Mehelle is a new project from Ajam Media Collective dedicated to preserving the sights, sounds, and memories of rapidly-changing neighborhoods in Central Asia, Iran, and the Caucasus. Utilizing digital mapping, 360 degree video, and conventional photography, Mehelle will serve as a resource for local inhabitants, community organizers, and urban researchers and urban researchers long after such neighborhoods have been demolished, gentrified, or transformed by private and state-led construction projects.

Mehelle, from the Arabic mahallah (a neighborhood or quarter), is a term used by communities stretching from North Africa to Southern Russia and from India to the Balkans. It refers to the semi-private walled neighborhoods centered around social institutions such as the local coffeehouse, square, or place of worship. In these spaces, people live and work, resolve conflicts, and build collective identities. However, these residential units are slowly disappearing with the development of municipal beautification projects, large-scale transportation infrastructure, and suburban expansion. Mehelle will serve as a repository for the materials and personal histories of those living in these disappearing close-knit communities.

The Mehelle project’s first featured neighborhood is Sovetski, located in the heart of Baku, Azerbaijan. A 200 year-old neighborhood that was once home to 50-60,000 people, Sovetski has become the site of the state-led urban planning campaign. As of October 2016, the vast majority of the neighborhood has been demolished. Over the last six months, however, our team as painstakingly recorded life in the local shops, labyrinthine alleyways, and abandoned houses–the results of which can be viewed above.

Throughout 2017, we will expand to two more cities in the Post-Soviet world: Dushanbe and Tbilisi. Please contact us to learn more about how you can contribute, or to provide feedback on the current and future vision of the project.