By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

Them vs. Us, and Beyond Part 2

with 6 comments

Here’s another photo to illustrate tribalism — a portrait of the famous Kurdish tribal chief, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, taken when I was traveling illegally in northern Iraq in 1965. This black and white version appeared with my six page article in LIFE Magazine the same year, and it reappears in my recent book, Causes and Spirits, on pages 264-265.  Mullah Mustafa died in 1979. The original is in brilliant color (Kodachrome slide taken with Leica M2),  which I could probably find and scan into my website if anyone is interested (ie, if enough readers write and ask).  Another picture of Barzani taken by me at the same time illustrates the current Wikipedia entry on Mustafa Barzani.

The deep tribal affinity of the Kurds in their generations-long struggle for independence from the Iraqi central government is a textbook-perfect case of the enduring power of in-group tenacity throughout the Middle East and south Asia.  Mullah Mustafa’s son, Massoud Barzani, has played a leading role in Iraqi politics since before and after his alliance with the US-Coalition invasion. He is the current leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iraq, and was re-elected President of Iraqi Kurdistan with 66% of the vote in July 2009.

The deeper reality is that the Barzani clan commands the fundamental loyalty of only part of the Kurds. The others traditionally adhere to a faction called the Talabani (unrelated to the Afgans by a similar name); Jalal Talabani serves as the sixth President of Iraq. He met with Barack Obama in Iraq on April 7, 2009. Past relationships between the two Kurdish clans were frosty at best, but (perhaps as a sign of changing political realities) the Barzani and Talibani appear to have evolved a cooperative relationship. The stories of the Kurds in Turkey, Iran, and Syria are politically different, yet ethnically similar in that, for instance, nearly all speak Kurdish and some have blue eyes; quite a number have also emigrated to Europe.

My step-daughter’s husband, Kushi Gavrieli, is a Kurdish Jew born in the Negev region of Israel whose family migrated there from a village in western Iran where the ancient Aramaic language is still spoken.  The Middle East is speckled with such anomalies; I visited a band of Chaldean Christians living in a cave among the Iraqi Kurds.

Sure, all of above complexity will be beautifully sorted out and settled by whomever wins the U.S. election in November. Send over a few more bombs, and we can “get it behind us.”

Here’s a better idea: detente. If we could live with the Soviets, we can live with the mullahs. Detente is one of the best ideas, the best examples, America ever put in place — right up there with religious liberty as guaranteed under the First Amendment.
Mustafa Barzani

Mullah Mustafa Barzani, Northern Iraq, spring, 1965

Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.


Written by bywilliamcarter

December 10, 2015 at 11:30 am

6 Responses

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  1. I am Kurd , and i am Barzani also , and all Kurdish people are sure that in nearest time we will be free , because we have Mr.President Masoud Barzani


    Karwan Kweizar

    July 9, 2014 at 12:19 pm

  2. please upload the color photo 😀 i loved it (Bijî APO)


  3. Interesting concept – detente with the Mullahs … I grew up in Germany during the Cold War and came of age during the Detente era (Helmut Schmidt) and, even though it was called Detente, it didn’t feel all that different from the Cold War, perhaps less overt hostility and ratcheting down of rhetoric, but the fundamental conflict never went away. Is detente just a fancy way of saying, “We’ll ignore the differences, and try to get along for appearance sake?”

    I need to think about this a bit more in the context of history — did detente with the Soviets hasten or delay the ultimate outcome, or was it irrelevant?

    But thanks for the intriguing ideas!


    Bob Berwyn

    March 31, 2012 at 8:47 pm

  4. Hello William: I would love to see the original Kodachrome photo of Barzani.

    I agree that given the incredible complexity of political and tribal relationships, the best we can hope for is detente. Blasting them to smithereens with more bombs only adds more fuel to an evermore raging fire.


    Pat Dowling

    March 19, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    • Hello Pat
      Thanks for your kind comment. As you wished, you can now see some of my Kodachromes of Barzani and company on the third blog in this series, “Them vs. Us, and Beyond, Part III.”
      William Carter



      May 19, 2012 at 10:52 pm

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