In 2015, one hundred years after my family fled the Armenian Genocide, I journeyed to Armenia, keeping a promise to my grandmother. Many members of my family disappeared into the violence and forced marches that consumed the bodies of one and a half million souls. Arriving in Armenia, I learned that in 2015 the terror was not yet over.
I had heard that Azerbaijan, flush with oil wealth and much larger than its tiny neighbor, was firing across the border into Armenia. I was skeptical. Maybe it was a few isolated incidents. Just imagine what would happen if Mexico was firing across the border into Texas. I inquired at an NGO that does work in the border provinces. They told me that they had just built a wall to shield the kindergarten from gunfire in one of the villages. Would I like to go and see it? As a documentary photographer and lawyer, I knew that I had to see for myself. So I began a long trip through the mountains to the border villages.
In the very first village I visited, a huge bullet hole gaped over a baby’s bed, the remaining windows riddled with bullets, broken glass filling the abandoned crib. I saw the shells of empty factories where once Armenians and Azeris had worked together, and now only poverty and despair remained. Bullet holes pierced a bathroom wall, terror penetrating the most intimate spaces of daily life. Bullets fired into people’s homes were trapped in the walls, like the people on the border are trapped by the war. After the devastation that I saw, I knew I had to bear witness, documenting all that was happening there. So since 2015, I have been photographing and interviewing residents in the eighteen border villages most affected by the violence in an ongoing project. The photographs here represent just a part of the work to date.
Seeing the consequences of the border attacks, I thought about all the people that I met whose lives are being forever changed by the senseless violence. When I saw the village boys who had just turned eighteen headed for the frontlines on induction day, I thought about my own son and felt sick. In the dilapidated schools where children brave bullets to study, I thought of my immigrant grandmother whose life’s aspiration was to get an education and be a teacher. On a village street I could see the hilltop where the Azerbaijani military post looked down on the homes and farms of the village, and I thought about the father, hobbling with a cane, unable to work since being shot in the legs while tending his fields. I met a thirteen year old girl who became a champion sharpshooter after her father fell defending the village, her childhood forever interrupted by the violence. Seeing the bullets in the walls of the kindergarten, I felt disgusted by the idea of grown men shooting at 4 and 5 year olds. Yet, facing a more than twenty five year long campaign of terror, the people on the border continued their efforts to defend their human rights through non-violent resistance. I could not imagine walking away from them without trying to share their stories of survival, love and hope with the world.