Over 90 percent of Tajikistan is mountainous - stunningly so. The remainder of the country is in Central Asia's renown Amu Darya and Syr Darya river basins, areas which supported irrigated agriculture - primarily in cotton production - developed during the Soviet era.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan declared its independence in 1991, and following a common post-Soviet Republic trail, suffered through a brutal civil war followed by corruption and unshared political power.
I had the privilege of visiting Tajikistan twice - in 2005 and in 2006. Unlike my other travels which are entirely freelance, I went to Tajikistan as a professional volunteer to assist post-Soviet agricutural irrigation districts in water use planning. Both were 1-month assignments where the vast majority of my energies were directed towards the work, with the exception of my personal visit to the Pamirs.
I first visited the Kurds in 1997, and since 2001 I have returned annually to the region. Although I had previously visited all of the countries that include portions of geographic Kurdistan, I thought it important to travel throughout Kurdistan in a single travel. So from August through October, 2008 I traveled through western Iran, Armenia, Georgia, eastern Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan, and northern Syria. The insights gained from such an immersion were deep, the pleasures immeasurable.
(The photographs are presented by country in the order of travel.)
In April 2015, 8 months after the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) ravaged the Yezidis of the Sinjar area, I returned to Iraqi Kurdistan to visit Yezidi friends. I found amazing grace amidst wrenching losses, ongoing hardships, and universal uncertainties. With permission, I offer a small collection of photographs to help you understand. (Note: Only a few of these photographs are offered for sale.)
Robert Leutheuser, October 2015
For a short article written upon my return, please visit worldpeeks.blogspot.com.
Only the low and lonely Sinjar Mountain gives topographic relief to the upper end of the Mesopotamian plains of northwestern Iraq. Its narrow ridge struggles to pierce the Syrian border. The mountain's history is as radical as itself, and has been home to Yezidian people for centuries. Today the Yezidis are still there, but the world has changed. In the 1980s Saddam Hussein sought to lessen the threats of his regime's enemies (real or perceived) through ethnic dilution. He moved Muslim Kurds and Arabs into the region, while at the same time forcably moving the Yezidis from their villages to collective villages on the plains below. The Yezidis were continually adapting to the fluid forces of politics, war, and persecution in the intervening years, but that came to a brutal end with the self-proclaimed Islamic State's horrific attack in August 2014.
(Please visit www.worldpeeks.blogspot.com for writings and additional photos.)
Lalish is the spiritual center for all Yezidis - in cosmology, history; and, contemporary ritual, worship, and community. It is located in a compact verdant valley in the Yezidi heartland of what is now northern (Kurdistan) Iraq. During the major feasts, such as the 7-day autumnal "Feast of the Assembly", the valley overflows with joyful Yezidis of all ages.
I have been traveling through greater "Kurdistan" with a list of Kurdish proverbs in my pocket for years now, keeping my eyes open for photo opportunities that would accompany them. I have assembled a collection, some of which are included in this gallery. I hope that the proverbs and images provide you with a better understanding of this remarkable family of people - the Kurds.
In a region where cultures have been born, have interacted, flourished, melded, and bent throughout the ages, it is neigh impossible to assign many cultural attributes, including proverbs, uniquely to this ethnic group or that. What can be said is these proverbs are from the Kurdistan region of the greater Middle East and I associate them with the Kurds. I alone am responsible for their selection.
Many of the proverbs are from UCLA's Cognative Cultural Studies' website and from the website proverbatim.com. Others were gathered from extensive readings on the Kurds and as collected during the travels themselves.
Translations are underway. Where present, the translations are in Kermanji, the most prevalent Kurdish dialect.
On August 3, 2014, the self-proclaimed IS (Islamic state) unleashed an unholy genocidal attack against the Yezidis living in the Sinjar (Shingal) Region of northwestern Iraq. Through these and other photographs, and speaking engagements, I hope to reach others that they may better understand the Yezidis who are being so brutally victimized.
(Please consider making a donation to one of the international aid organizations, such as UNICEF, that are doing their best to help the hundreds of thousands of Yezidi refugees.).
These photographs were shown in an exhibit entitled, "What Was Lost in the Sinjar" at a Kurdish Studies Conference held at the University of Central Florida in cooperation with Soran University, in January 2015.
Click here for a companion 5-minute slide show
Yezidi shrines are often quickly noted by their distinctive fluted spires. The shrines have been built and rebuilt over the ages at special locales honoring revered historical persons or spiritual angels. Sometimes they are found near natural objects such as trees or rocks or springs which have taken on special, often curative, meanings. The shrines serve as places for spiritual renewal and focal points for the community to gather; and, they reinforce much of the inherent strength of the Yezidian society
The Yezidis have an entire vocabulary that distinguishes shrines, holy places, and holy objects. For this collection of photographs I am comfortable using the term “shrine,” or “qub.”
(Because of the current situation I am refraining from giving locations of the shrines, all of which are in Iraq [except one]. R. Leutheuser, September 2014)
The modern nation-state of Turkey came into being in 1923 In the wake of World War I following almost 600 years of the reign of the Ottoman Empire. It is a country steeped in history and contradictions with which it struggles as it seeks its place in the 21st century. Because of my interest in the Kurds of Turkey I have devoted comparatively little time to traveling in non-eastern Turkey, with the exception of the glorious days spent every year in Istanbul.
I began photographing Kurdish hands several years ago, not realizing at the time what an intrusive project I had undertaken. Instead of looking at me behind my camera looking back at their faces, they tolerated my inexplicable fixation with their hands with bemusement and patience. This photographic portfolio is yet another avenue to explore the diversity within the Kurdish people.