Beyond borders: a journey through the disputed republics of Transcaucasia

Unlikely Escapes in the New East

Photographer Gianluca Pardelli crosses the contested borders of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh

30 September 2019

Italian photographer Gianluca Pardelli’s work explores the diverse ethnicities that make up the former Soviet Union. His travels have previously taken him to the market stalls of the new east, where he captured the local flavours of each post-Soviet country.

School (Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh)

Between 2013 and 2014, Pardelli journeyed to the Southern Caucasus, or Transcaucasia, to three autonomous yet disputed republics — Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Soviet era remnant (Shushi, Nagorno-Karabakh)

Ethnic and cultural difference has been a source of ongoing conflict here since the break up of the Soviet Union.

Mingrelian farmer travelling across the contested between Georgia and Abkhazia (Gali, Abkhazia)

The series uncovers “the complex social, economic and ethnic realities of the de-jure unrecognised and de-facto states”.

Local woman in her home (Zgubir, South Ossetia)

Out of the three regions, South Ossetia is physically closest to Tbilisi, where Pardelli is based. Yet, the journey there was especially arduous.

Map of the Republic in National Museum (Tskhinvali, South Ossetia)

South Ossetia first declared independence in 1992 but, like Abkhazia, is regarded internationally, save by a few countries, as part of Georgia.

The Great Caucasian Range (South Ossetia - North Ossetia Border)

The republic has to be entered through Russia’s North Ossetia. Pardelli took a bus from Vladikavkaz to South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali, for which he was required to obtain a double-entry Russian visa.

Flats (Verkny Ruk, South Ossetia)

These photographs belong to a larger project called Splinters, that also includes Transnistria, Gagauzia, Donbass and Crimea.

Billboard with effigy of Vladislav Ardzinba, first president of Abkhazia (Sukhumi, Abkhazia)

“In these backwaters, the catastrophic consequences of the Soviet disintegration are felt more than anywhere else in the former USSR,” says Pardelli.

Outskirts (Sukhumi, Abkhazia)

This is evident in photographs of Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, with its delapidated and abandoned buildings, some of which have remained so since the 1992-1993 Georgia-Abkhazia war.

Cafe Amra (Sukhumi, Abkhazia)

Yet, Pardelli’s fascination with the Southern Caucasus began after reading Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, a 19th century novel based on the author’s own exploration of the rich and multicultural land.

Monument to Independence (Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh)

“I visited the Caucasus for the first time in 2008 and fell in love with the region,” Pardelli recalls.

Farmer (Vank, Nagorno-Karabakh)

He cites Caucasian hospitality, cuisine and customs (such as the lezginka, which is traditionally danced at weddings) as having prompted him to return here.

The shelled building that once hosted the Parliament of Abkhazia (Sukhumi, Abkhazia)

Pardelli’s aim was to document these remote regions that are not only unrecognised by the rest of the world but little explored in contrast to other parts of the former Soviet Union.

Boxing Training (Sukhumi, Abkhazia)

This series combines travel shots of South Causasia’s remarkable landmarks and landscapes, with images of the everyday lives of its residents.

Shepherd (Agdam, Nagorno-Karabakh)

Pardelli acts as both outsider and an insider.

Train station (Sukhumi, Abkhazia)

A stance which mirrors the contested borders of the republics he photographs.