked along the borders of Armenia (east and west) as well as Nagorno-Karabagh , as part of my project Neverland, a series concerned with the concept of homeland. I have returned to Armenia, and I am currently developing 2 photographic series there. I am also hoping to return in 2017 to progress my projects.

image from my series "Neverland"

image from my series “Neverland”, produced thanks to the support of Arts Council England, Armenian Centre Of Social Studies ACOSS and European Cultural Foundation.

Armenia is a small country tucked in the mountains of the Caucasus, rich in art and culture. It’s culture, lifestyle and approach to art is very similar to that of southern Europe (I felt very much at home!). It’s history is tainted by the genocide of 1915, when almost 2million Armenian living in the Ottoman Empire were killed. It’s an history of survival and it is interesting how the armenian sense of identity is strongly transmitted through language and oral history. Although most European countries, as well as Russia, Canada and most South-American countries  recognise and condemn the genocide, Turkey remains in denial of the historical facts. Read an interesting article on the Huffington Post on how the US have so far not officially used the word “genocide” in fear of offending their allied Erdogan. The denial of history is bizarre – can you imagine Germany denying the holocaust? Of course not, coming to term with the horrible mistakes of your own past is fundamental for the development of  a modern nation. Today is remembrance day and the genocide is remembered all over the world: most notable the Pope, George Clooney and the Armenian band System Of A Down are taking part, just like the previous year.

This event is interesting for various issues connected to art and cultural representation: recently I was talking to fellow artists whilst discussing my work, and they all expressed their concern on how politics forcefully prevails on culture, for example how the musical project Aghet that comprises musicians from Germany, Armenia and Turkey has seen the support of the EU being withdrawn on orders of Erdogan.  I find this news particularly disturbing as this project is sponsored by the European Cultural Foundation, which has also supported my work (please note: the European Cultural Foundation is above politics and still fully supports the project!!). How can the EU dismiss cultural projects privileging political demands?!?

The borders of Armenia which I have photographed, are protected on the East side with the helpf of Russia, which fhas formed a buffer zone to prevent a turkish attack. Traveling along the borders of Armenia the locals’ the general opinion  was that they wanted to be in good terms with Turkey, but to achieve this it was necessary to have recognition of the historical events. To the west, I walked along the borders and stopped for sometimes in Chambarak, a small town in which the majority of the population was born far away and was subject of a forced population exchange: the majority of the inhabitants were expelled from Azerbaijan at the fall of the Soviet Union, a period in which Azerbaijan systematically begun to attack it’s own citizen of Armenian ethnics. Forced population exchanges were carried out between Armenia and Azerbaijan in that period. I then travelled to Nagorno-Karabagh, a self declared Republic with a peculiar history: as a self-confessed border geek I am passionate about Nagorno-Karabagh, also knows as Artshak!

image © paola leonardi photography

image from my series “Neverland”, produced thanks to the support of Arts Council England, Armenian Centre Of Social Studies ACOSS and European Cultural Foundation.

Nagorno-Karabagh is a little gem, with breathtaking mountains and a bizarre history:

Nagorno-Karabagh has always been a territory inhabited by a vast majority of Armenian ethnics, with minorities of Russian, Kurdish and Azerbaijani. However Stalin – with his crazy ideas – incorporated it into Azerbaijan, so Karabagh became an autonomous region within Azerbaijan. At the fall of the Soviet Union, Karabagh demanded to be Armenian and Azerbaijan refused, and a war broke out. Despite being outnumbered, the civilian resistance and the Armenian army managed to win and become independent. There has been a fragile truce for over 20 years till few weeks ago Azerbaijan violated the treaty and launched an unprovoked. It was horrible to hear that friends were bombed, civilians targeted and children and elderly people were among the victims. It is also very sad to see how little is knows about this conflict in Europe, and the few articles I found in newspapers were often misrepresenting the situation.

The will of the people of Karabagh to affirm their identity  is based on the right of nations to self-determination, and their resistance, often a civilian resistance, resonates the stories of the italian resistance that my grandmother used to tell me.

At this stage of my artistic development I have completed various projects connected to concepts of human geography and self-determination of identity and how borders affect our concepts of home and belonging. As much as I try to stay away from politics, this proves sometimes impossible  as the line on the map is hardly ever established by the common people; often borders are established with disregard of those who inhabit them.