Endless suffering – A long struggle of the Kurds for land and identity since the 20th century has led to countless losses of life and property. Pictured here are ruins of houses in Sirnak, Turkey, destroyed in 2016 during nine-month clashes between Turkish forces and Kurdish militias linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which aims to create an independent Kurdish state through violent means.
Kurdish identity – The Kurds are spread in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and the diaspora worldwide, with an estimated population of 30-40 million. Yet, without a state of their own, what unites the Kurds across borders is their identity, which became stronger after a history of political and cultural persecution. In this photo, the Kurds in Diyarbakir, Turkey, celebrate Newroz, the new year in Kurdish culture. After the Turkish government lifted a ban on Kurdish cultural expressions in 2003, Newroz became more politicized as a symbol of the Kurdish resurrection.
Ancient culture – The traditionally nomadic Kurds have been settling in the territory of Kurdistan since the second millennium B.C. They have lived in tribes and developed distinctive cultures and traditions. In this photo, an elderly Kurdish man prepares a special soup for the Pir Shalyar Festival, an annual mid-winter festival of Hawraman-Takht, a village in Iran. The elder’s family has been responsible for making the soup for generations.
Kurdish costume – For every visitor to Kurdistan, it is striking to see most Kurdish men and women wear traditional clothes in everyday life, showing pride in their Kurdish identity. In this photo, the boy is wearing kavapantol, a traditional costume for men, and faranji, a woolen jacket with pointy shoulders, which is unique to the Hawraman region.
Religious diversity – Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, but significant Kurdish minorities also follow other religious beliefs, such as Shia Islam, Sufism, Alevism, Syriac Orthodox Church, Yazidism, and Yarsanism. In this photo, a Kurdish man is praying in the sleeping hall of the Islamic School of Byara in Iraqi Kurdistan, which welcomes visitors from all walks of life and religions to sleep and eat for free. Nevertheless, Kurdish followers of minority religions have become victims of violent persecution and discrimination by Kurdish Muslims.
Kurdish resistance – After suffering discrimination and oppression by authoritarian rulers for centuries, the Kurds have continuously fought for their rights and territory. The ruling nations perceived this resistance as a threat to national security and responded harshly to Kurdish uprisings. This catalyzes militant movements to adopt increasingly violent methods to achieve their opposing goals. In the photo, young Kurdish men shoot air guns on the promenade around Zrebar Lake in Marivan, Iran.
Remote and neglected – The Kurds have lived isolated in high mountains, which provided natural protection from enemies in the old days. But in modern days, remoteness is a structural obstacle to development. The central governments discriminate against the Kurds by leaving most Kurdish-inhabited areas underdeveloped, leaving the Kurds poor and dependent on the state. The photo shows the route through rugged mountains in Kordestan Province in Iran, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
Teahouse - Every neighborhood in the city or countryside must have at least one tea shop as a meeting point for socialization and information, especially for men. Pictured here is the atmosphere of a teahouse in Silvan, Turkey.
Kurdish language – The Kurds have their own languages. However, under the nationalist policy, the central governments perceive Kurdish as a threat to national unity and have imposed harsh restrictions, such as a ban on the Kurdish language in Turkey in the 1980s. Pictured here are Kurdish schoolchildren in the village of Dolaw in northwestern Iran, where Kurdish is not allowed to be taught or used as a primary language of instruction at school.
Kurdish genocide – Throughout Kurdish history, authoritarian rulers committed massacres against ethnic Kurds several times. The most brutal one was in 1988, at the end of the Iraq-Iran War, when Saddam Hussein ordered an operation known as the “Anfal Campaign” to eliminate Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq and to relocate Arabs to the Kurdish areas. Around 100,000 Kurds died in this operation. The photo depicts a recreation of the poison gas attack in the village of Halabja, killing more than 5,000 people.
Displacement – Because of violent persecution and conflicts between national forces and Kurdish militants, millions of Kurds were displaced in their own countries or were forced to flee to bordering countries, Europe, and the US. In the picture, mother and son are walking past the ruins of houses in Sirnak, Turkey, a battlefield between Turkish forces and Kurdish militants. The Turkish government has built apartment buildings in the photo’s background for families who lost their homes in the tragic conflict.
Mountains – As the Kurds live predominantly in mountainous areas, they have a solid connection to mountains; as they say, “the Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” This saying alludes to a long history of betrayals since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Western countries asked the Kurds for help and promised them autonomy or protection. But when their wishes were fulfilled, they broke their promises. In the photo, a Kurdish man is sitting amid the mountains of Hawraman. The region has been home to the Hawrami tribe since ancient times, but it was split into two countries when the Iran-Iraq borders were drawn.