Conflict is not the division of land but the division of people
The landlocked mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh is the subject of an unresolved dispute between Azerbaijan, in which it lies, and its ethnic Armenian majority, backed by neighbouring Armenia. In 1988, the break-up of the Soviet Union led to a series of armed conflicts in the South Caucasus, as different nationalities used the opportunity to press for independence. Azerbaijan troops and Armenian secessionists began a bloody war which left the de facto independent state of Nagorno-Karabakh in the hands of ethnic Armenians when a truce was signed in 1994. Over twenty thousand casualties and almost one and a half million refugees created a refugee flow which has resulted in a considerable crisis especially in Azerbaijan, with the number of displaced persons numbering close to one million.
Among the conflicts that have raged in the Caucasus since 1988, the one over Nagorno Karabakh
has carried a geopolitical significance and a risk of degenerating into a regional conflagration that is arguably larger than any other conflict in post-Soviet Eurasia. Indeed, Nagorno Karabakh is the single conflict that has lead to threats actually being voiced of a ‘Third World War’.
Negotiations have so far failed to produce a permanent peace agreement, and the dispute remains one of post- soviet Europe's "frozen conflicts", but civil society has been creative in keeping dialogue alive.
The division of people into three parties, that is the governments of the two sovereign states as well as that of the unrecognized ‘Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh’ is a factor which has made a solution to the conflict all the more difficult. The conflict has raged in the immediate vicinity of three states that moreover happen to be regional powers: Russia, Turkey, and Iran.
The Armenian-Turkish border has remained closed due to the conflict over Nagorny Karabakh since 1993. Yet it is not unusual to hear people say, "We have more things in common than not!" It is a region of contrasts and commonalities. Among these commonalities is a growing interest among the business community in reviving regional economic cooperation.
The conflicts over Nagorny Karabakh remain a major obstacle for economic development and certainly for cooperation across the region. But people who are participating in dialogue meetings are seeing that business and economic interests could be a way of bringing people together.
The portraits capture faces of different people from different states in the region and vividly represent the human side of conflict, where each individual remains above all a human being with his or her right to be what they are, wherever they live, with dignity and in peace.