Along the Closed Borders

Along the Closed Borders is a project about life in the rural border regions of Armenia, whose residents have lived through two wars, and potentially the threat of a third as tensions rise again between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

I was born in Armenia during the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. When I was little, I visited my grandmothers in the village. I played with the neighbor’s children, drank spring water, picked flowers, and climbed the mountains to look at our village from above. There, beyond the mountains, was the closed border with Azerbaijan, and my father’s hometown of Artsvashen. It was occupied by Azerbaijan in 1992, on the day I was born.

On September 27, 2020, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh reignited. It lasted for 44 days, taking the lives of thousands of people and displacing even more. Shortly after, I began to hear the word “border” everywhere: in the media and in conversations with my family. I started to think about the meaning of borders and how their proximity affected people’s lives and landscapes. I traveled to Armenia, documenting everyday rural life along the closed borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Along the Closed Borders. Lilit (Lilo) Danielyan | Visual artist | Portugal

Living close to the border is about anxiety and daily worry. Even the youngest residents of regions like Tavush Province feel the tension of living in close proximity of the border in one way or another. Cement fences are built around schools. Portraits of fallen soldiers — most of whom were only eighteen years old — hang in the hallways.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the closure of manufacturing factories, unemployment has been high in the rural regions of Armenia. A large percentage of the population lives in poverty. In the absence of jobs, men often leave for work in neighboring countries. After serving in the army, many young men end up working at military posts because of the lack of other options. It is one of the only paid jobs in the border regions. Almost every family I met on my journey had someone they lost to war.

The proximity of closed borders, however, is also about community. I saw neighbors support and care for each other. They help build memorials for families who lost their loved ones.

This story shows the everyday consequences of living with war in areas around Armenia that are lesser known on the world stage, but still bear scars of several wars.