Empty Land. Photographs by Rob Hornstra & Arnold van Bruggen.
The Sochi Project.
In Empty Land, Promised Land, Forbidden Land photographer Rob Hornstra and writer
Arnold van Bruggen explore the unknown country Abkhazia on the Black Sea. Abkhazia broke
away from Georgia after a short, violent civil war in '92-'93 and was recognised as
independent in 2008 by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and the atoll of Nauru. Hornstra and
Van Bruggen spent the last four years travelling through the country, seeing how it is slowly
trying to claw its way out of isolation. They visited the refugees in Georgia and described the
attempts made by the Abkhazian government to repopulate the empty, war-ravaged country
with new immigrants.
Abkhazia was once the holiday paradise of the Soviet Union’s elite. During the war of
independence many hotels and sanatoria were shot to pieces. The country is empty – more
than half of the pre-1992 inhabitants have fled – and impoverished. But an increasing number
of Russian investors and tourists are discovering the country. After signing cooperation
treaties, Russia took over Abkhazia’s border patrol. In the meantime, Abkhazia is trying to
convince Turks of Caucasian descent to emigrate to Abkhazia.
In Empty Land, Promised Land, Forbidden Land, Hornstra and Van Bruggen sketch a
picture of Abkhazia from the perspective of many different Abkhazians, from pupil to
president, in cities and in the countryside. It is the first time that the young country has been
so extensively portrayed in words and images.
Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen together form TheSochiProject.org and are regarded
as pioneers in crowdfunding. Support from donors (currently 352) enables them to travel to
the Caucasus several times a year. The five-year documentary project aims to map the changes
taking place in and around the Russian city of Sochi, which will host the Olympic Winter
Games in 2014.