The USSR was rightly called the country of new cities - in its rush to build the perfect socialist industrial future, purposely-built apartment blocks, factories, and houses of culture sprung up out of nowhere to form the new conglomerate. Azerbaijan was no exception. Some now large cities were developed from these already existing, though small, villages, like Ali-Bayramli and Mingachevir; others were created from scratch, like Sumqayit. All these urban spaces share the rigid Soviet architecture and expanses of factories which attracted thousands of workers from all over Azerbaijan - and beyond. They also house thousands of displaced from Nagorno Karabakh who fled the region at the end of the open conflict in the 1990s.
They are cities with little history, and their residents do not feel they totally belong to them.
Nino Jojua, 35, does not see being IDM as a tragedy – “As long as my husband is with me, I have everything, that’s the most important. We went through everything together. When we fleed I was pregnant, and then in Tbilisi he made me a bed from the desk. One day I might have everything, the other I might be begging for help, but my family is all that matters to me.” (Left side)
Nunuka Mghebrishvili, 54, comes from the family of Akhalgori merchants. “They used to have a beautiful lifestyle. Women would have these tea parties where everyone would bring their home baking. I actually found those recipes and restored the custom. I’m having tea parties in my cottage now”.(Upper right side)
Those years I lived in the old district are the big part of my identity, and I feel strong connection with my ancestry. If I see a dream, I see our old house. (Lower right side)
On the side of country’s largest highway, lies a reminder of the most devastating conflict of 21st century Georgia. Unlike the creeping border, it is not hiding in the plain sight, but on the contrary, lives and thrives quite visibly, grows with its own histories building on the memories of the past.
Tserovani refugee camp is not the only settlement created after the conflict of 2008, but it is definitely the most familiar to the eye of the local traveler. For nearly 10 years thousands of cars pass the camp every day, but the linear structure, so unusual for Georgian villages, is unnerving. “People feel sorry for us” – says Nana Kakhniashvili, a local journalist. “I often hear them saying it when I travel on mini bus, passing the camp, and they don’t know one of the refugees is sitting right next to them”. Nana works in the magazine Liakhvi gorge, collecting the stories of the settlement, distributed for free. Such magazines are not unusual in the refugee settlements. They are attempts to re-connect the disconnected for the people who had to start from the scratch, who didn’t realize they would never see their homes again and took nothing but the clothes they were wearing. In best case they only have something they had time to grab when running out. In worst – and most common- not a single photo from the past, only footages of their burned homes.