Monday, September 18th, 2006  

First Report - From Yerevan, Armenia  



Fellows, friends, partners, companions!!

Welcome to the first mail report of Caucaso, the Documentary. This is the first of a series of reports of our trip that we wish to share with everyone, all that somehow feel linked to Proyecto Caucaso and that now we can call Caucaso: the Documentary.

Today is September 18 th, we miss all the celebrations for our independence day ( tiquitiquitii , the empanadas1, anticuchos2 and VIVA CHILE3). But anyway we will proudly shout “ceachei” at our ninth floor apartment in the middle of Yerevan. We wish that the ‘khatchapuri' – a kind of Caucasian empanada - we are eating were as good as our Chilean empanada .

The 42 hour trip to the Caucasus left us more then a story to tell. From Santiago we flew to Madrid and from there to the Domodeclovo airport in Moscow. 18 hours past in the airport while we waited for our Tupolev 154 of Siberian Airlines that would finally take us to our destination. But, when we thought that everything was setting out smoothly, an employee of the airline, that looked more like a KGB agent, decided that our visas weren't in order to enter Armenia, so now we needed an official letter from the Armenian government telling that our official visas were officially in order. Nice. How did he pretend that we were going to get an official letter in the middle of the transit zone, with no phone, no computer, and no fax? Luckily thanks to a little mobile, a U$80 bill and some good calls we made it. At last in Armenia.

Today is our fourth day in Yerevan, a city that makes you pray every time you cross a road or if an Armenian is driving you around. A city full of soviet buildings with an always present 6000 mountain - the Ararat - , and with people that never let you pay a check and who open the door of there homes as soon as you meet. If someone worried about what we were going to eat, they should better worry that we don't come rolling home. We've been eating all kind of Caucasian delights.

Yerevan also is a city of contrasts. It's not rare to be walking through the most chic street and find yourself with the new Benetton Store. At the same time, our building has a rusty entrance with no light and we have to climb nine floors up to our rented apartment if we wish not to get killed in the elevator that works when it feels like to. But neither is it strange to find our department with AC and a flat-screen TV.

We've been in contact with several NGOs, foundations and study centers that investigate the development and society of Armenia; we've talked with government employees, artists and young people, what it makes us quite glad for the few days we've been here. We're surprised by participation of young people in these organization, the Armenians - like the Jew – have an astonishing sense of nationality, a nation they wish to carry on. For example, each year hundreds of young people come from U.S.A., Canada or France to volunteer some months in the country of their fathers.

The most rewarding has been the help of Hakon and Nareg, two Armenian who have turned to be our producers. Helping with accreditations, interviews and moving us in the country... all in just three days!!

Until the next report.



Cata, Cristobal, Nando, Pola

Caucasus crew

1 Chilean dish made with meat, olives, onion, raisins and some spices all of that baked inside a wheat flour's dough.

2 Chilean dish made with meat, onion, paprika, sausage all roasted an iron stick.

3 Typical Chilean expression. Could be translated as ¡Go Chile!


Saturday, October 7th, 2006  
Second Report - From Tbilisi, Georgia  



Dear everyone, we know that it's been a time since our last report, but for our fortune, and we hopefully for yours too, we've been working really hard on the Documentary.

Now we're in Tbilisi, Georgia, the second stop of our trip. We didn't tell much about Armenia so here we go.

In our last report we had spent four days in Yerevan and we didn't have a clue where Armenia would take us. All the people we met are incredible. But on the fifth day we finally saw what we had come for, everything become clearer, we managed to give face to this country, but we'll talk about that later.

On day six we started to walk through Yerevan interviewing people and we couldn't stop. We talked with painters architects, musicians, singers, photographers, and young people working in NGO, students, people in the streets, unemployed, a balloon seller, politicians, economists, historian, a “artivista”, a ex-soviet soldier, an active soldier, refugees, patriotic people, the UN representative in Armenia, the assistant of the Foreign Ministry and the Minister himself, just to name a few.

We've got to mention our visit to Nagorno Karabagh. During the 90s Azerbaijan and Armenia were at war for this zone, today it enjoys a fragile stability thanks to the ceasefire, but nobody knows when it could transform into a sign of peace.

So there we went, with Nareg as our guide and translator. We stayed in Shushi, a city were you still smell the war. Years ago it was a big city, inhabited mostly by Azeri, today it's just a small town we only Armenian live. There's no sewage and not enough lights to break the darkness of the night.

For us, which our closet contact with this reality are the news, it was quite an impacting experience. Especially when we were in Aghdam, a city named the “Hiroshima of Caucasus” which is forbidden at least for foreigners, because it's declares an unsafe zone product of all the personal mines that still remain. Our journalist spirit was stronger, so knowing that it wasn't so unsafe, we went there anyway. Aghdam was a rich city with 100.000 inhabitants; today it's deserted and completely destroyed. Being an Azeri city but on the Armian side of the ceasefire, there are no plans for reconstructing it.

We travelled back to Yerevan and of course we had some kind of excitement. We saw death at least five times, one in special when we woke up to find ourselves in the middle of a truck and another car. If you were worried about us being in war zone, believe us, the real danger are the Armenian drivers.

We left Armenia with, 26 tapes, two good new friends: Nareg and Naz. We remember really funny moments, specially related to our impossibility to communicate in Armenian. We left our mails in the diaries of the girls from the choir of Armen (but we don't know how we're going to communicate), to Hakob our friend and translator who guided us throw the country side of Armenia, we also left a pair of grey socks that mysteriously disappeared and another sock the Nando didn't feel like recovering it from the apartment below us... and we left the hope and desire to some day come back to this wonderful country.

On Wednesday we were crossing the border of Armenia to Georgia, with a strange feeling about the bribes we were told. Luckily nothing happened and after a couple of hours we entered Tbilisi, which we immediately compared with Yerevan, much bigger, more European and it resembles Valparaiso.

We've been four days in this city; we've walked up and down the Rustaveli Avenue (the most important in Tbilisi). We hanged out with some skaters to get a feeling of the Georgian youth. We tasted what they called the delicious Georgian food, but our first experience it wasn´t as good as we expect. We went with a family to vote for the council elections and next week Catalina is invited to a youth television program.

Soon the next report of Caucasus, the Documentary.

Cata, Cristobal, Nando y Pola.

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006  
Third Report, from Baku - Azerbaijan  



Dear everyone, we haven't had the time to write about what has been happening, but our promises are debts so here goes the Third Report from Caucasus.

We arrived by train in Baku, capital of Azerbaiyan. The trip took 15 hours where the smell, the landscape and the language created a special atmosphere the helped us think about Georgia. The last time you knew about us, we had been only three days in Tbilisi; the city had much more for us.

To start with, we loved food again. After the horrible experience of a not very tasty “osobuco”1, we ate khinkali (a kind of gyosa but bigger and more juicy), Khatcapuri (dough with cheese in different sizes and forms), Ostri (meat stew with local spices). All these weren't prepared in restaurants, but in small and cosy underground stores, in a cloud of smoke and a cherry fat red faced women smiled and take the vodka and beer for granted.

Rustaveli was our street, we walked it so much that some beggars recognized and greeted us with a “Hi, I'm OK” every time we passed by them. When we weren't walking on Rustaveli we were on a bus, the system is quite organized. You have to pay when you get off the bus, and nobody leaves without paying. The subway was all an experience, the Georgian alphabet looks like a plate of spaghetti, and it doesn't help much if you wish to change to another line.

We had been five days and the rain started. All our plans of filming the city watered-down and we drove crazy in our apartment waiting for some interviews and sunshine so we could walk without looking like an astronaut. We were saved by the bell. In our front door appeared a guy with a Brazilian t-shirt, yellow glasses and a woolly hat called Sandro, he was just to release a talking show on the TV. So there we went with our cameras to film (and to be filmed). Because it was the first program, there wasn't much audience and Catalina and Mari (our producer) had to sit with them, and obviously she didn't understand anything, so she laughed when everybody else did.

Not everything was work. We took a day off at the shore of the Black See at Batumi, a nice city that wakes up in summer, because now it was really asleep. We walked the entire city looking for somewhere to breakfast and to wait while everyone woke up. The highlights were the aquarium, the huge ferries wheel that wasn't working and the khatchapuris.

We interviewed Schevernadze, we saw the local soccer team against Italy at the stadium and Nando was arrested by the military police for more then an hour, but you better read about that in the blog (proyectocaucaso.blogspot.com)

Tbilisi looks more modern, greener and more European than much of the cities we have seen here, but it still resembles the soviet era. People eat khatchapuri like it was water, there are EU flags everywhere, in the pubs bands play “La Bamba” but don't have a faint idea what they are singing, people cross themselves 3 times each time they pass in front of a church and the women can't enter them without there hair covered. We couldn't find any disc of reggeaton despite what we were told. The streets were covered with spit and cigarettes.

We left Tbilsi with 25 tapes with interesting interviews, such as university students, street sellers, politician that took part of the 2003 Revolution of the Roses and of course with a good bottle of Georgian wine.

Now we're in Baku, we were received in the middle of storm. One morning it rained what it should have rained in the whole month. The rain flooded the streets and it looked like Venice, the only thing missing were the boats. Everyone took off the shoes, rolled up their trousers and crossed the street.

Of Baku we can tell you that it's a big city, full of new buildings that peculiarly nobody lives in them, but they are still built. There are a lot of foreigners (oil business) and the traffic is like all the other countries of the Caucasus.

Even that Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, there aren't many women using a veil, but we noticed that there isn't any alcohol in the streets. People, well the men – you don't see much women in the streets - the men gather around a cup of tea. Like Georgia had its Khatchapuri, here we have Donner (bread, meat and vegetables) and tea, a lot of tea.

More detail of Baku and the project on our next report. Keep visiting the blog, we'll send more photos and news.

Greetings to everyone.

Cata, Cristobal, Nando, Pola

1 Bone with meat use by many Chileans to make a wonderful stew.

Monday, November 27th, 2006  
Fourth Report, from Moscow - Russia  



Dear readers, today we are writing from the Russian autumn, the temperature hasn't gone any higher than 0ºC. The snow that fell some days ago still covers the streets and to go out we need at least four layers of clothes.

We left Azerbaiyan some days ago, our last Caucasian destination. Just like Armenia and Georgia, this country has a unique reality. One of the first things we had to do was remove the post in the web page of our visit to Nagorno-Karabagh (N-K), if the authorities discovered we had been in a zone “occupied” by Armenia, surely we would have won a “DEPORTED” stamp on our passports.

In our last report we told our first impressions of Baku, now after we have left the city, we think we can give a better idea of the country.

First, the Armenian and Azeri hate themselves, but ironically they seem more alike than they wish. Both use the same hair style and walk arm-in-arm. They start to hang-out at six o'clock and they all back home by midnight.

In Armenia and Azerbaiyan the people are very hospitable, thanks to that we won some meals and we went to a tea house where Pola and Cata were the only women not paid for being there. There also is hundreds of night clubs were the oil workers looked for some distraction from the cold and windy nights of Baku.

Here the streets are also spitted, but instead of kachapuri, vodka and bear here people drink tea with chocolates. In 21 days we drank more tea then what we had drunken in all our lives.

In Baku – not in Azerbaiyan – you breathe, smell and sweat oil. The city doesn't stop, it looks like it would explode any moment, all the streets have a traffic jam, the traffic lights are only city decorations and the horns are the orchestra of the chaos. Every block has a least a building under construction, a signal of the economic boom just that at night these buildings are only dark columns, because nobody can afford the million of manats these apartments cost. Even worse, there is no urban development plan, so nobody controls the quality of the buildings, for example they don't have a parking for the owners. Considering that Baku is located in a region as seismic as our dearest Chile, everybody is afraid that the next earthquake won't leave much standing up.

What happens in the country side is another story. In Sumgait, the former industrial capital of the U.S.S.R, nobody knows about oil and all is poor. We contemplated the huge and empty soviet factories and the poverty of enormous apartment blocks of the Kruschev era. The air had a strong chemical smell, a sign of the high pollution levels that affects Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea.

We also went to Guba, near the border of Duguestan and Chechnya, a beautiful forested mountain range, where for the first time we walked through the Caucasian mountains. Guba is a peculiar city, an enormous Jew colony lives in harmony with the rest of the Muslim habitants.

Like we told earlier, in Azerbaijan we had to delete our post about N-K. Besides the DEPORTED stamp we could have won, we learned that the freedom of speech is quite restricted by an apparent democratic government, but that nobody doubts to call authoritarian.

There isn't any corner where you don't see a poster of there former president Heyder Aliyev or of Ilham Aliyev, the actual president and son of Heydar. You walk by a street and you'll find on the walls all kind of phrases praising both. Libraries, airports, foundations, banks and buildings have the name of Heydar, which is considered the real saver of this Caucasian country.

We had some problems of freedom of speech. We hadn't been more than 24 hours in the country when the national television wanted a report of “the documentary of the young Chilean journalist”. The interview had all the KGB style and after their edition, all our words were transformed in praises to the government.

Another incident happened at the oil fields in the outsides of Baku. After recording the place and interviewing some workers, a jeep came out of no where, two men jumped out and started to yell us what were we doing on private property. Tamara, a journalism student that helped us on the spot, ran to intercept them while Catalina quickly replaced the recorded tape with a virgin one. We weren't going to loose such information. Meanwhile Tamara kept distracting the men, Catalina already trained in this kind of stuff, discreetly started to film the area to have something recorded if they asked as to see the tape. Luckily they only took the tape, without watching it. We had our treasure well hidden and we all felt a great sense of victory after that episode.

We interviewed lots of leaders from the unhopeful opposition. They had no means to organize and no way to divulge their ideas. We saw a hunger strike of the journalist of a newspaper that the government was going to close.

But not everything was so bad. Emin Milli, a young Azeri, was building a new kind of organization, without hierarchy, no institution, based on internet. It moved for something more than money. Based on the social needs of the university students, a new kind of movement was arising and surely we will be hearing about them soon and in the documentary as well.

We left Azerbaijan knowing that it was country living in a delicate situation. On one side there was a country with an expanding economy with an enormous potential thanks to its oil and on the other side a country leaded by a mob that got richer every day.

Now in Russia. We hope that we will be able to think about all what has happened in each of the countries we have visited, to think about the people we have met, their problems and their virtues. We also can see the Caucasus from the distance of this giant called Russia that has always watched over this strategic zone between the Black and Caspian Sea.

Big Hug

Caucasus Crew
Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007  
Fifth Report, from Paris - France  

Hi everyone! We know it's been a time since our last report, but we're still here. Sadly this is our last report of the production of Caucasus the Documentary.

Now we're writing from Paris, we started the year celebrating our last recording and wishing to release the documentary on the second term of 2007. So get ready for the première. But back to where we left our last report.

We arrived at Russia in mid November, apart of the snow that fell those days we didn't see any more on the rest of our trip through Europe. Maybe the global warming could explain us something. The truth is we didn't see the “white winter” we thought we were going to bear in Moscow, we only suffered the really cold days that the Russian stood up with heavy coats, jackets and soviet hats that decorated the beautiful Slavs heads. That confirmed what we had seen on the recordings of our colleagues of Informe Especial1.

We drove by night from the Domodedovo airport to our apartment. On the highway we recognized that the Soviet legacy, so common in the Caucasus, had quickly disappeared. Anyhow we could feel that we were in the capital of once superpower; U.S.S.R. In many places we saw huge block kind of buildings and enormous soviet constructions of the Stalin or Krushev era.

On the streets there were many soldiers, policemen and the underground was full of security guards. There was a sense of fear by the possibility of a terrorist attack, like so many others that had happened in the recent years. Just as in Azerbaijan, we knew that our job wasn't going to be easy. We were afraid that our camera would take us to tough interrogations that wouldn't be an easy thing to understand. Our Russian lessons helped us for simple and basic conversations, but we weren't sure if it could manage a complete security interrogation.

To this, we must add the incomprehensible bureaucracy – for western standards – to validate our visa. In Russia you need more than a visa, first you must officialise it in the Foreign Minister and with the police and at every city you stay more than four days. The government says that it needs to know were every foreigner is, and all this isn't free. It cost us something near 30 dollars and a whole day in a row.

The day after we arrived we had the pleasure of an incredible lunch with pisco sour2, caviar, and a delicious chocolate dessert in the house of Chilean ambassador, who is related to Cristobal. That was one of our last good meals in Russia; typical days consisted of just a Snicker previously bought in Caucasus. Luckily we had been warned of the high prices of Moscow.

But we didn't suffer about that. Cristina, the Chilean owner of the apartment where we were staying, came every morning to prepare us a “light” breakfast, which it could be sausages with peas, beef with tomatoes, omelettes or cheese with jam. It helped a lot in the cold Moscow.

The first time we went to the Red Square was exciting, but what normally happens with famous places that you've only seen on TV; it's quite different of what you imagined. “It's much smaller”, “I imagined it more like a square” were some of things we complained. Even though, we must be fair and say that the Red Square is a hallucinating place to be, full of history, people everywhere, the majestic Kremlin and the beautiful bright-domed building of Saint Basil's Cathedral that cheers the always grey winter sky of Moscow.

There was a completely different world under the streets. The underground is a good example of the splendid soviet era. Huge stations - real bunkers – it took us five minutes to go down the stairs from the street to the station, the walls had enormous mosaic, true pieces of art. Images of the hammer, the sickle, workers, revolution leaders and all kind of soviet icons, remembered the Russians (and tourists) a little bit of there recent history.

One of the news that that marked us was the recent murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who had been a critic of the Kremlin politics especially about the Chechnya and North Caucasus affairs. For many Russians this wasn't big news, probably they were used to that kind of news, but it helped us make a pretty good idea of the Russian idea of freedom of speech.

In other terms, to mention Caucasus wasn't something left unnoticed, many people warned us to be careful. It was quite common to see racist attitudes against anyone that didn't seem Slav. Policemen on the streets stopped immigrants asking for there papers. Luckily we didn't have such problem, we seemed tourists. Except the day we were leaving, at the airport a police officer checked all our bags, once and again looking for paintings. He thought we were art smugglers because we had some cheap paintings bought in a Georgian fair, which he imagined them as valuable pieces of art.

In Moscow among many interviews we talked with Tatiana Vorozheikina, CNN international analyst and former dean of Political Science in an important University of Moscow, we also interviewed Vadim Medvedev, former member of the Politburo of Michael Gorbachov and a reformer leader. With them we confirmed what many Russian thought about Putin's attitude upon the Caucasus area. They told us that it's about the conviction, a vicious imperialist nature, that the Kremlin had the right to show control on the zone that, at least on paper, is independent of Moscow.

Many Russian also told us that the government's position upon the Caucasus was only a way to have a common enemy to cover other sort of internal problems that could affect the country.

We talked with students of a university of Moscow, with a housewife that had the karma of being from the capital of Chechnya, we drank tea with teacher in her apartment in those huge soviet blocks, at the Gorbachov Foundation we talked with one of the mentors of the glasnost and perestroika, and with all the conversations we made the idea of leaving a city that is growing capitalist, but where you still find soviet customs and manners.

Soon we will be back home with the a huge challenge, we must me able to show you – and as much people possible- all what we have seen, felt and lived in the last four months of hard work, amusement and discovery. Our project was centred in the Caucasus, but we intend to go much further, a place that makes us think of democracy, free market, globalization and also dreams and frustrations. The project has made a big leap, but it still has to give a few more. We thank every mail of support, they helped in every moment.

We will keep in touch with the last reports of the Caucasus the Documentary. Big hugs see you in Chile.

Caucasus Crew

1 Chilean TV program. A crew of this program made a report about how some girls from Bielorussia and Russia try to get married with foreigner (also Chileans) to have the chance to move away from their countries.

2 Chilean drink.