Tuesday, November 09, 2010

PHOTOGRAPHY: Alex Webb, The Iron Silk Road +++ 81 images (magnumphotos.com)

The complications that have surrounded building a railway to link Baku, the oil-rich capital of Azerbaijan, with Eastern Turkey -- and thereby, in effect, linking China and Europe -- reflect the political tensions between the countries of the South Caucasus.

While a railroad line currently exists linking Turkey to Armenia to Georgia and from there to Azerbaijan, because of the Nagorno Karabakh War, the border between Armenia and Turkey has remained closed since the early 1990's. Recently, despite the historical enmity between the two countries, conciliatory overtures have been made, however to date the border remains closed. As a result, construction on a new railway line, heavily financed by Azerbaijan, has commenced. This new line carves a crescent around Armenia, linking Kars, Turkey to existing railway lines in Southern Georgia. Completion of the railway is scheduled for 2012.

Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia continue to simmer, and were it not for Armenia's alliance with Russia, in all likelihood Azerbaijan would have invaded Nagorno Karabakh with the goal of retaking its breakaway state. However, Georgia's recent experience with Russian support for the breakaway state of South Ossetia and a resultant Russian invasion of northern Georgia suggests that an Azeri invasion of Nagorno Karabakh would be ill-advised.

These photographs explore the world of the South Caucasus, loosely following the proposed new railway line: from Kars, in Eastern Turkey into Georgia to Tbilisi and then on into Azerbaijan to Baku. There are also photographs from Armenia -- mostly near Yerevan -- as well as from the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh: a region still in ruins that remains mired in the memory of war.

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