2018 - Ongoing
“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. “