NPR logo The New Silk Road Is Made Of Iron

National Geographic

The New Silk Road Is Made Of Iron

Alex Webb has a rather distinct beat. "For thirty-some years as a photographer," he is quoted by Magnum Photos, "I have been intrigued by borders, places where cultures come together, sometimes easily, sometimes roughly." His most recent story in National Geographic magazine fits right into that description. "The New Silk Road" holds a lens over the Southern Caucasus in Eastern Europe — a buffer zone between Europe and Asia — and a railroad that will reshape its fate.

The Southern Caucasus is a strip of land between the Black and Caspian Seas; in a strategic position below Russia, east of Turkey and north of Iran. It is Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia — and for centuries has been a hotbed of political strife. But now, more than ever, its location is key economically. Geographically, it connects the oil-rich Caspian Sea region with Turkey and beyond to Europe. But transportation has traditionally been thwarted by inhospitable mountains and border closures.

It's hard to say how the railroad will affect, say, the poor people of Georgia who are clamoring for railroad work — or the country of Armenia, which has been intentionally excluded from construction plans. Without a doubt, it will throw a new wrench in the region's incredibly complex history of diplomacy. But change is under way in this border region. The railroad should be completed by 2012. See more of Webb's photos on ngm.com or on Magnum's site.

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