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Generation Gone

A Kyrgyzstani photographer dramatizes the family gaps caused by labor migration. Third in a series.

by Hamid Toursunov 15 August 2014

Earlier this year, TOL and its sister site, NewEurasia, sought out the most promising young visual artists in Central Asia in a competition called Exit Permit.

 

Natalia Sekerina, a 25-year-old native of Osh, won 100 euros as runner-up in the photography category for her photo of a grandfather and the two grandchildren he cares for while their parents work in Russia.

 

Sekerina just graduated from the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University in Bishkek with a degree in journalism and public-relations management. In this third of a series of interviews with the winners, she talks about her photo entry, her career, and the impact of migration in southern Kyrgyzstan.

 

On the photo:

 

For many years I’ve been interested in the issue of social orphans – when children are taken care of by elderly relatives as their parents seek jobs outside the country. Such children don’t see their moms and dads for years. So it was very interesting for me to participate in the migration competition. Migration is a very acute problem in the southern region of Kyrgyzstan, because of the high unemployment rate among young and middle-aged people.

 

Widespread labor migration in Central Asia has hollowed out many families, leaving only the very young and the elderly behind.

 

This picture was taken during one of my trips to the suburbs of Osh. This family runs a small farm – a few cows, sheep, chickens, and a small kitchen garden. The boys’ parents live in Russia as labor migrants and regularly send money to their children and elderly parents. This picture illustrates the life story of a family, a story of children who have parents, but they don’t see them for years and they miss them a lot.

 

On migration:

 

Migration is a special topic for me as my father spent a few years in Russia. He was missing for six years – we looked for him but couldn’t find him for a long time. It turned out that he couldn’t find work there and wandered around Russia until he was deported back to Kyrgyzstan. His health suffered badly and he died soon after returning.

 

Migration is definitely bad. Kyrgyzstan is a country with an extremely high rate of migration. According to various sources, more than 1 million labor migrants from my country are in Russia. It is a shocking number – it means about every fifth Kyrgyzstani has left the country seeking employment.

 

I’ve never thought about migrating from my country, but I would like to change my place of residence because I’m ethnic Russian, and sometimes [in Osh] I see acts of nationalism that complicate the lives of national minorities. It’s hard to be ethnic Russian in another country, even if you were born and grew up on the same street with Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.

 

I do have a dream of going to live in Australia. There’s natural beauty and a good climate. I’d like to find a job there – do any work, not necessarily journalism. I see migration as a process of going somewhere temporarily to work and coming back home. Going to Australia to live permanently isn’t migration but moving to another country. But this is more like a dream, not an intention. I intend to stay here.

 

On becoming a journalist:

 

I’ve been interested in journalism since I was 13. Two of my friends and I decided to apply for a media program sponsored by UNICEF. It was like a challenge to see who would be picked. It turned out all three of us were selected, and we decided to set a new challenge, to make careers in this field and see which of us would go farthest. I’ve been the winner as I stayed in mass media.

 

It was interesting to meet new people, sometimes very talented, interesting people, and discuss events and new things. I learned to make television programs and was a TV presenter. I participated in lots of journalism and journalistic skills workshops. When I was 15 I worked at a radio station in Osh and produced short news stories. A year later I joined an international radio project, Weekly Mirror; my task was to prepare stories on various topics, such as politics, youth leisure time, social issues, ecology, and so on.

 

So I had gained some experience before I graduated from school and entered the university. Since my second year I’ve worked at television and radio stations and for online information agencies and newspapers, combining my study and work.

 

Following the tragic events in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010 [in which ethnic clashes killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands] I was forced to return to Osh – my parents and relatives lived there and I had to support them during that difficult time. But I continued my studies at the university part time and kept working in the media. … Since 2012 I’ve been working as the editor of the Russian-language service of Turmush, an online information agency that covers regional news.

Hamid Toursunov is a TOL correspondent in Osh.

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