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Stanley Greene, 'Open Wound: Chechnya 1994 to 2003'
Chechnya is a war that was never especially popular in the West. Such is the paucity of news coming out of that destroyed place that those who may once have been aware of the violence there could be forgiven for thinking that it is over.
Since 2001, when Putin was welcomed by America as a valuable ally in the “war on terror”, it seems we are told that anything that happens in Chechnya is just a part of this struggle against those set on destroying our way of life. The only time that Chechens are newsworthy is during shocking events in places such as Beslan or the theatre in Moscow. Perhaps naturally enough, such awful events are seized upon by the Russian authorities as proof that they were right all along, and that Chechnya needs to be pacified. However, when it comes to hearing about the civilian population of Chechnya, the silence is deafening.
It is precisely because there is such a scarcity of news that this book of photographs by Stanley Thomas is so important. In image after image we are confronted by the many faces of war. There is destruction here on an unbelievable scale, from a single, everyday item of clothing or furniture, to homes, streets and whole cities. Lives are destroyed just as completely, and this too is captured in some of the more disturbing pictures. Death and fear, here in the eyes of a shell shocked child and there on the face of an old man who has just lost his legs, prostrate in the snow. And then there are the photographs of people just trying to get through the days as best they can in hell.
There are, sadly, many books of war photography available. The fact that there are so few about Chechnya reflects the viciousness of the conflict rather than the reverse. In a conflict where journalists are as likely to be targeted as non-camera carrying civilians it is not surprising that we have so few witnesses to remind us of the truth. Of those that have been written, Open Wound is without doubt the saddest, and therefore the one that most deserves to be opened and studied, painful though this may be.