On 28-29 May, 2011, mobile photograph exhibitions of the participants of “Voices of women and youth in strengthening peace and good neighborliness” project took place in the village of Orto-Boz in Ak-Tatyr district, Ak-Sai village in Batken region, and the village of Khodja-Alo of Jaomat Chorkuh in Isfara district of the Sughd region in Tajikistan. The project is funded by the Local Government Initiative from Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan through the Center for Social Integration. During these exhibitions, the participants in the photo-research presented the photos and stories they had collected and archived, and also held joint discussions between representatives of the Kyrgyz and Tajik border communities.
The exhibitions featured more than a hundred photographs selected from about 2,000 photographs taken by photo researchers during the project. The photographs depicted scenes from every-day life that surrounded the communities, such as the border, a broken water pipe and a water tray with patched holes, arid native pasture lands and lifeless fields, young people loitering around on the streets, and off-road paths to avoid deteriorated roads. All these hardships are deeply connected with onset of conflicts. Looking at the photos, one starts to see that the causes of conflicts are not in the nature of the local people, but in the lack of water, land and other resources, as well as the high unemployment rate, unmaintained infrastructure and uncertain borders.
By understanding, accepting and understanding this, people become more tolerant of each other. “Our enemies are not our neighbours, but garbage dumps, lack of water and pasture, droughts and landslides. Let’s not see each other as enemies, and work together to combat a common problem”, stated Kuluipa Akmatova, the project coordinator from RDF, as the opening speech for the exhibitions, in which RDF also offered the gift of cameras to each of the participating communities.
Representatives of local formal authorities, leaders and activists of the villages, participants of photo research, members of the Neighbourhood Strengthening Group, as well as all those who wish to “see their communities through the eyes of youth and women” visited the exhibitions. The choice of women and young people to participate in the project is not accidental. We firmly believe that they, women and young people, are the most vulnerable in a society, and that their voice is too often not heard in the communities. Only by expressing their voice and, thus, by asserting their opinion, they will be able to make personal contributions to the establishment of peace and harmony in their communities.
In these border communities, interethnic conflicts are becoming more and more difficult to resolve and manage. But, as the inhabitants of these communities themselves pointed out, such good initiatives for the preservation of peace and interethnic harmony create new foundations for the development of good-neighbourly relations, which certainly give hope for the peaceful future.