[ EPF 2013 SHORTLIST ]
Couple of years ago I did a story on Chechen refugees who escaped the deadly war in Chechnya and settled in my country Georgia in pankisi gorge, in a remote mountainous enclave in the far northeast corner. Though not recognized or officially monitored by international agencies, Pankisi was a refuge from state-sponsored terror for thousands of people.
Chechens have a reputation for rugged individualism, even among the peoples of the Caucasus who ” by any standards ” are accustomed to rugged conditions and nurture a fierce sense of national pride and independence in light the imperialist tendencies of surrounding nations. These people live an ordinary life today, although they are largely destroyed psychologically. Without a clear future and struggling with a terrifying past, some still have hope to return home for a peaceful life.
Caught in a no-man’s land for many years they were forced to remain in the tiny and economically isolated Pankisi Gorge, which had has no vacancies for jobs so that the young men might start working.
As of 2010 many chechen refugees have returned home to chechnya and many more are in the process of returning. I want to follow the families that are moving back to their homeland, follow them through the journey from Georgia to Chechnya and document their lives back in their homeland.
This project is very personal for me, because I am one-third Chechen and I too have witnessed war in my childhood. I feel connected to the people I am documenting. Most importantly I want to follow the women and the young generation who are hoping for a better future by settling back to their homeland.
Daro Sulakauri (B. 1985, Georgia) is a freelance photojournalist.
Her work has been exhibited in Tbilisi, New York, Washington, D.C., Prague, and Tokyo.
She was named one of PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch in 2011, won the Magnum Foundation’s 2nd place for their Young Photographer in the Caucasus Award in 2009, received honorable mention for the PX3 2009 Competition at the Prix del la Photographie Paris, won the Best of 2008 SocialDocumentary.net award, received 1st place in the 2008 Women In Photography International competition, received the 2006 TPW Focus on Monferrato Scholarship and the 2006 John & Marie Phillips Scholarship. Sulakauri graduated in 2006 from the International Center of Photography’s Documentary Photojournalism Program and in 2008 from the Department of Cinematography at Tbilisi State University.