This is Anaik Gevorkyan and her husband Azat. In the aftermath of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War they were forced to leave their home in Lachin, a town in the strategic Lachin corridor, connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. Documentary photographer Valery Melnikov is nominated with this image for the World Press Photo of the Year 2021.
Nagorno-Karabakh was the subject of a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the autumn of 2020. After thirty years of relative peace, the slumbering conflict over this disputed region flamed up again. The first war over this region took place in the early 1990s of the last century, resulting in the proclamation of the Republic of Artsakh, better known as Nagorno-Karabakh, a de facto state with an Armenian ethnic majority.
The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War began on September 27 and lasted six weeks of heavy fighting until a peace agreement was reached on November 10, 2020. In that deal, brokered by Russia, Azerbaijan regained control over much of the territory lost in the 1990s and Armenians living in these parts were forced to leave their home and move to the areas that were still under Armenian control.
The family in the photo is on the brink of leaving their home in Lachin, a town in the strategic Lachin corridor, which connects Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. It was one of the last districts to be given up and is now under the control by a Russian peacekeeping force.
The photograph is part of ‘Paradise Lost’, which is nominated for the World Press Photo Story of the Year in the general news category. The series shows the aftermath of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, they go beyond the imagery of war that we usually are presented with in the news and it documents the devastating effect that a conflict has on the daily lives of people. The tragedy is brought back to a human scale. A crying woman on her doorsteps with her cats, a man who sits on the porch of his burning house, set alight because he did not wanted to hand it over to the Azerbaijani. It is through these personal stories that the bigger picture is told.
Valery Melnikov was born in Nevinnomyssk in the south of Russia and studied journalism in Stavropol. He started his career photographing for The North Caucasus newspaper and went on to cover the war in Chechnya, the conflict between South Ossetia and Georgia, the Syrian civil war and several conflicts in Africa. Since 2014 he also turned his focus on Ukraine where he photographed the war and the consequences that armed conflict has on the people who live in the Donbass, an ongoing project. In 2020 he published the book Dark Days about this region.
Melnikov has always been interested in common people who are caught in the middle of a military conflict: “In any war there are always at least two armed fighting sides. For me as a journalist and a human being, the most important side was the third – that of the ordinary people, civilians, innocent victims of these conflicts. They never expected the disaster to enter their lives. The locals turned into military confrontation participants against their will.”
This also applies to ‘Paradise Lost’. Like any war, there are no winners. Numerous lives were lost, Armenians were expelled from their home and Azerbaijani gained control over empty, war ruined lands. It might take years before both sides can reconcile and forgive each other.
The winners of the World Press Photo Awards will be announced on 15 April 2021 at an online awards show during the World Press Photo Festival 2021.