Landshaft (2023)

May 6th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Daniel Koetter; Documentary with Sama Karapoghosyan, Nune Hovhannisyan, Evya Hovhannisyan, Armen Papyan; Germany/Armenia 2022, 97 min.

The rumbling unrest between Armenia and Azerbaijan simmers below the surface on these neighbouring countries, often erupting into full blown conflict. Such was the case in 2020 when war once again broke out between the two nations. Countless lives have been lost and over the past few decades on both sides of the border.

German essayist and documentarian Daniel Koetter (Hashti Tehran) was invited to visit the eastern region of Armenia, bordering on Azerbaijan. Koetter had in mind to shot a documentary about both sides of the conflict, but somehow never got permission to film on the Azerbaijani side. Yet Landshaft is anything but biased. It starts with praise for the Azerbaijani enemy, whose hospitality is praised by one of Koetter‘s Armenian sources, who aided and abetted the filming process.

Doubling up as cameraman, Koetter finds himself in the region around Lake Sevan and the Sotk goldmine. The eastern Armenian border is overlooked by high peaks and is constantly caught in the crossfire, the invisible enemy ready to pounce at any moment. The goldmine runs along the border, each country controlling their respective side of the booty. But the Azerbaijanis have the protection of a Russian company – and Russian drones monitor the Armenian population.

Koetter started shooting just after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The landlocked region of Nagorno-Karabakh is the centre of this proxy war between Russia and its allies and old enemies like Armenia on the other side; a country devastated by the Turkish genocide in WW1. Here in Sotk, the Russian army guarantees a certain buffer between the two countries. There was no military activity during Koetter’s shoot, but in September 2022 places were he had lived and worked were bombed. The drones, produced by Russia, keep the Azerbaijanis on the winning side. “Whoever can, leaves the place” says a dejected Armenian – the same person who had only good things to say about the enemy of today. Like in former Yugoslavia, nobody can explain when and why the neighbours felt out with each other.

Koetter started to accept the invisibility of Azerbaijani soldiers: leaving his house he was surrounded on three sides by mountain peaks where the enemy was stationed. Staying true to this perspective, he shows empathy with the ones without power, but refrains from taking sides. As a symbol, the connecting road to Nagorno-Karabakh, once the main thoroughfare, has become a dead end. The simmering conflict continues, always ready to explode. The mine is the central point of life for both countries.

The dialogue with Armenians is only part of the developing picture: an eerie calm belies a landscape charged with latent violence. Landshaft may be opaque, but it shows the many forms of displacement. The psychological impact and the loss of identity is much more grave in its long term effect than the military skirmishes. Both sides are losers in a war of attrition. AS



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