Azerbaijan International

Winter 2000 (8.4)
Page 25

Self Portrait Photo Exhibition
Refugees Tell Their Own Story

A recent photo exhibition was held in Baku on December 8-16, 2000, entitled "Self Portraits: Uprooted People in Azerbaijan". The event was organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and sponsored by ENI/AGIP Azerbaijan.

President Aliyev officially opened the exhibition to commemorate the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the UNHCR. The exhibit was created under the guidance of UNHCR's Representative Didier Laye and press officer Vugar Abdusalimov. It included 88 photos depicting refugees in the context of everyday life. All the refugees who were chosen as photographers were invited from the camps to come to the capital during the exhibition. Some came with their parents, brothers and sisters.

Photo: From the Photo Exhibition "Self Portraits-Uprooted People of Azerbaijan" organized by UNHCR and sponsored by Agip Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan currently has the world's largest ratio of refugees per capita - nearly 1 million individuals out of a population of 8 million have been displaced from their homes because of the war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The UNHCR wanted to give these people a chance to tell their stories themselves. This past summer, UNHCR distributed simple cameras to refugees living in camps, railway cars, abandoned public buildings, and even in primitive underground dugouts where shepherds previously only sheltered during the few winter months so they could graze their sheep at lower elevations.

UNHCR is concerned that as time passes, the plight of the refugees is gradually fading from people's memories even though there are still hundreds of thousands who need assistance as they wait for a peace settlement so they can return to their native lands which presently are still militarily occupied.
Abdusalimov observed: "You see the misery that is in the camps but the beauty of the exhibit is that one can see a glimmer of hope in so many of the photographs. You see people with dignity who just happen to be living in appalling conditions but they still keep their hope alive."

Sponsorship for the entire photo project was assumed by ENI/AGIP Azerbaijan, an Italian oil company working in Azerbaijan that last year allocated $2.25 million for refugee shelters [See story in this issue]. ENI/AGIP carried out the preparations for the exhibition in Italy including enlarging, printing, and framing the photos, as well as producing the accompanying catalog.

The concept behind Refugee Self Portraits originated with the staff of Azerbaijan International back in 1993 when they realized that refugees could tell their own story better than any outsider could. AI distributed disposable cameras among the refugees in late 1993 and again in 1996 and published the results in the Spring 1994 (AI 2.1) and Spring 1997 (AI 5.1) issues. SEARCH at

To request information about UNHCR's traveling photo exhibition or about the availability of catalogs, contact Vugar Abdusalimov at:

Azerbaijan International (8.4) Winter 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.

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