Shepherds and the slaughterhouse - PhMuseum

Shepherds and the slaughterhouse

Simon Chang

2018 - Ongoing

Iraq

“As if all you can do here is leave and plunge,

never to return, into the depths. Into unfathomable life. “

- “Utopia”, Wislawa Szymborska

'Shepherds and the slaughterhouse' is an ongoing long-term project firstly initiated back in 2015, when I got stuck in the middle of the mass influx of migrants and refugees from the Middle East, who took enormous risks while attempting to reach Western Europe between the Slovenian and Croatian border. All the desperation, struggling, madness and all the mixed emotions I encountered there was simply beyond my comprehension. I decided to visit the hometown where the desperate crowd departed from in the first place that day.

My first visit to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq was in August of 2018.

The Kurds are the ethnic group which own a territory stretching through Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, and a few other parts. They were traditionally nomadic, and when the British made the administrative lines that later became the country borders of the Middle East, they did not account for many homeland ranges for nomadic people, including the Kurds. When the British abandoned the Middle East at the end of WWII, they did not ensure that all the varied people of the region had a land based on their most populated areas. Instead, it ended up with the mess people witness nowadays with minority populations governing majorities, and enemies sharing the same flag and territory.

Every single local Kurd I met there is trying to persuade me that the Kurds must be independent to be safe and free - considering the state of Iraq, the sectarian tension between Sunni and Shia Arabs, and the rampages of the so-called Islamic State jihadist group, which has slaughtered and enslaved thousands of members of the Kurdish Yazidi religious minority, not to mention that this distinct community is united by race, culture and it’s own language.

During the day, I visited the Yazidi IDPs (internally displaced person) in several camps in the Duhok region close to the Turkish and Syrian border; the Kurdistan Region still hosts about 1.5 Million IDPs and refugees according to the most recent statistics by the KRG (Krudish Regional Government), and during the night, I visited the local Halal slaughterhouse, an essential part of the Muslim faith that God's name must be invoked in a one-line blessing called the Tasmiyah, said before any slaughter – “Bismillahi-Allahu Akbar (In the name of Allah, Allah is great)”.

Among the Kurds, the most widely oppressed people in Iraqi Kurdistan are the Yazidis.

In August 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a terrorist organization, attacked the Yazidi's ancestral homeland in northwestern Iraq. Tens of thousands of Yazidis from Sinjar and nearby villages then fled into the mountains, where many were trapped without food or water. Some were abducted or raped; at least 5,000 were killed. Many of those who fled sought refuge near Lalish, and later were sent to different camps in the Duhok Governorate of Iraqi Kurdistan. Almost every single Yazidi I met there told me that they don’t trust any Muslims anymore.

The Yazidi are a Kurdish-speaking ethno-religious community based in Northern Iraq who practice a syncretic religion influenced by pre-Islamic Assyrian traditions, Sufi and Shiite Islam, Nestorian Christianity, and Zoroastrianism. Not quite like most of the other Muslim Kurds, the Yazidi society is hierarchical; the secular leader of the world's Yazidi is a hereditary Mir or Prince, and the previous Mir, Prince Tahseen Beg who led the Yazidi community for over 75 years just passed away after a long illness in Germany on Jan. 28, 2019, leaving a community rudderless for now...

The nomadic Kurdish shepherds are moving along the borders between Iraq, and Syria, not only in search of the stability but mainly because of the shortage of the pasture. A slaughterhouse is located on the other side of the hill, not far away from the refugee camps overcrowded with the Yazidis...

The second trip to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is scheduled in March of 2019. I plan to spend more time documenting the stories inside of the Hawler Psychiatric Hospital in Erbil, the capital city of the Iraqi Kurdistan.

Almost every single person I met there is longing for every possible way to leave the country. Refugees want to leave the camp, ordinary citizens are dreaming about going to Europe, those patients in the psychiatric hospital are all eager to go home, and in the meanwhile, the sheep in the slaughterhouse are trying to escape before the butcher recites “Allah is great”...

It feels like the whole region is some sort of giant camp.

Numerous illustrations of one of my favorite poems, 'Utopia' by Wislawa Szymborska could be easily spotted here: “As if all you can do here is leave and plunge, never to return, into the depths. Into unfathomable life. “

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  • September 17, 2018. Citadel of Erbil (Qalat, Qelay Hewlêr), Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq.

    Erbil Citadel is a fortified settlement on top of an imposing ovoid-shaped tell (a hill created by many generations of people living and rebuilding on the same spot) in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region. A continuous wall of tall 19th-century façades still conveys the visual impression of an impregnable fortress, dominating the city of Erbil.

    The citadel is one of the oldest continuously occupied human settlements on earth, and it has been inscribed on the World Heritage List since 21 June 2014. It features a peculiar fan-like pattern dating back to Erbil’s late Ottoman phase. Written and iconographic historical records document the antiquity of settlement on the site – Erbil corresponds to ancient Arbela, an important Assyrian political and religious centre – while archaeological finds and investigations suggest that the mound conceals the levels and remains of previous settlements.

    At 32 meters high, it suggests an age of more than 6,000 years, and there is evidence of habitation here in 4,500 B.C., during the Ubaid period (a prehistoric period of Mesopotamia), when humankind was still trying to figure out the wheel.

  • September 6, 2018. Sharya camp for the internally displaced people, Duhok Governorate, Kurdistan, Iraq.

    Yazidi teenagers playing a pool game in a tent next to the Sharya camp. In Aug. 2014, thousands of Yazidis — an ethnically Kurdish minority community whose religious practices are rooted in ancient Mesopotamian tradition — fled their ancestral homes in northwest Iraq’s Sinjar Mountains when caravans of Islamic State fighters overtook the area. Established in Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan in Nov. 2014, the Sharya camp for the displaced is home to approx. 18,000 Yazidis from Sinjar and nearby areas.

  • September 5, 2018. Duhok Slaughterhouse, Sumel (سميل), Duhok Governorate, Kurdistan, Iraq.

    A butcher was slaughtering the sheep at Duhok Slaughterhouse. The annual demand for red meat in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region is increasing by 10 per cent every year according to the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) statistics, attributing the rise to growing income and a rising population.

    About 70 to 200 sheep were slaughtered here every night except for Saturdays and Mondays. The (modern) Duhok Slaughterhouse is the largest one in the region, it’s about 14km outside of the city center.

  • September 8, 2018. Zawa Mountain overlooking the Duhok city center, Kurdistan, Iraq.

    A young Kurdish man at the tea stall smoking a Shisha (waterpipe) at the top of Zawa Mountain (Ciayie Zawa) with the panoramic view of the city Duhok in the background.

    Zawa Mountain is located 900m above sea level and 350m above the western Semel plain. Since decades, its hilltop and slopes have experienced consistent deforestation resulting in a grassland rocky landscape, which is now largely devoid of trees. Nevertheless, it contains a low density of shrubs and serves as a potential key recreational facility for Duhok city, metropolitan region, and the metropolis region/province; Kurdistan region; as well as the country because of its prominent location that oversees Duhok city and farther Duhok Lake at the north, Semel town and the Tigris River at the west, Mosul Lake at the south-west, and a cluster of small towns and extensive plains at the south. Although it is relatively undeveloped, Zawa Mountain has become popular for tourists. It provides spectacular panoramic views towards all aforementioned urban places and lakes, in addition to the surrounding landscapes and mountains because it has natural high vantage points, a naturalistic quality that provides it with great potential assets and focus for tourism.

    Currently, the local people use these points to enjoy distant views. They drive up the mountain especially to enjoy sunset and entertain themselves often through picnics and barbecue gatherings.

    This mountain has been a significant cultural location since the Assyrian Period as it contains Maltai (currently Halamata cave) that includes, on its northern slopes, carvings relief depicting the Assyrian king and the principal Assyrian gods, and burial chambers dating back to 8th century BCE. In addition, archaeological excavations at the northern foot of the Mountain namely in Shendokha village, have led to discovery of many ancient antiques.

  • September 5, 2018. Duhok Dam, Duhok, Kurdistan, Iraq.

    The Duhok Dam is an earth-fill embankment dam on the Duhok River just north of Duhok, the capital of Duhok Governorate, Iraq. The dam was completed in 1988 with the primary purpose of providing water for irrigation. It is 60m tall and can withhold 52,000,000 of water.

    According to a five-year plan (2013-2018) drafted by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), 500 reservoirs and dams were to be constructed in Duhok. Besides Duhok’s large dam in the image, there were 55 have been built to date only, others were forced to be postponed due to the financial crisis which the region still struggles from.

    The neighboring Turkey started filling the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris - one of 22 dams and 19 power plants being built as part of their ambitious hydroelectric project - in March, 2018 - earlier than the expected June 1 date agreed, which would have allowed more to flow before the agricultural growing season. Since then the level of water flowing into Iraq from Turkey has gone down by 50 per cent. Iran has also cut the flow of the Little Zab River into the Kurdistan Region to tend to its own water crisis.

    As the importance of the Mosul dam for the Iraqi government in the south, the Duhok Dam is definitely the most valuable water reservoir for the Kurdish region in the north.

  • September 10, 2018. Sharya camp for the internally displaced people, Duhok Governorate, Kurdistan, Iraq.

    A Yazidi shepherd with his sheep outside of the Sharya camp. IDPs in the Sharya camp have to earn their own living as the UNHCR has ended their support to the Yazidi IDPs in Iraq. The Sharya IDP camp is hosting over 9,000 Yazidi Internally Displaced Persons from Sinjar where they lost their homes to the ISIS militants in August 2014.

  • September 12, 2018. Sharya camp for the internally displaced people, Duhok Governorate, Kurdistan, Iraq.

    An elderly Yazidis IDP (internally displaced people) walking along the fence of the camp, on the way back to his tent before sunset.

    The conflict in Iraq is often framed as a struggle between Shias and Sunnis and Arabs and Kurds - but the country is home to a number of minority groups who find themselves caught in the violence and in political bargains beyond their control. In Aug. 2014, thousands of Yazidis — an ethnically Kurdish minority community whose religious practices are rooted in ancient Mesopotamian tradition — fled their ancestral homes in northwest Iraq’s Sinjar Mountains when caravans of Islamic State fighters overtook the area. Established in Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan in Nov. 2014, the Sharya camp for the displaced is home to approx. 18,000 Yazidis from Sinjar and nearby areas.

  • September 10, 2018. Sharya camp for the internally displaced people, Duhok Governorate, Kurdistan, Iraq.

    Ziyad and Ziman, two Yazidi hairdressers fled from the Sinjar Massacre which was the genocidal killing and abduction of thousands of Yazidi men in Sinjar (Kurdish: شنگال Şingal) city and Sinjar District in Iraq's Nineveh Governorate by the Islamic terror group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in August 2014.

    Shortly after their arrival at Sharya camp which located on the outskirts of Duhok province, Iraq, Ziyad and Ziman together have been running a small barbershop in a small makeshift shack close to the marketplace, offering their service to other internally displaced persons. Still, more than 200,000 people remain displaced in northern Iraq and abroad, with no homes to return to.

  • Duhok Slaughterhouse, Sumel (سميل), Duhok Governorate, Kurdistan, Iraq.

    September 5, 2018. Shortly after midnight, the carcasses of freshly slaughtered cattle (beef) are awaiting to be loaded into the cooling trucks.

    After the cattle were slaughtered, the official veterinarians followed up to perform the postmortem inspection of the viscera and carcasses to identify whole carcasses, individual parts, or organs that are not wholesome or safe for human consumption. After the visual inspection and the quality control, the fresh meat with the blue stamps issued by the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq will be shipped to the local butcher shops and restaurant early in the morning by the delivery trucks. The butchers here also made some marks with different number of cuts on the hocks of the carcasses in order to sort out the different requests from various clients regarding the delivery.

  • September 14, 2018. IDP Camp Sharya, Sharya (شاريا), Duhok Governorate, Kurdistan, Iraq.

    Female Yazidi refugees in their traditional clothes learning about Yazidi culture & religion in a classroom converted from a shipping container. The self-styled Islamic State’s (IS) violence against the Yazidis - a religious community with historical roots in the Sinjar area of northern Iraq - in 2014 has been unprecedented even by IS' own vicious standards. Thousands of Yazidis were summarily executed; large numbers of women and children were taken hostages and subsequently sold as slaves.

  • September 10, 2018. IDP Camp Sharya, Sharya (شاريا), Duhok Governorate, Kurdistan, Iraq. Sharya camp in northern Iraq was hurriedly set up to house thousands of Yazidis fleeing the ISIS massacre in August 2014; it is currently home to an estimated 19,100 individuals, including refugees from the Syrian side of Sinjar, and internally displaced people from across Iraq. Many express a desire to emigrate abroad mainly because of the insecurity, especially the fear of their Arab neighbours.

  • September 13, 2018. The wholesale marketplace for fruit and vegetable in Duhok, Kurdistan, Iraq.

    Wasted food is becoming a major environmental issue in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

    UNESCO report shows that 70% of trashes in Kurdistan region contain wasted food that is edible.

    Despite an acute economic crisis striking the region, people in Kurdistan Region are adding a huge amount of food waste to the garbage piles out of their cities. An updated study shows that almost 50% of garbage in Kurdistan Region is wasted food products collected form civilians.

    In 2012, only two years before the beginning of the economic crisis in Kurdistan Region and the eruption of Islamic State (IS) war in Iraq, The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and some other international institutes launched a research and found out that nearly 70% of Kurdistan Region’s garbage is made of food waste. The amount is more than triple in comparison to the food wasted by the British.

    Every day 1.6 kilograms of garbage is produced per capita in Kurdistan Region, three times more than international standards. Kurdish environment activists have warned about an imminent disaster if a plan is not devised to reverse the trend.

  • August 30, 2018. Shekhan wedding hall, close to Sharya camp for the internally displaced people, Duhok Governorate, Kurdistan, Iraq.

    A modern Kurdish wedding celebration in a local wedding hall. The Bride and the Groom, including most of the invited guests are Yazidi IDPs (Internally displaced person) living in the camps in the Duhok Governorate since 2014. Four years since Sinjar was retaken from Islamic State group, more than 200,000 people, mostly Yazidis, remain displaced in northern Iraq and abroad, with no homes to return to.

  • August 31, 2018. Sumel, Duhok, Kurdistan, Iraq.

    A Kurdish Shepherd just sold his sheep at the shepherds' market in Sumel, a town located on the main road that connects Iraq to its neighbour Turkey, which is 25 km from Duhok City, the capital of Duhok Governorate in Iraqi Kurdistan. The price of a small animal is about 300,000 - 350,000 Iraqi dinars (€ 221 - € 258), and big cattle for 500,000 (€ 368).

    The livestock, including sheep, goat and cattle which purchased at the market were either brought to the nearby Duhok slaughterhouse right away and wating to be slaughtered on the very same night or were shipped to the farms accordingly.

  • September, 2018. Hawler psychiatric hospital (ةخۆشخانەی دەروونی هەولێر), Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

  • September, 2018. Hawler psychiatric hospital (ةخۆشخانەی دەروونی هەولێر), Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

  • September, 2018. Hawler psychiatric hospital (ةخۆشخانەی دەروونی هەولێر), Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

  • September, 2018. Hawler psychiatric hospital (ةخۆشخانەی دەروونی هەولێر), Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

  • September, 2018. Hawler psychiatric hospital (ةخۆشخانەی دەروونی هەولێر), Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

  • September, 2018. Hawler psychiatric hospital (ةخۆشخانەی دەروونی هەولێر), Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq.


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