New East Digital Archive

The silent war: documenting the harsh reality of being a young male in Nagorno-Karabakh

The conflict in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh shows no sign of ending. Gus Palmer photographed the young soldiers following in the footsteps of their fathers who fought in the war over two decades ago

26 March 2018

For more than two decades, the landlocked mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh has been the centre of a territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is one of the longest and little-known running conflicts in the former Soviet Union, and the violent flare-up of April 2016 showed that the dispute has only escalated further since the cease-fire brokered by Russia in 1994. When news of the April war hit Amenia’s capital of Yerevan, many civilians headed to the breakaway republic to volunteer their services. Journalist Gus Palmer, who travelled there in November 2017, saw parents pack their sons off to join the army, following the same fate of their fathers who had fought in the war of the 90s that killed 30,000 people and diplaced millions more. He photographed everyday people of Nagorno-Karabakh, living not just with the memory of a turbulent past but an ever more uncertain present.

Recent studies have shown that Armenia is the most militarised country in the world along with Israel. The second is Azerbaijan. Conscription is compulsory for all 18 years olds unless you have any health problems that prevent you from fighting. Here, conscript soldiers stand against a wall in a military base in the Martuni region of Nagorno Karabakh.

A garden in Talish, a village that has mostly been abandoned since the last outbreak of conflict in April 2016.

A young boy and his grandfather pictured at their home in Matakert. The boy’s father was shot and killed early on in 2017 while at the frontline.

The mother of Levon, who was shot in the head by a sniper while completing his military service. He was 18 years old when he died.

In Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Sunday is a day when people hang their washing out to dry.

Yura, a local taxi driver in Matakert. He fought in the war in the 1990s.

Conscripts clean their rifles at a base close to the front in the Martuni region.

A student takes aim at a projected target in the primary school of Berdashen. It is mandatory for students to take target practice as one of the lessons at the school.

The football team in Matakert, minus a number of conscript soldiers who couldn’t make the training as they were stationed at the frontline nearby.

A Soviet-era Lada car drives up the hill in Nagorno-Karabakh.

A breakfast spread in a village that neighbours Talish.

A teacher stands in front of a mural in a local school in the village of Martuni. The mural is for all of the local men who have died over the past 20 years in the war.

Soldiers do laps of the yard in their military base in the Martuni region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Image and captions: Gus Palmer