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Armenia and Azerbaijan Face-off at 20...
Baku
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

ONLY FOR PRINTED PUBLICATIONS / ARTICLE WRITTEN ON DEMAND

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PHOTOS: Jacob Balzani Lööv WORDS: Andrew Connelly

The inaugural European Games opened in the Azerbaijani capital Baku on the 12th June, 2015. A continent-wide sporting extravaganza costing an estimated $10bn featuring 6,000 athletes from over 50 different countries. As is so often said, sport is above politics. But for one national team competing in Baku, that could hardly be further than the truth.

In 1991, as the Soviet Union began to crumble, simmering tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh erupted into full-scale war. The mountainous lands where Muslim Azeris and Christian Armenians used to live together in relative harmony, had become a source of dispute thanks in large part to divide and rule strategies by the Russian, and then Soviet, empires. When fighting finally subsided in 1994 following a Russian-brokered ceasefire, over 100,000 had been killed and Karabakh became de-facto state administered by Armenia but not officially recognised by any countries in the world. Azerbaijan lost 20% of its territory, including land outside of the Nagorno-Karabakh hotspot, which is internationally recognised as occupied Azeri territory.

Although Armenians and Azeris meet peacefully around the world, they are practically banned from each other’s countries and the level of mutual hostility is comparable to Israel-Palestine. The European Games in Baku is the biggest sporting event ever hosted in the South Caucasus and for both sides, there is huge pressure for their athletes to better the opposing team. For the Azeris, it means a victory over the ‘occupiers’ to whom they lost the war, for Armenians, the chance to raise their flag and sing their anthem in the enemy capital has incredible symbolic power. So much for the Olympic truce.

Meanwhile, despite a ceasefire in place, villagers living on both sides of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border live in the shadow of sniper positions, and endure regular exchanges of fire. Far away from the capitals of Yerevan and Baku, people here speak respectfully of their brothers on the other side and express their frustration that their governments prolong and provoke endless conflict.

In a little-known region, a forgotten conflict divides peoples that in living memory were neighbours and friends. With no direct dialogue between the warring states and no progress by international institutions, many people ominously warn of a renewed conflict which could devastate the region and catch the world by surprise.

As the athletes face each other in Baku, (ironically both sides excel in fighting sports such as boxing and wrestling), the mantra of sport as an apolitical tool for peace risks being overshadowed by raw geopolitics, and an opportunity for nationalism and chauvinism to be exhibited, in a region which can ill afford more.

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Armenians in Baku Games 07
Berkeber, Armenia
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

Daily life in the armenian village of Berkeber. The other side of the lake is Azerbaijan and there are regular shootings beetween the military positions on both sides but often targeting also the villages.

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Armenians in Baku Games 19
Sumgait, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

The final torchbearer of the European Games Ilham Zakiyev portrayed in Sumgait. Ilham Zakiyev was a soldier on the frontline before he was shot in the head by an Armenian sniper and blinded. He is now a world champion blackbelt Paralympic judoku. "My partecipation was a secret until the last hour, I know I was chosen to be a scream to the world to remind that 20% of our land is occupied by Armenians"

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Armenians in Baku Games 20
Sumgait, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

Training on the seafront in Sumgait. Sumgait was the teatre in 1988 of the first post-soviet etnic conflicts between armenians and Azerbaijanis.

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Armenians in Baku Games 21
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

The trainer of Armenia during a match of Sambo.

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Armenians in Baku Games 22
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

Reaction of the public to the elimination of Armenia during a wrestling match. Armenian athletes get a hostile reception from the Azerbaijani audience at the European Games in Baku.

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Armenians in Baku Games 23
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

Greco-Roman wrestlers Roman Amuyan from Armenia and Elman Mukhtarov from Azerbaijan square off in the Heydar Aliyev Sports Centre.

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Armenians in Baku Games 24
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
14 Jun 2015

Armenian Greco-Roman wrestler Mirhan Harutyunyan takes a silver medal, while his opponent Hasan Aliyev from Azerbaijan took bronze. Russian gold-medal winner Artem Surkov brings the athletes together on the podium.

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Armenians in Baku Games 18
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
12 Jun 2015

The elaborate opening ceremony of the European Games in Baku. A gigantic pomegranate opens up to release a flurry of heart-shaped balloons. The fruit is abundant in both Azerbaijan and Armenia and both countries consider it a national symbol.

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Armenians in Baku Games 17
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
11 Jun 2015

Azerbaijani team dancing in the Olympic Village in Baku. It has been speculated that the Azerbaijani government spent up to $10bn in preparation to host the European Games. Of more concern for Armenia is Azerbaijan’s dramatic increase in their military budget up to almost $5bn, more than Armenia’s entire domestic budget. Baku has consistently promised to use military force to regain captured territory if peace talks fail.

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Armenians in Baku Games 06
Chinari, Armenia
By lordcob
02 Jun 2015

A villager in the town of Chinari in northwestern Armenia, shows the bullets found in his own garden. In the mountains above, Azeri and Armenian sniper positions stare at each other. Violations of the 1994 ceasefire are frequent not only in Nagorno-Karabakh but also along the main border between the two countries. Most of the casualties are soldiers but villagers are often targeted and have lived in an atmosphere of tension for over twenty years.

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Armenians in Baku Games 16
Berd, Armenia
By lordcob
02 Jun 2015

A signpost in Armenia points to the road leading to Azerbaijan, a relic from a time when the countries were at peace.

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Armenians in Baku Games 03
Voskevan, Armenia
By lordcob
01 Jun 2015

Armenian children walk to the football ground in the village of Voskevan on the Azerbaijan border. The ground is in the shadow of sniper positions and the children have to consult with their parents, or the military, to play at times when there is calm on the frontline.

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Armenians in Baku Games 15
Koti, Armenia
By lordcob
01 Jun 2015

A Taekwondo class in the village of Koti, a village in the northeastern Tavush province of Armenia where some buildings bear the bullet holes of recent sniper fire.

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Armenians in Baku Games 12
Abovyan, Armenia
By lordcob
29 May 2015

Vovik Khojanyan trains youngsters in the art of Sambo in the gym that he built himself in the village of Abovyan, Armenia. Vovik was born in Azerbaijan but his family left in the fifties.

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Armenians in Baku Games 02
Geghakert, Armenia
By lordcob
22 May 2015

Felix Aliyev, 76, trains a pupil in a gym in the village of Geghakert, Armenia. Despite having coached children who would become world champions, Aliyev’s gym lacks even toilet or showering facilities. During the ethnic conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis that erupted in the early nineties, many escaped to their respective countries. Some decided to stay and change their identities but despite sharing the same surname as the president of Azerbaijan, Aliyev has lived in peace ever since. During the war, his pupils took shifts to sleep at his house to protect him just in case. Both Armenians and Azerbaijanis remain virtually banned from each others countries.

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Armenians in Baku Games 14
Geghakert, Armenia
By lordcob
22 May 2015

Yuri Sargsyan, 54, supervises a young wannabe weightlifter in a gym in the village of Geghakert. A weightlifting world champion several times over, he is now the coach of the Australian Olympic team. Many athletes choose to migrate to other countries due to the dire economical situation of Armenia. After 1991, the country remained geographically isolated, cut off from Azerbaijan and Turkey, and industry formerly dependent on the Soviet Union all but collapsed. Most of the country survives on remittances from family living abroad.

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Armenians in Baku Games 05
Yerevan, Armenia
By lordcob
13 May 2015

Armenian boxers take a timeout during a training. Some will visit Baku for the inaugural European Games though most Armenians have never seen the country with whom they are at war.

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Armenians in Baku Games 11
Yerevan, Armenia
By lordcob
12 May 2015

Businessmen stop to pump some iron at an open-air gym in Yerevan. In the run-up to the European Games, a big debate raged in the country dover whether Armenian athletes should participate. Ironically, both countries excel in fighting sports such as wrestling and boxing.

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WWII: Women of the Red Army 70 Years ...
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

This collection features portraits of women veterans of WWII who volunteered and were conscripted to serve in the Soviet Red Army. As Moscow filled up on May 9, 2015 to celebrate 70 years since Victory in what the Soviets called, and some Russians today call the Great Patriotic War, TTM contributor Jonathan Alpeyrie was able to meet and interview nine of these women, most of them grandmothers today, donning their military decorations for the festivities.

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Born in 1925, 90 year-old Nina has two children, five grand children, and 5 great grand children. Drafted into the Red Army in 1943 on the 4th Ukrainian front. At 16 years-old Nina was incorporated into a battalion following the army’s move Westward towards Prague, where she took part in the battle to retake the capital of Czechoslovakia in early 1945. During her time on the front she was in charge of various traffic regulation duties. 

“I took care of traffic regulations on the road leading to the front lines where vehicles and troops were passing," she recalls. She remembers also being afraid of the intense fighting going on around her at the time, especially in Western Ukraine where the fighting was very hard. "We fought for the unity of the Ukraine, and what is happening now is incomprehensible," she says sharply when asked about the current situation in Ukraine. "It is bad for everyone."

Born in 1924, 90 year-old Alexandra has two children and five grand children. Drafted into the Red Army in the town of Kalatch in the Voronezh region of central Russia, she was transferred to the front lines in December 1941, only 17 years old. 

“I was a nurse in a train hospital which moved along the front lines," she recalls. The hospital train would pick up the wounded and carry them back away from the fighting to field hospitals. “Some days, there were so many wounded soldiers that we were forced to travel on top of the train cars!” Alexandra remembers. In 1943, she fell ill and was sent to Tbilisi Georgia to recuperate. It is there that she met her future husband. “My most vivid memory was the day of our victory on May 9th 1945. We danced so much that day..."

FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE ON REQUEST

 

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Women of the Red Army 05
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

Born in 1924, 90 year-old Alexandra has two children and five grand children. Drafted into the Red Army in the town of Kalatch in the Voronezh region of central Russia, she was transferred to the front lines in December 1941, only 17 years old.

“I was a nurse in a train hospital which moved along the front lines," she recalls. The hospital train would pick up the wounded and carry them back away from the fighting to field hospitals. “Some days, there were so many wounded soldiers that we were forced to travel on top of the train cars!” Alexandra remembers. In 1943, she fell ill and was sent to Tbilisi Georgia to recuperate. It is there that she met her future husband. “My most vivid memory was the day of our victory on May 9th 1945. We danced so much that day..."

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Women of the Red Army 06
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

Born in 1924, 90 year-old Alexandra has two children and five grand children. Drafted into the Red Army in the town of Kalatch in the Voronezh region of central Russia, she was transferred to the front lines in December 1941, only 17 years old.

“I was a nurse in a train hospital which moved along the front lines," she recalls. The hospital train would pick up the wounded and carry them back away from the fighting to field hospitals. “Some days, there were so many wounded soldiers that we were forced to travel on top of the train cars!” Alexandra remembers. In 1943, she fell ill and was sent to Tbilisi Georgia to recuperate. It is there that she met her future husband. “My most vivid memory was the day of our victory on May 9th 1945. We danced so much that day..."

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Women of the Red Army 07
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

Born in 1931, 85 year-old Zinaida has one child, and one grand child. She was drafted in to the Red Army as part of a Ukrainian partisan outfit near the town of Hmelnick in Western Ukraine.

“I was 12 years-old when German soldiers took over our house. We fled to the forest with my brother Maxime. There, we managed to join a Communist partisan group," she recalls. “I would cook for the soldiers as well as provide important information for them by spying on German troops' movement. I remained with the same partisan unit for the entire war." By the end of the war, the group was hiding in the Carpathian Mountains. Her greatest memory of the war is the ‘Katioucha' song Red Army soldier sang when they liberated her native village, she tells us.

Zinaida left Ukraine in 2008 in order to join her only daughter in Russia to live together. When asked about the current conflict in Ukraine, she says, “I miss Ukraine a lot. We left some family there, and we are afraid of this new conflict."

"We will not return until the war ends," she says sadly.

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Women of the Red Army 08
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

Born in 1931, 85 year-old Zinaida has one child, and one grand child. She was drafted in to the Red Army as part of a Ukrainian partisan outfit near the town of Hmelnick in Western Ukraine.

“I was 12 years-old when German soldiers took over our house. We fled to the forest with my brother Maxime. There, we managed to join a Communist partisan group," she recalls. “I would cook for the soldiers as well as provide important information for them by spying on German troops' movement. I remained with the same partisan unit for the entire war." By the end of the war, the group was hiding in the Carpathian Mountains. Her greatest memory of the war is the ‘Katioucha' song Red Army soldier sang when they liberated her native village, she tells us.

Zinaida left Ukraine in 2008 in order to join her only daughter in Russia to live together. When asked about the current conflict in Ukraine, she says, “I miss Ukraine a lot. We left some family there, and we are afraid of this new conflict."

"We will not return until the war ends," she says sadly.

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Women of the Red Army 09
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

Born in 1930, 84 year-old Nakia has five children, and one grand child. During the war, she was forced to work in a factory, which produced spare parts for the war effort in Tirsa, Tartastan. Working in a factory as an 11 year-old for the war effort was a sacrifice for many reasons. Each day she had to walk 30 kilometers to “go to the factory from my village, and walk each night back the same way," she recalls. Some nights she had to work nights as the heavy losses incurred on the front lines required constant work. Her most difficult memory of the war was the lack of food.

“We had nothing to eat," she remembers. "We had to scrape the earth in a near by field in order to find roots and vegetables. I was scared, scared all the time," she admits. But when victory day arrived on May 9th, she felt this was the best gift one could have given her.

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Women of the Red Army 10
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

Born in 1930, 84 year-old Nakia has five children, and one grand child. During the war, she was forced to work in a factory, which produced spare parts for the war effort in Tirsa, Tartastan. Working in a factory as an 11 year-old for the war effort was a sacrifice for many reasons. Each day she had to walk 30 kilometers to “go to the factory from my village, and walk each night back the same way," she recalls. Some nights she had to work nights as the heavy losses incurred on the front lines required constant work. Her most difficult memory of the war was the lack of food.

“We had nothing to eat," she remembers. "We had to scrape the earth in a near by field in order to find roots and vegetables. I was scared, scared all the time," she admits. But when victory day arrived on May 9th, she felt this was the best gift one could have given her.

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Women of the Red Army 11
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

Born in 1927, 88 year-old Ivannikova has five children, 12 grand children, and 8 great grand children. During the war she was a military train conductor in Saratov in South East Russia.

“I was in a technical high school to learn how to drive trains when the war began," she remembers. She started to drive military trains in 1943. “Most of the time we would transport ammunitions to the front lines. But sometimes, we did not know what the cargo contained, as it was secret."

Though German planes never attacked her train, she remembers being scared all the time. “I used to have nightmares each night,” she recalls. She also remembers the day of victory. She cried a lot remembering the death of so many people, but said, “it was a great day for me, because we won, and the war was finally over.”

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Women of the Red Army 13
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

Born in 1925, 90 year-old Nina has two children, five grand children, and 5 great grand children. Drafted into the Red Army in 1943 on the 4th Ukrainian front. At 16 years-old Nina was incorporated into a battalion following the army’s move Westward towards Prague, where she took part in the battle to retake the capital of Czechoslovakia in early 1945. During her time on the front she was in charge of various traffic regulation duties.

“I took care of traffic regulations on the road leading to the front lines where vehicles and troops were passing," she recalls. She remembers also being afraid of the intense fighting going on around her at the time, especially in Western Ukraine where the fighting was very hard. "We fought for the unity of the Ukraine, and what is happening now is incomprehensible," she says sharply when asked about the current situation in Ukraine. "It is bad for everyone."

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Women of the Red Army 14
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

Born in 1925, 90 year-old Nina has two children, five grand children, and 5 great grand children. Drafted into the Red Army in 1943 on the 4th Ukrainian front. At 16 years-old Nina was incorporated into a battalion following the army’s move Westward towards Prague, where she took part in the battle to retake the capital of Czechoslovakia in early 1945. During her time on the front she was in charge of various traffic regulation duties.

“I took care of traffic regulations on the road leading to the front lines where vehicles and troops were passing," she recalls. She remembers also being afraid of the intense fighting going on around her at the time, especially in Western Ukraine where the fighting was very hard. "We fought for the unity of the Ukraine, and what is happening now is incomprehensible," she says sharply when asked about the current situation in Ukraine. "It is bad for everyone."

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Women of the Red Army 15
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

Born in 1920, 94 year-old Nagaieva has one child, two grand children, and three great grand children. Nagaieva was drafted into the Red Army and sent to the front lines near Kursk where the Soviets were battling the German army in 1943. She contributed to the war effort as a dentist, following the Soviet army’s advance through Ukraine, Eastern Europe and finally into Germany where she took part of the fall of the Reichstadt in late April 1945.

When asked how she felt about the final victory on May 9th 1945, she smiles and says, “This May 9th, I had the impression of being 19 years-old again."

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Women of the Red Army 16
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

Born in 1920, 94 year-old Nagaieva has one child, two grand children, and three great grand children. Nagaieva was drafted into the Red Army and sent to the front lines near Kursk where the Soviets were battling the German army in 1943. She contributed to the war effort as a dentist, following the Soviet army’s advance through Ukraine, Eastern Europe and finally into Germany where she took part of the fall of the Reichstadt in late April 1945.

When asked how she felt about the final victory on May 9th 1945, she smiles and says, “This May 9th, I had the impression of being 19 years-old again."

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Women of the Red Army 17
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

Born in 1924, 90 year-old Maria was a volunteer nurse, treating Red Army soldiers on the front lines.

“When I learned about the German invasion of my country in 1941, I volunteered as a nurse in the 847th infantry regiment. Soon after joining the regiment, the entire unit was ordered to the front lines at Lipetsk in central Russia," she explains.

During the trip the regiment was attacked many times by German airplanes. Though out 1942 and 1943, she fought with the regiment into Ukraine and took part in the liberation of Kharkov, Kiev and Lviv. She continued her progress with the regiment into Germany in 1945 before being ordered towards Czechoslovakia to take part in the battle of Prague in early 1945.

“I have saved many lives as a nurse, but I was myself wounded twice," explains the veteran. “What is the hardest for me, is all the people I could not save. But I am very proud of my service to my country, defending it.”

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Women of the Red Army 18
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
09 May 2015

Born in 1924, 90 year-old Maria was a volunteer nurse, treating Red Army soldiers on the front lines.

“When I learned about the German invasion of my country in 1941, I volunteered as a nurse in the 847th infantry regiment. Soon after joining the regiment, the entire unit was ordered to the front lines at Lipetsk in central Russia," she explains.

During the trip the regiment was attacked many times by German airplanes. Though out 1942 and 1943, she fought with the regiment into Ukraine and took part in the liberation of Kharkov, Kiev and Lviv. She continued her progress with the regiment into Germany in 1945 before being ordered towards Czechoslovakia to take part in the battle of Prague in early 1945.

“I have saved many lives as a nurse, but I was myself wounded twice," explains the veteran. “What is the hardest for me, is all the people I could not save. But I am very proud of my service to my country, defending it.”

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Women of the Red Army 12
Moscow
By Jonathan Alpeyrie
08 May 2015

Born in 1927, 88 year-old Ivannikova has five children, 12 grand children, and 8 great grand children. During the war she was a military train conductor in Saratov in South East Russia.

“I was in a technical high school to learn how to drive trains when the war began," she remembers. She started to drive military trains in 1943. “Most of the time we would transport ammunitions to the front lines. But sometimes, we did not know what the cargo contained, as it was secret."

Though German planes never attacked her train, she remembers being scared all the time. “I used to have nightmares each night,” she recalls. She also remembers the day of victory. She cried a lot remembering the death of so many people, but said, “it was a great day for me, because we won, and the war was finally over.”

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Then and Now: Postcards from the Sovi...
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

"Then and Now: Postcards from the Soviet Union" addresses the end of the Cold War and current resurgence of Russian geopolitical assertion in Ukraine and elsewhere. This series of historical photographs juxtaposes idealized, Soviet era postcards and visuals with real world photographs shot over the course of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing post-Soviet era. This juxtaposition is meant to demonstrate the links and the contrasts between national narratives propagated by the Soviet system and how those narratives have been affected by or manifested in contemporary reality.


Shot over the last 26 years in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Poland, these unique photos offer an intimate historical perspective of Soviet and Eastern European geopolitics as the region takes on new forms and conflicts in Ukraine and elsewhere. 

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Hello from the Exhibition”; mid-1950s postcard, Exhibition of National Economic Achievements, Soviet era Moscow.

Lower: Opened to private enterprise in 1992, the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements building complex rapidly transformed into a place of rampant uncontrolled commercialism amidst its former Soviet pomp. Moscow, Russia.

Image Correlation: These series of buildings have been utilized both during the communist era and during the more recent introduction of a Western commercial market after the end of the Soviet period. The symbology inherent in the sculptures have become representative hallmarks for the iconic Soviet period of Socialist realism, introduced by Stalin in 1934 then adapted by allied Communist parties worldwide.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Central Moscow, Kremlin foreground; 1960s impression

Lower: Moscow Red Square at night, 2005.

Image Correlation: More of a romantic notion regarding one of the major cities of the world, the iconic buildings of Red Square in Moscow implies a sense of duration through the centuries as political eras fluctuate more readily across recent decades.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Postcard: In memory of WWII.

Lower: Statue: In memory of WWII. Warsaw, Poland, 1992.

Image Correlation: These two photos resemble a counterpoint of recent history. A scarce Soviet postcard, released 10 years after WWII depicts a melancholic image of a distant, but ongoing battle, while a permanent abstract soldier statue in the Praga district of Warsaw, Poland offers a stern and dark reminder of history.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: 1949 Soviet rally; 1962 postcard, “With Holiday Congratulations Comrade!”

Lower: World War Two veterans commemorate Victory Day inTbilisi, Georgia, 9 May 2011.

Image Correlation: Passing the memory of victory in the Great Patriotic War across generations. Pride and valor have compelled millions to revere their national identities through the memorialization of the Great Patriotic war. Despite the fact that the war was fought in the name of the Soviet Union, the people's of the now independent former Soviet republics still celebrate the war's victory as their own.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Soviet Great Patriotic War Congratulations to Victory; "From Moscow to Berlin,1945 To Victory Day!"

Lower: Tribute to executed escapees from former East Germany during Berlin Wall 15 year Anniversary; Berlin, Germany, 2004

Image Correlation: One side's victory is another's oppression.