CONFLICT: 5 female de-miners look to clear the land of danger in the still disputed territory after the war in Nagorno-Karabakh
Carmen Gray
Freelance film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: October 31, 2019

The mountains and sloping woodlands of Nagorno-Karabakh make this landlocked region in the South Caucasus a place of undeniable natural beauty. But its idyllic surface is deceptive: the deadly territorialism of humans remains imbedded in its very soil, in the form of unexploded landmines left from conflict in the ‘90s. Fighting erupted in the enclave as the Soviet Union dissolved, and old disputes over identity and sovereignty were reignited. Its ethnic Armenian majority pushed to break away and unify with the Republic of Armenia. After their request was rejected by Moscow, the tensions escalated into war with Azerbaijan. Since the ceasefire, the disputed territory is officially recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but most of it is governed by the Republic of Artsakh, a de facto Armenian-majority independent state. Silva Khnkanosian’s beautifully understated and quietly potent documentary Nothing To Be Afraid Of relies not on a deluge of facts or partisan rhetoric. Sparse in dialogue, it rests instead on the dignity of calm commitment to a perilous but essential physical routine, as deminers work to reclaim the land to a safe condition, as it was before violence corrupted it.

Simply there

According to the 2018 count, 73,268 mines have been neutralised in Nagorno-Karabakh so far. During this process, 300 people were injured, and 80 died. These figures are some of the little contextualising information handed to us in a stripped-back film that shows little interest in political point-scoring or attributing historical blame, becoming all the more subtly devastating as a result. Now, the mines are simply there, their presence as materially absolute as the core of a mountain, and no amount of righteous fury or diplomatic vindication will remove them — the solid work of human hands is all that can.

War’s status as the very antithesis of culture and the flourishing of collective memory, has never been clearer

It is this labour, painstakingly fragile and slow, that we watch repeated by five women as they clear mines from a mountain pass, the Lachin Corridor. They are local women, but their blue vests bear the logo of The Halo …

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