By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

Posts Tagged ‘barzani

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

A Letter to H.E. Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

with 2 comments

May 4, 2015

Mr. Masoud Barzani
Kurdish Regional Government
Erbil, Iraq
For delivery in Washington, D.C.

Dear President Barzani:

With great pleasure we welcome you to the United States.  I am so happy about the evident progress of the Kurdish people in their long struggle for their rights and autonomy, and their partnership with America.

Fifty years ago – in the spring of 1965 – I interviewed and photographed your esteemed father in Kurdistan.  I was traveling through the mountains with a group of pesh mergas under the command of Colonel Akrawi, on assignment from Life Magazine, which published my article and photographs.

I have never forgotten that experience. Mullah Mustafa Barzani asked me to help the Kurdish cause with the people of America, and I have tried to do that in my modest ways as a photographer and writer. Much time and many events have passed on the world stage, but in my heart I have never forgotten the wonderful hospitality and special character of the Kurds.

In the last two years I have published a series of blogs of these photos on  I have corresponded with Kurds in the U.S. and in Kurdistan, who warmly invite me to travel to Erbil.  My wife and I must think realistically about this at age 80!

Perhaps a comprehensive pictorial book can be published celebrating the dynamic present and inspiring history of the Kurds on their long road to autonomy. As part of that story. my diaries and pictures of your father, the pesh mergas, the hospitable village life and beautiful landscape would be available.

Please accept the enclosed photograph of Mullah Mustafa Barzani as a token of my admiration for all that you and your people are doing to honor his memory.

William Carter

Barzani horse034brightness_corrected

View this video of “A Conversation with H.E. Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.”

I received this reply from Mr. Barzani dated May 17, 2015:

Letter from Masoud Barzani to William Carter

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

May 9, 2015 at 12:22 am

“All That is Ours!”

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IRAQ, 1965: Mullah Mustafa Barzani, historic leader of Kurdish pesh merga resistance fighters, gestures toward the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Forty-nine years later, has the Kurds’ historic longing for full independence finally become a reality?

By William Carter

In a top-secret mountain setting — he moved continuously because the Baghdad government had placed a huge bounty on his head — Mullah Mustafa Barzani had granted me an extraordinary interview because I was on assignment from the then-influential magazine, LIFE.  Speaking Kurdish through a translator, he recited highlights of his proud people’s long history of partition and betrayal, and obliquely thanked the US for the diplomatic and tangible support the Americans were already supplying covertly via their then-ally, Iran.  I myself had been smuggled in from the Shah’s kingdom, dressed as a Kurdish nomad and crossing the river frontier on a donkey after midnight.

After the interview and photographs I resumed my weeks-long journey by foot on donkey westward through the spectacular mountain landscape, dotted with spring wildflowers and hospitable tiny villages.  My guide was one of Barzani’s commanders, Colonel Akrawi, who spoke excellent English and who, when he was not conducting raids on Iraqi police stations, was collecting plant specimens for a book he was writing on Kurdish botany.  After a miserable night in a canyon village being shelled by the Iraqis, we arrived, one late afternoon, at a spectacular clearing and lookout point.

Below us, to the west, strings of lights outlining the Kirkuk oil fields were beginning to wink on; beyond lay the relatively large city of Kirkuk itself.

With a wide, proud sweep of his arm, the personable Colonel Akrawi said softly but very firmly, “All that is ours.”

This spring of 2014 my wife and I were invited to travel to the modern city of Erbil, Kurdistan as honored guests to meet Massoud Barzani, Mullah Mustafa’s son, who, with other Kurds, had, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, occupied high posts in the Baghdad regime. (I believe I photographed him as a child 49 years ago.) At 80, We declined the offer, partly because of kidnapping worries. Just as well we weren’t there last week when the ISIS Islamic fundamentalists came marauding through northwestern Iraq — although I would have had my camera ready!

Now may be a pivotal moment for the Kurds.  With their extraordinary bravery, organization, newly won oil income and fierce in-group identity vis-a-vis Arab domination, they may emerge as the only winners amid the long-drawn-out failure of the artificially conceived, ethnically impossible, divide-and-rule “state” concocted by colonialists drawing ruler lines across maps in London and Paris a century ago.

The new threat — and old spirit — were summed up by the head of Kirkuk’s regional police force: as reported by Joe Parkinson in The Wall Street Journal on June 20, 2014: “I’m from Kirkuk and I’m ready to die to protect it.”

Kodachrome photographs June, 1965 © William Carter


Mullah Mustafa Barzani, 1965



Peshmergas in the cliffs above Kirkuk



Same guys with a little sponsorship from (then) U.S. friends in Iran



Modern weaponry in support of tribal traditions — what else is new?



Norther Iraq is not a desert, and the Kurds are not Arabs



Peshmergas at dusk: is the moon finally
rising over Kurdish independence?



Colonel Akrawi had been trained at Sandhurst, England. He was my guide and companion for 3 weeks. Years later I heard he had been wounded and eventually died in Switzerland. But what ever happened to the book Akrawi was writing on Kurdish botany, as our platoon
hiked through scenes like that below?



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

Written by bywilliamcarter

June 23, 2014 at 4:54 pm

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