Category: VII Stories

Somalia has never been a forgiving place. A land of extreme temperatures and little rain, the country has faced cyclical droughts and periodic famines throughout the past century. But decades of civil war, coupled with the effects of climate change, have set the country on a path to environmental disaster. Home to a bloody Islamist insurgency that is arguably the world’s first climate war, Somalia is grappling with rapid desertification, increasingly erratic rainfall, and the destruction of coastal waters by foreign fishing fleets.

“With this weather pattern, Somalia or Somalis will not survive.
Maybe the land, a piece of desert called Somalia, will exist on the map of the world, but Somalis cannot survive.”

The People

This work tells the stories of people struggling to cope with a changing? environment: the camel herder who went to war with neighbors over pasture and water, the elder struggling to adapt as his community’s land erodes around them, the fishermen lured by piracy when they could no longer make a? ?living at sea.

The Land

As one of the places hardest hit on the planet by climate change, Somalia is the canary in the coalmine for the rest of us. In a generation parts of the country have gone from being semi-arid to desert, fueling conflict and pushing communities to the brink.

The Archive

In the 1970s and 80s an intrepid team of scientists – working with American funding and Soviet maps at the height of the Cold War – carried out the most comprehensive land survey of Somalia ever completed. Under the auspices of the National Range Agency in Mogadishu, at the time the most well-funded Somali government agency, they crisscrossed the country by Land Rover and bush plane photographing and studying the environment at more than a thousand sites.

In 2016 I returned to many of those sites and rephotographed them to understand how Somalia’s environment is being reshaped.

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The Film

This 15-minute vérité documentary , co-directed with Laura Heaton, brings to life the relationship between climate change and conflict through moving personal stories. Narrated by three Somali environmental experts, the film features five characters whose plights each shed light on a distinct aspect of their changing environment.

This project was supported by The GroundTruth Project.

Nichole Sobecki

Nichole Sobecki is an American photographer and filmmaker based in Nairobi, Kenya. She aims to create photographs and films that demand consideration for the lives of those represented – their joys, challenges, and ultimately their humanity.

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Archive

Films

“Azerbaijan” by Ed Kashi

Azerbaijan

by Ed Kashi

In 2013, Ed Kashi visited several camps in Western Azerbaijan which housed some of the estimated one million Azerbaijani internally displaced persons (IDPs), who are the on-going victims of the unresolved Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. By capturing vignettes of their lives and interviewing people in the community about their histories and aspirations, he demonstrated how IDP populations were surviving in the face of adversity. This work was later included in a book and exhibition that toured London, Berlin, Brussels, and Paris.

In October of 2017, Ed returned to Azerbaijan on a more upbeat mission – to capture the work undertaken to rebuild Jojug Marjanli, the first Azerbaijani territory to be liberated from Armenian control in over a quarter of a century. Azerbaijan armed forces were successful in seizing back this territory and withstood a determined counterattack by the Armenian armed forces. Azerbaijan is still trying to temporarily house nearly ten percent of their population, who remain as IDPs, in an orderly and decent manner. The government and local communities constructed a new town of at least 50 homes with another 100 on the way, proving the commitment of the inspiring people there.

One man that he had met, 50-year-old Ogtay Haziyev, had only left his village of 25 years for a total of approximately 5 days prior to the invasion. Two young teachers who recently moved to Jojug Marjanli to raise their young families and teach at the primary school are inspiring examples of next generation pioneers for a new future.

Nagorno-Karabakh is universally recognized as being part of Azerbaijan. Not a single country – including Armenia – recognizes it as either an independent state or a part of Armenia . Beginning in 1988, Armenia started a war, which resulted in the occupation of Nagorno Karabakh and seven adjacent regions. A ceasefire was signed in 1994. Since then, negotiations for a permanent peace agreement have become “frozen” and unresolved. Four UN Security Council Resolutions demanding the immediate withdrawal of the Armenian troops remain unimplemented.

Armenians and Azerbaijanis have made up the Karabakh region for centuries. They lived in relative peace until the early 20th century when tensions resulted in conflicts between the two communities. Following WWI and Russia’s Bolshevik revolution, the new Soviet rulers (as part of their divide-and-rule policy) established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous region (including only the Armenian populated villages) within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan. Decades later, in the 1980s, intense Armenian-Azerbaijani friction turned violent after the region’s parliament voted to join Armenia. At this time, an estimated 20,000-30,000 people were killed as Armenian Armed Forces took over and occupied other Azerbaijani lands outside of Nagorno-Karabakh. After the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh illegally declared itself independent, which escalated the conflict into war.

Three years later, when a Russian-brokered ceasefire was signed in 1994, Nagorno-Karabakh and other Azerbaijani territories were left under Armenian control. While the war was taking place, over one million people fled. Before the war, about 25% of the total population was Azerbaijani. They fled from Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia as ethnic Armenians fled the other way, and both sides have suffered severe casualties.

A stalemate has been in place since the truce due to Azerbaijani resentment over land loss and Armenian refusal to give back what Azerbaijanis believe is rightfully theirs. Russia, France, and the US have been working towards an end to the dispute. 

Azerbaijan declared the new constitution approval from a 2006 referendum illegitimate. The peace process has slowly shown progress as Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents continue to meet. Over the last decade, the region has suffered a large degree of violence and ceasefire violations. 

The Republic of Azerbaijan has a population of 9.6 million with Azerbaijani and Russian as its major languages and Islam as its major religion. Azerbaijan’s main exports are oil and oil products, and gas.

“Immigrant Detention” by Ed Kashi

Photo by Ed Kashi / VII. Abu Bakar, originally from Sierra Leone, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 12, 2017. Abu was a former detainee at Elizabeth Detention Center, Bucks County Prison, Allentown Prison for 3 years and was part of a lawsuit against the Esmor Corporation, a private company that ran the immigrant detention facility at the time he was detained.

“Immigrant Detention”

by Ed Kashi

Immigrant detention is prison by any other name. There are currently over 33,000 beds in private and public facilities – paid for with taxpayer dollars – that have to be filled daily to justify the expense. Since 1996, the U.S. has followed a policy of mandatory detention for all asylum seekers, meaning they are placed in handcuffs at the airport and expedited to a nearby facility so that they never technically touch U.S. soil. The 1996 law also mandates deportation for people convicted of certain criminal acts, many of them nonviolent offenses. Once people enter detention, they can be held indefinitely with limited access to communication and legal representation. Immigration courts are so backlogged that as of April 2017, there were 585,930 people waiting for a decision, with an average wait time of 670 days.

This project is currently on view at PROJECT FOR EMPTY SPACE in Newark, NJ

Listen to Juliet Horton’s story

Juliet Horton, originally from Uzbekistan, with her four-year-old son, Arthur, in Oxford, Maine on August 23, 2017. Juliet was in immigrant detention at the Hudson County Jail, Hartford Correctional Center for 2 years and 9 months.  

Listen to Abu Bakar’s story

Abu Bakar, originally from Sierra Leone, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 12, 2017. Abu was a former detainee at Elizabeth Detention Center, Bucks County Prison, Allentown Prison for 3 years and was part of a lawsuit against the Esmor Corporation, a private company that ran the immigrant detention facility at the time he was detained.

These two portraits are part of a series that is currently on display at Gateway Project Spaces in Newark, NJ as part of the Newark iteration of Humanities Action Lab’s traveling exhibition, States of Incarceration (from October 18th to December 15th, 2017). Newest Americans–a collaborative storytelling project led by partners Talking Eyes Media, VII Photo and the Center for Migration and the Global City at Rutgers-Newark–produced eight photographic portraits by founding partner Ed Kashi of people who were detained between 1996 and the present, and conducted interviews with the subjects about their experience in detention and their lives since they were released. Kashi’s life-sized portraits feature former detainees who firmly stand their ground even while their physical settings seem to be receding from them, as though they are there and not there, at home and adrift, uncertain of their place in America. These portraits are accompanied by recorded accounts from the detainees, who phone visitors back when texted via cellphone. Visitors may text 973-707-3188 with the name of the subject to hear them tell their story.

Further support to create more portraits and interviews is currently being sought out to expand this project.

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“Kissing Death” by Ali Arkady

“Kissing Death”

by Ali Arkady

The mission of ERD (Emergency Response Division), turned from small to big after the entry of ISIS to Al-Anbar province in Iraq (2014). They fought real battles in Tikrit, Bije, Diala, Al Faluja and Al Mosul (2014).

ERD consists of three units: reconnaissance, snipers, and task force. Captain Omar Nazar is the head of Task Force and Corporal Haider Ali works in the same branch. Their squads were trained by the coalition forces, including various types of raids, as well as day and night operations.

 

Their mission is to achieve special operations against ISIS on the information provided by reconnaissance (intelligence branch). Omar and Haidar believe that they’re fighting against the most fierce enemy in the world — ISIS. But they are confident because they have returned victors after every battle, and inflicted huge losses on ISIS’ ranks.

Ali Arkady received the authorization from the Commander in Chief of the ERD forces (Col. Thamer Mohammed Ismail — battle name Abu Turab) in order to follow these forces to work on a photo story and a documentary. Arkady followed them from battles in Tikrit, Falluja and ultimately the ongoing battle for Mosul.

What began for Ali as a positive story about Shia and Sunni Iraqi soldiers fighting on the same side against a mutual enemy, turned into a horrific journey that included torture, rape, killing and thieving of innocent Iraqi civilians by the ERD.

There are hundred of images, tens of videos and audio tapes documenting these war crimes available.

Featured Publication

“Bound. Tortured. Killed” — The Toronto Star

“My story quickly changed. It is here that I became witness to torture, imprisonment, arrest … and killing.”

View the article

by Linda Bournane Engelberth

“Wind, Sand and Stars”

by Linda Bournane Engelberth

I am a Norwegian/Algerian artist raised in Norway by my Norwegian mother, and without knowing my Algerian father and his family. I have always been curious about my other country of origin. As a teenager, I finally made contact with my father and more recently, my wider family in Algeria. When my Berber grandmother turned 100, she wrote me a letter so that I wouldn’t forget about my father’s homeland. This project is an attempt to research my own identity as a western woman investigating this foreignness that makes up half my bloodline.

 

As a stranger, with a feeling of being on the outside, I have walked the streets of Algiers trying to connect. I have documented everything from the city to the life of my family. I have been interested in the smaller details: street signs in Arabic, a cactus growing through the fence and people in the streets. These photos are attempts to absorb the nuances of life in Algiers. They are my first steps into a culture that feels like it should be part of me, but which I do not yet know.

This is an ongoing project.

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  • Anush Babajanyan
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  • Philip Blenkinsop
  • Stefano De Luigi
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  • Ali Arkady
  • Leonardo Carrato
  • Sharon Castellanos
  • Fabiola Ferrero
  • Hector Guerrero
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  • Line Ørnes Søndergaard
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