Two towns named Ishkashim stand opposite each other on the Pyanj River, which marks the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Against a stark backdrop of daunting peaks and dusty plains, life here, as documented in this photo essay by Diana Markosian, is marked by constant uncertainty.
Decades of war have deprived the approximately 12,000 residents on the Afghan side of the border of even the most rudimentary comforts. Those in Tajikistan don’t fare much better. Electricity is a luxury and regular access to basic health care a dream.
Farmers struggle to coax a harvest of wheat and barley out of the rocky soil in the river valley. The tenuous nature of agriculture enables the drug trade to thrive in the area, with opium products harvested and refined elsewhere in Afghanistan making their way northwards to Tajikistan, Russia and beyond.
For centuries, there was no political boundary separating the people of Ishkashim, and the area is unified by its own Persian dialect called Ishkashimi. The onset of the Great Game between the Russian and British empires in the late 19th century changed that. But despite being politically distinct entities, the two Ishkashims still share close cultural bonds that help people on both sides of the river endure.
Diana Markosian is a documentary photographer currently working in Myanmar. Her work is represented by Reportage by Getty Images.