What’s modern life like in the Azerbaijan village that’s as old as the Bible?

Allegedly where Noah first settled after his ark touched land, Azerbaijan’s little known exclave of Nakhchivan is characterised by Martian landscapes and ongoing border tensions. Photographer Sitara Ibrahimova offers an intimate look at life in this contested region

18 October 2018

Life passes quietly in Siyagut, a village in Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhchivan — a pocket of land that lies southwest of Armenia, on the Iranian and Turkish border. Characterised by its semi-arid Martian landscape, short snowy winters and long hot summers, a quick internet search will tell you that the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic is the biggest exclave in the world, but reveal nothing about its culture or the lives of its people. According to local legend, this is exactly where Noah first set foot after his ark touched land. Visitors today enter Nakhichevan by plane, since the border with Armenia is firmly closed. Photographer Sitara Ibrahimova flew to Nakhchivan city from Baku where she is based. “After accidentally running into an old friend, Ata, he wanted to show me his childhood village. Allegedly, this village was bought from an agha by one unknown trader for three rubies. For this reason the name of the village means ‘three rubies’ in Persian.” Compared to its progressive capital, in Siyagut villagers make a living working the land. Over winter, when Ibrahimova was there, people grow spinach (with spinach cake a local delicacy) and seed potatoes for spring. “The inhabitants of the village spend their free time in front of the television. As I encountered staying with Ata’s relatives, they were mostly preoccupied with Indian soap operas. These Indian TV shows are the number one topic of conversation among neighbours.” Her photos feature famous Nakhichevan landmarks such as the Mausoleum of Yusif ibn Kuseyir and the 2,000-year-old Alinja Fortress that boasts comparisons to Machu Picchu. Yet it is her images of village life that are most revealing about the historically contested region.