DOUBLE ALIENS by Daro Sulakauri
My mother always told me stories about this magical place called Samtskhe Javakheti. She always said that the beauty of the land is like a mystical fairytale. Telling me about her first impression there, when her father took her when she was a child. Back then the entrance of Samtskhe-Javakheti was taken by the soviet army , so you had to have a certain pass to enter and because of the terrible road conditions that existed years ago, it took nine hours to drive, despite the fact, that the region was just 200 km away from the capital. Later it was her good friend Apostle Nicholas, she introduced me too. For me he was the reason the region still had Georgian identity. His life work of trying to built a good relationship between the two ethnic groups through religion and education, restoring and building churches and schools.
I knew a little about the history of Javakheti, that approx. 23% of Georgians live there, and that Georgians where the ethnical minority on their own land, while Armenians where the majority. At that time I was in a search of new places and stories, so I decided to travel and see for myself, thought I would never would’ve imagined that I would feel like a stranger in my own homeland.
When I first arrived in the center city of the region, it felt strange that I had to speak russian in the stores to buy something, for I didn’t know armenian. Rarely did I see a georgian anywhere and it felt like something that was my own was taken away.
Photographing the region for couple of month, I could feel the intense situation between Armenians and Georgians, the hidden hatred and conflict that was in the air. Armenians who lived on Georgian land for many years, started to make up stories of how the land that sheltered their ancestors many years ago was their own and it was never Georgian. Making up stories of how Georgians never lived here and the churches and castles that was build centuries ago by georgian kings was Armenian. While Georgians who for many year have been losing their lands to the neighboring countries, feared that this region too one day will be lost. The two ethnic groups live in separate villages, study in separate schools and use only their own mother language. There are very few villages that you will find Georgians and Armenians living together and even there they live separate lives. I started to search for the answer of why people act this way. I wanted to find a positive side of this as well. But being a Georgian I started to become more and more upset about the situation. I wanted to photograph the hidden conflict between the two ethnic groups, but how do you photograph something that’s hidden and not visible to the eye? the conflict was so mental that there was no physical situations of what I could depict in the photos. It was like
photographing the invisible , which is just impossible.
Whenever I go back to Samtskhe-Javakheti I feel like the time doesn’t exist, it has been frozen, just like the relationship between the two ethnic groups, I feel like it will never change. My photo story is a life a daily life documented of the ethnic groups living on the same land, my experience and relationship with the people I met and the search of the questions I still have.
Daro Sulakauri is a Georgian Photojournalist and Documentary photographer. She was born in the Caucasus nation of Georgia and currently works and lives in Tbilisi. After obtaining a degree from the Department of Cinematography at the Tbilisi State University, she moved to New York to study photography at the International Center of Photography. Before graduating in 2006, she was awarded the John and Mary Phillips Scholarship as well as recognized by the ICP Director’s Fund. Upon finishing, she returned to the Pankisi Gorge in her native Georgia to document one of the Chechen conflict hidden narratives in an outpost of refugees who crossed to Georgia from Chechnya and have remained in relative isolation ever since. The project won second place of the Magnum Foundation’s Young Photographer in the Caucasus award in 2009.
Her previous work depicts the issue of early marriages in Georgia. Sulakauri has won LensCulture award for her story on early marriages in mini series and EU prize for journalism. She was selected as 30 UNDER 30 / WOMEN PHOTOGRAPHERS and PDN’s 30 emerging photographers to watch.
Working as a freelancer, her work has been published at National Geographic, der Spiegel, New York Times Lens, Mother Jones, Forbes Magazine, etc. For more of her work: www.darosulakauri.com or follow her on Instagram @darosulakauri