by Ksenia Diodorova
“We are taught like this. Doesn’t matter where you were born. Whatever place or color. Doesn’t matter black or white. Everywhere and always all is the same—people have to respect each other” –Juma
AFTER TAJIKISTAN'S civil war in the mid-nineties-and the economic collapse that followed the USSR’s disintegration—many Tajik people found themselves in a state of flux. Electricity, coal, and gas supplies had been cut, thus forcing many factories—the primary source of employment—to shutter. With no more jobs, the relatively high cost of living in Tajikistan forced people to look elsewhere for employment. For many, economic emigration to Russia was the obvious answer.
Today Russian cities large and small play host to Tajik immigrants living under extremely hard conditions. It is a commonly held misbelief that immigration strangles our cities, our schools, our subway cars. Actually, people really know very little about the life and the world migrants come from. That was one of the key points in my project—to let Russians learn something about the culture and nature of these people in order to get a bit closer to them. The popular myth is that immigration is a flood, and we are drowning in it. But the real crisis of immigration is not limited to the countries where migrants settle. The true scale of immigration can only be understood by appreciating its source.
In The Cold is a story about migrant laborers in Russia, and the parallel lives of friends and family members they’ve left behind in Tajikistan.
The goal of this project is to shift the perception of Tajik migrants in Russia by exposing unseen aspects of their experience in the urban melting pot. I hope the project can also help develop new initiatives in social and financial structures that work to support migrants. One of the main aims of my partner, the Aga Khan Foundation, is to develop economic, educational, and environmental programs for Ismaili Muslim communities in the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan. Our collaboration was designed to support migrants from the area establishing their rights in Russia by fostering multiculturalism, social integration, and Russian tolerance towards immigration.
In January 2014 I traveled to Tajikistan to photograph life in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region—homeland for many of the Tajik migrants living in Russia. Returning to Moscow, I sought out the emigrant children and close relatives of my subjects. About twenty-four families separated by the migration process took part in the multimedia photo project.
This story is about Tajik migrant workers living at home and abroad. About the kishlaks where they were born. About their culture and traditions. I wanted to convey a sense of the duality of immigrant experience: The fundamental longing for home and family, blood and soil, and the variances of coldness and warmth that define those in search of a better future.