Eyes of Cultures: An Interview with Photographer Thoma Sukhashvili

 

A major interest of Post Pravda has been the amazing photographers coming out of the Southern Caucasus. One of the individuals that excited us most was Thoma Sukhashvili. He was born in South Ossetia but he now lives in Tbilisi. He is currently doing his MA in Applied Psychology in Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA). He holds a BA degree in Psychology and has worked with several non governmental organizations. He now works at “US Embassy Bookmobile” as a project coordinator.

We spoke to him about his work and his recent project, entitled “Eyes of Cultures.”

 

Thank you, Thoma for speaking to us. Last year, you spent ten days working on a project with people across the former USSR called “Eyes of Cultures.” Can you explain the nature of what this project was?

The project “Eyes of Cultures” was organized by Dinamik Gelişim Derneği from Dynamic Development Association, which is based in Istanbul, Turkey. The participating photographers were from Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey – all countries with a history of conflict. Photos were taken in 3 countries: Georgia, Ukraine and Turkey. The main goal of the project was to create sustainable dialogue and promote peace in the Caucasus region through art and photography while building trust between young people from partnering countries. Exhibitions were held in 7 different places in Georgia and Ukraine.

When it was decided that I and another Georgian female photographer were going in the east of Turkey, I was kind of skeptical. I had visited Turkey several times and I was not very impressed. Before we left for Turkey, I asked my Kurdish friend to teach me some Kurdish words, which would be useful while travelling in the region, Travelling as a photographer, language barrier is often a problem. Besides, I was taught words which shouldn’t be used out loud in the eastern Anatolia!

 

Last week, we posted up one of your photos on our Facebook page. I noticed you were unsure whether to call the area Kurdistan or Turkey. Likewise, you spoke about some of your interactions with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). After spending time in the region, did you cultivate any sympathy towards the national aspirations of the Kurdish populations of Turkey? Also, did it shape your photography at all?

Surely, it is very hard to call a land Kurdistan. On the one hand, I don’t want to disturb the feelings of my Turkish friends and on the other hand of my Kurdish friends. Personally, I don’t have problems when my foreign friends mention South Ossetia and Abkhazia as separate countries, so I know this feeling. However, we cannot avoid the fact that 30 million Kurdish people don’t have their own country or allies, except the mountains.

After a 12 hour journey from Tbilisi, us Georgian and Armenian photographers went to the city of Muş. Notwithstanding the fact that we looked like aliens, the locals were friendly to us, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). They twice stopped our minibus on the highway, talked to our Turkish friends, and when they knew who we were they wished us a happy journey. We only knew that they were the representatives of the PKK. Afterwards, I became interested in this group.

As a photographer, I encountered problems when I decided to photograph Kurdish women. The women rarely allow men to make a picture of them. As a rule, they show an eye sign not to take a picture and in a second you become totally powerless.

On the last day, before we left Van, I visited a book store to buy a book about Kurmanji for my Kurdish friend. I scratched for my last Liras and looked around the book shelves hopelessly, trying to choose a book in my budget. In couple of minutes, I stood blushed and confused.  Luckily, some Kurdish student were there that I didn’t know who chose a book and bought it for me when they knew that price was five times my budget. I got back to the hotel completely astonished and pleased.

 

How was it working with photographers from across the former Soviet Union? Did you collaborate? With some of these countries historically struggling to work in peace with each other what was the atmosphere like?

When you eat some grass together that you’ve seen for the first time in your life (given to you by some street vendor) or when you are looking for some alcohol, (which is harder than finding a way back to your hotel) it is very hard to think about historical context that links your nations to each other.

I would like to say that, our team made a dictionary of words, which are common and identical in Turkish, Armenian and Georgian languages and tried to use exactly these words during our trip.

Finally, we got drunk and we sang in Armenian while in Kars… I don’t really know why people were shouting from the windows or threw vegetables at us either; due to the late night or the Armenian singing. It was a drunken protest from our side!

 

Lastly, what are your plans for the future? Do you have any photo series upcoming?

Presently, I work in different fields, thus I have many chances to visit conflict regions of Georgia as a photo reporter and sometimes as a guide/fixer. Travelling, especially in conflict regions is the thing I can never refuse to accept. When photographing is underlined with threat and risk, shooting becomes twice as pleasant. Moreover, the value of the photo turns to have no sense at all and here I remember my “wandering” in the restricted areas of Jerusalem.

For the future, I plan to visit some countries of Levant.

“Rojbaş!”

*These are Thoma’s opinions and not representative of Dinamik Gelişim Derneği’s opinion.