Return to Projects

The (Near) East

A journey through the cross roads of Europe and Asia - the Balkans and Turkey. More →

Close

“Lands of great discoveries are lands of great injustices” – Ivo Andri?

So wrote the famous Yugoslav novelist, speaking of the lands from which he came and no doubt other lands of a similar fate.

The Balkans occupy the land of southeastern Europe, beginning on the Adriatic coast and ending loosely on the Turkish border and mediterranean to the south. By virtue of the geography these nations have come to both identify and endure the colonization of their neighbours – beginning with Roman and Illyrian tribes, the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Venetians, Ottoman Turks, and most recently Soviet and Yugoslavian powers.

Over the span of several months my journey took me primarily to the former Yugoslavian nations – Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, as well as Albania. Throughout Turkey I began in Istanbul and traveled to the far north-east, through the Kackar mountains and eastern cities of Kars and Erzurum, and finally to Ankara.

These fractured – and recently autonomous – nation-states exist somewhere between Europe and Western Asia, between mafia capitalism and traditional communal life, and finally hope and hopelessness. Those in the Balkans share many cultural similarities – often speaking nearly identical languages and in generations past regularly marrying among communities – all the while crafting historical narratives that clearly delineate one “ethnicity” from another. Within Turkey, Islamist and secular nationalists battle for the soul of their great nation, while Kurds, Armenians, many of Slavic decent and others once under the auspices of the Ottoman Empire walk a fine line between “Turkishness” and their private identities, all in the presence of awe-inspiring landscapes that retain the collective memory of millions, living and struggling over thousands of years.

In many respects these nations are defined by an inability to define. And somehow deep, sincere warmth among peoples persists in a region abundant with collective wounds and histories of injustice.