Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

A horrible car crash in Almaty

I knew road accidents are a big problem in the former Soviet Union, from news stories and from seeing wrecks by the side of the road. The Uzbek government even puts up signs that show car wrecks along with the cause of the accident — speeding, use of mobile phone, overtaking. But nothing drives the point home like being a personal witness, as I have experienced thrice during the last 48 hours.

The first time was when, on Friday, our marshrutka from Kochkor to Bishkek only very narrowly avoided a head-on collision with an oncoming car that was on our lane as it was overtaking another car. Perhaps the driver was unaware that there would be opposing traffic on that lane, since for that short section, our original two lanes were closed for road works. As it is, our driver managed to break just enough for him to inch past.

The second time was when, that same evening, we saw on the streets of Bishkek the following sight: one marshrutka on its side and another one damaged. Fortunately, it looked like the accident was not as bad as it might have been.


The third time was by far the worst. Last night, on our way to the airport of Almaty, we drove past another accident site. I have tried to capture the impression in words.

There one man lies on the ground. I don’t see any blood near his head, and see, he moves his legs, which is a good thing. But his is a strange movement — has someone instructed him to keep on treading the air or are these automatic reflexes of a malfunctioning body? There comes the ambulance, rolling slowly forward. Then the wreckage. A wreckage like the many wreckages put up alongside the road and displayed on signs, the front torn open. But containing four motionless bodies. Is it at all possible that these men are still alive? Sounds enter from outside. A woman wailing? There should be another car, but this is all I see.

Filed under: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Photography, , ,

Photography: Georgian cemetary on Texel

During the final days of World War II, a few hundred Georgian soldiers, who had been coerced to fight with the German army after having been taken prisoner, rose up on the Dutch island of Texel. After initial success, however, the uprising was suppressed with the aid of German reinforcements from Den Helder on the mainland. Around 600 Georgians, 100 Dutch civilians and 800 Germans (of which 450 in the initial uprising) were killed, many of whom in mass executions, and the German troops weren’t defeated until 20 May 1945, much later than in the rest of Europe.

After the war, a special cemetary was created in the center of the island for the Georgian soldiers, named after their commander, Shalva Loladze. Throughout the years, it has been visited repeatedly by Georgian delegations, notably in 2005 by Mikhail Saakashvili, his wife Sandra Roelofs (who is Dutch) and Patriarch Ilia II.

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Filed under: Georgia, Netherlands, Photography

Photography: Cave of Simon the Zealot

According to some accounts, in his later life the apostle Simon preached and was martyred on the northern Black Sea coast. Local tradition maintains that he lived in a cave near Psyrtskha — which in the 19th Century inspired the building of the New Athos Monastery. The cave itself now contains a small shrine.

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Filed under: Abkhazia, Photography, , , ,

Photography: Bridge of Peace, Tbilisi

At daytime, the Bridge of Peace in Tbilisi (built in 2010 after a design by Michele De Lucchi) just doesn’t work for me, its turquoise modernity too glaringly out-of-place in the old city centre.

At night, however, the bridge lights up and becomes very photogenic, especially in black-and-white.

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Filed under: Georgia, Photography, ,

Photography: railway stations in Abkhazia

Despite the fact that trains are once again running from Sukhum to Adler, Sochi and Moscow, many railway stations remain abandoned and/or in disrepair and it is possible to walk along the single track.

The slideshow below shows a selection of stations, between Psou at the Russian border and Sukhum. The photos are from 2010 and so the situation may have changed in the meantime.

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Filed under: Abkhazia, Photography, , , ,

Photography: Old government building, Sukhum

Ever since it burned down in the final days of the 1992–1993 war, when Abkhazian forces retook Sukhum, the carcass of the old government building has served as a grim reminder of the past violence, mainly because it is one of the few high-rise buildings in the city centre. Especially when night falls, it evokes a threatening beauty, not unlike the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, or something out of a 1930s cross between Tim Burton’s Batman and Citizen Kane.

An empty socle in front of the building is all that remains of the Soviet era Lenin statue. The square is now commonly used for driving lessons.

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Filed under: Abkhazia, Photography, ,

Photography: Shushi

Despite the presence of so many ruins, Shushi is — at least to a visitor from outside — a very peaceful town. Free standing walls are covered by swathes of blackberries.

The contrast between the renovated cathedral and the ruins of the remaining mosques is striking. At least authorities are safeguarding the structures against complete collapse. Preserving and restoring mosques in Nagorno Karabakh and churches in Azerbaijan is a form of cooperation that all sides should agree on — even while political negotiations remain fruitless.

The photos are from July 2010, the situation may have changed in the meantime.

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Filed under: Nagorno Karabakh, Photography

Photography: TNT not impressed by Azerbaijan

The photo was taken in Yerevan last August, outside a post office.

For those unfamiliar: TNT is a global mail and express company centred in the Netherlands. They introduced their slogan sure we can at the time of the 2008 American Presidential campaign, but claim to have come up with it before Barack Obama introduced his Yes We Can.

The map beneath the slogan outlines Armenia and its provinces (in white) and, suggestively, Nagorno-Karabakh (in grey), speckled with dots indicating the main towns and cities. There is one dot which falls outside the map. This is Aşağı Ağcakəndit, known to Armenians as Shahumian, which is claimed by Nagorno-Karabakh but controlled by Azerbaijan. Interestingly, the map follows the de facto border, perhaps so as not to suggest that TNT can deliver anything to there.

Filed under: Armenia, Cartography, Nagorno Karabakh, Photography, , , , , , , ,

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