Unrecognized Islands of Caucusus

Civilian and soldier alike navigate a region torn apart by years of war.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Karen Mirzoyan


Journal Entries by Karen Mirzoyan

During the making of Karen Mirzoyan's project Unrecognized Islands of Caucasus, Mirzoyan kept a journal. Mirzoyan used the journal to explore new project ideas, document his experiences in new regions, and contemplate the meaning of photographing an unrecognized people.
Part 1, Story 3 MIZOYAN - Journal - 1 Somehow I wanted to photograph people who took part in wars. I could have gone and photographed the war heroes, but there was something else brewing in my mind and the only thing that I had sketched and written about in my notebook was that I wanted to go to some villages where were active zones. I had decided to put old photographs of the people who had died during war in the field in the same places they were gunned down and photograph the scene and that's it. That was only ambition. But then this contemplation originally evolved and I understood that it would be more pertinent to photograph the children of those who had died in the same place they had fallen for the sake of their children's survival and prosperity. This thought led to the formation of the idea of past and future within the story and I decided to logically divide the story into three parts (chapters) – past, present and future. The children aptly occupied the section of the story representing the future. The past is depicted by the gravestones of the fallen heroes. I photographed the gravestones which had the picture of the buried person portrayed on the gravestone in order to omit some feeling of vitality—holding onto their Kalashrikov rifles and staring back—manifesting some movement within the photograph.

The Past - The Dead

The present is represented by the portraits of the war heroes, but I chose to photograph the ones that had been injured during combat and still had shrapnel wedged deep in their bodies. For a long time I had worked to do stories that will allow me to incorporate x-ray images, but I was waiting for the right opportunity and story, and here I feel it is absolutely befitting.

2009 MIZOYAN - Journal - 2

Part 2, Story 2 MIZOYAN - Journal - 3 This series is about the people are lost without at trace. There are so many stories. So many names; a boy goes to war and is lost without a trace, there are those who were killed but the corpses were never found and there are incidents when a 71 year old is abducted from his house and is never heard again. To just come take someone and put an end to their story! I was photographing these people's mothers, relatives, children who were left alone with the photographs of their loved ones, no other proof of their life and no grave to mourn on. But what grabbed my attention the most were not the faces in the photographs but the special relationship between those who are waiting and the packs of photographs. MIZOYAN - Journal - 4

Part 2, Story 3 MIZOYAN - Journal - 5 Kodor Valley
I had been trying to get through all the documentation and finally get to the restricted area of Kodor Valley for two years. Waited to go to the edge of the border and see for myself where the Russian solders were situated and where were the Abkhaz forces. I was thinking [text crossed out] that Russians would be in the fornt rows because that is what I was told by the media but take it from an eye witness that is not the case. The closest to the border stand the Abkhaz troops, the Russians come kilometers after them.

I'm not allowed yet to reveal the name of the post I visited or the names of the soldiers I talked to and took a stroll with through the hills and the forest. There are no captions. People here have no NAMES. MIZOYAN - Journal - 6

Part 2, Story 4 MIZOYAN - Journal - 7 Soldiers with no names are not the only anonymous characters in my story. Such places with no names applied in the story as well. I had no idea that after the Georgia's conflict in 2008 with Abkhazia and South Ossentia there are still many Georgians living in both countries. It is related that there were mixed marriages but there still are villages populated wholly by Georgians which interestingly enough is not publicized much.

I wanted my own, first hand insight into the situation, wanted to find out what is going on and document it. I went to the Gal district or region, near the border with Georgia and what do you know!!! The border was open; Georgians freely moved back and forth. The border is open.

There and I talked to many people and was welcomed at many homes but no one consented to an interview or allowed me to take their picture. I found it odd since they were not critical of Abkhaz authorities but still did not want to be photographed. Sure for all they know I could be with the Abkhaz secret services. It took me some 20–25 visits to people's homes to be able to photograph 7 people. Some of them wanted to conceal their faces, some refused to give me their names and those who did give me a name most probably lied about it. I could not pinpoint the source of their anxiety until one of them explained, "You see, we go back and forth in between Georgia and Abkhazia both countries. Your photos might travel the world and Georgians might see them as well. We don't want to have problems with Georgians; we don't want to take sides." MIZOYAN - Journal - 8 To view entire journals, please visit Karen Mirzoyan's website.


December 10, 2012

Karen Mirzoyan

Reporters Without Borders

Karen Mirzoyan, EF 2010 photographer, was published in Reporters Without Borders for his project Unrecognized Islands of Caucusus.

May 14, 2012

Karen Mirzoyan

Mother Jones and Magnum Foundation

The first photo essay in a series put together by Mother Jones and Magnum Foundation, featured work by Karen Mirzoyan from his project Unrecognized Islands of Caucasus. 

Five months ago, the people of South Ossetia, a Georgian breakaway province, cast votes for their next president. Russia—the territory’s controlling nation—had endorsed a candidate, but the majority went instead toformer education minister (and anti-corruption advocate) Alla Dzhioeva. But her presidency was short-lived: The Supreme Court declared the election invalid, citing polling violations, and set a do-over election date—from which Dzhioeva was barred from participating. This week, Leonid Tibilov, a former KGB agent, won the new election.

South Ossetia is one of three contested republics in the Caucasus region. Its election chaos illustrates the impasse faced by these territories: All are trying to form autonomous nations, yet they can’t build government without a stamp of approval from one of the only countries in the world that recognizes their nationhood. Their independence depends on Russia’s support.

To view entire essay, continue to Mother Jones
April 10, 2012

Karen Mirzoyan

Mirzoyan featured on Camera Austria. 

“The Future” references the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. This third installment of the cycle “Karabakh War” shows adolescents standing at sites where each of their fathers lost his life. Hisotry and the present day merge into one, and the isolation of the figures in pictorial space becomes symbolic for the futility of acts of war while simultaneously keeping memories alive of those who died for the future of their children. 

September 15, 2011

Karen Mirzoyan

Burn Magazine, I00 Self Portraits

Karen Mirzoyan’s photographs and writings featured in spread of Burn Magazine, issue 02.

Karen Mirzoyan, EF 2010 photographer, set out three years ago to document the transitional states of the unrecognized republics of the Caucasus.   He traveled to Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossentia, and Karabakh.  In this issue of Burn, his photographs are complimented by his personal writings reflecting on his experiences there.  Get a copy of this limited edition of Burn Magazine before it’s sold out!

September 15, 2011

Karen Mirzoyan

Lens Culture, New Russian Contemporary Photography

Karen Mirzoyan selected as top pick from Moscow’s International Portfolio Review.

2010 Emergency Fund photographer Karen Mirzoyan participated in the international Portfolio Review for Russian Photographers in Moscow.  This weeklong photography event and exhibition was the first of this scale and scope in Russia. 185 photographers were choosen to participate from over 2,400 applications.  The selected 185 had the opportunity to show and discuss their work in one-on-one meetings with 45 international photography experts.  

September 8, 2011

Karen Mirzoyan

Point of View

Photographs by Karen Mirzoyan on the Unrecognized Islands of Caucasus.

Mirzoyan’s full EF project is available to be viewed here http://bit.ly/rqANva.

September 7, 2011

Karen Mirzoyan

The Russian Reporter, The War After the War

Photo essay by Karen Mirzoyan

To view Mirzoyan’s EF project in entirely click here:http://bit.ly/rqANva

September 7, 2011

Karen Mirzoyan

Esquire Magazine, The Rules of Life in Russia

Photographs by Karen Mirzoyan

To view Mirzoyan’s full EF project click here: http://bit.ly/rqANva

May 19, 2011
EF2010’s Karen Mirzoyan on his OSI-funded Project

EF2010 Photographer Karen Mirzoyan received a 2010 OSI Production Grant for a  project entitled “Suicide in Armenia.” In this video, Karen unpacks the difficult experience of photographing people who have attempted suicide. 

April 14, 2011
Karen Mirzoyan in 500 Photographers

You may have also seen Karen on the website, 500 Photographers. Check out his bio here:

April 13, 2011
Karen Mirzoyan Published in Ojo de Pez

Check out Karen’s tearsheets from Madrid-based magazine Ojo de Pez: 

April 13, 2011


EF Photographer Karen Mirzoyan unpacks his experience shooting on the Armenian border. Stay tuned for Karen’s work on the EF website.


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