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The Other Side of the Lens. Photojournalist Vasily Krestyaninov’s perspective
The Other Side of the Lens. Photojournalist Vasily Krestyaninov’s perspective. Photo Credit_Vasily Krestyaninov

The Other Side of the Lens

Photojournalist Vasily Krestyaninov’s perspective


Vasily Krestyaninov, a Russian photojournalist currently based in Berlin, took the first flight to Yerevan from Berlin when he heard about the massive evacuation of Armenians from Artsakh. Krestyaninov primarily freelances for the Associated Press, a news agency headquartered in New York City. AGBU interviewed him to learn why he chose to cover the conflict and to hear his perspective on the situation in Goris and Kornidzor back in September 2023.

 

Q: Vasily, why did you travel to Armenia and report on the infamous events of September 2023?

A: Over the past few years Armenia has become something special for me and close to my heart. It became home for me after the events when I was forced to leave Russia first because of the threat of the security services (FSB) and then Georgia for the same reasons. Having lost both homes, I started to live in Armenia for a while and, accordingly, to follow the situation in my country of residence.

So, I can say my choice fell on Armenia by chance but it was a lucky coincidence. Besides my professional interest, during the six months I lived in Armenia, I felt the compassion and understanding of the people towards me. I made many friends while awaiting my humanitarian visa from the German government. So, I feel compelled to cover major events in Armenia and share them with the world, hoping to make a difference. I also empathize deeply with people there, as I myself lost my home for unfair reasons. 

Therefore, I have started covering events in Armenia from 2022 onwards. Particularly, when Azerbaijan opened fire near Lake Sevan and several people were killed, I was present to film and report on the incident. It was also during this time that Armenian civilians in the village of Sotk, near Lake Sevan, lost their homes due to Azerbaijani shelling. After that I went to Germany and then I returned for the events of September 2023.

The scene was one of the most terrible ones I’ve ever witnessed. Everyone in that line understood nothing could be changed; it was just a ‘one-way ticket.

Q: What happened in Kornidzor the day you took the picture of Lilit with four of her children?

A: It was between September 25 and 27. The situation seemed quite the same on those days. I met the first 30 refugees from Artsakh at a hotel in Goris. Then I went to Kornidzor. I took Lilit’s photo around 9 pm on the 26th there.

There were many people, particularly women and children, walking. They didn’t have fuel and were unable to reach the humanitarian camps by car. That’s why she was walking along with an extensive line of refugees, with thousands of cars in that line.

I remember children with only small school backpacks, each holding just one toy because they couldn’t take many items due to lack of space. It was as if people had packed their entire lives into their cars. Some elderly people didn’t have their own cars, so they relied on their friends and neighbors, carrying just a bag with them.

Because of all this, people were exhausted, most of them with tearful eyes. The scene was one of the most terrible ones I’ve ever witnessed. Everyone in that line understood nothing could be changed; it was just a “one-way ticket.” 

 

Q: Did you know that this photo had spread across the global media and if so, what feedback have you received?

A: Actually, I had no idea before you contacted me. It’s quite the opposite for me. From my experience of reporting on Armenia, I noticed that the media paid less attention to the tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan than to Israel and Gaza or Ukraine and Russia. But as a photo reporter I will do my best to get as much media coverage of this conflict as possible. Because when the media does not inform people about what’s going on, it supports the continuation of the conflict.

That’s why Aliyev now wants more, having already occupied about 200 square kilometers of already sovereign Armenian territory by 2024, and I assume this will continue. Surprisingly, there is very little media coverage of this. Armenians are not granted humanitarian visas, Armenia is not financially supported, there is only some defense and military aid from France, but that is not enough. Azerbaijan is supported by Turkey. We should be prepared for the escalation of tensions, as Azerbaijan has historically demonstrated its desire to seize a large part of Armenia.

Originally published in the June 2024 ​issue of AGBU Magazine. end character

About the AGBU Magazine

AGBU Magazine is one of the most widely circulated English language Armenian magazines in the world, available in print and digital format. Each issue delivers insights and perspective on subjects and themes relating to the Armenian world, accompanied by original photography, exclusive high-profile interviews, fun facts and more.