A Journey Through Contested Lands: Azerbaijan

Emin Özmen travels to the south of Azerbaijan to focus on the Talysh, an ethnic group that has traditionally lived on both sides of the border with Iran. In 1993, some political dissidents, including Talysh representatives, declared an independent Talysh-Mughan Autonomous Republic. That movement was short-lived, and 25 years later, the story of the Talysh in Azerbaijan is less one of active separatism than of gradual assimilation—of a unique cultural group figuring out how to integrate economically and culturally without sacrificing their most important traditions. Emin travels to the city of Lankaran, which has the country’s largest concentration of Taylsh people, to document this transition. His images capture how the Talysh are holding onto distinct customs—including food, dress, language, weddings, and other rituals—against a backdrop of economic change and the assertions of a new national unity, including a recently built statue of a former Azerbaijani president in the town square. In particular, Emin looks at how women carry the responsibility of enabling this cultural transition.

This project is part of "Contested Lands," a collaboration between Pacific Standard, Magnum Photos, and the Pulitzer Center that sent six Magnum photographers to report on land rights issues from six countries around the globe. Visit our online curriculum for a lesson plan and full PDF of the magazine.

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