By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

Posts Tagged ‘Kurdish

Them vs. Us, and Beyond, Part 3

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THE KURDS  AND I

By William Carter

When I boarded the plane with a hand grenade in my coat pocket, I never thought that much about it. I just laid the fuzzy garment in the overhead rack. I was far more concerned with the camera bag containing a couple dozen canisters of undeveloped film, which I slid under the seat in front of me. If anything could still go wrong, I reasoned, those films would somehow or other make their way to Beirut – God knows what would happen to them then.

Sure enough, before the engines started, a polite announcement: “Would Mr. William Carter kindly step off the aircraft?” My limbs began to quiver. But I had already thought this through: leaving the films where they were, and the wool coat where it was, and with my passport and boarding pass in my shirt pocket, feigning calm, I unbuckled my seat belt, walked to the door, down the gangway in the spring sunshine, and stopped. What next? There was no one in sight to direct me. I stood there in the sun for a few seconds —  minutes? — my toes nervous in their hiking boots already warming on the hot tarmac.

If I were arrested, I wondered, could I call the U.S. Embassy and could they get someone in Beirut to pick up my stuff (my film) off the plane? A door in the terminal opened a crack. A hand emerged and seemed to be waving me to get back on the plane. I couldn’t be sure. I shaded my eyes with my hand and squinted. Half a person emerged, faceless but connected to the hand, which kept waving. I went back up the steps. At the top the stewardess in her high heels and perky hat was smiling professionally. “Customs wanted to be sure it was you,” she said, preventing any questions. “Customs,” I knew, meant the Shah’s secret police, the savak, which, I was to pretend I didn’t know, was tracking my movements in and out of Iran.

As I buckled my seat belt, the door closed and the engines started.

The hand grenade – it was disarmed — had been given to me days earlier just across the border in Iraq as a parting gesture of hospitality by the pesh mergas, the Kurdish guerrillas fighting for independence from the Baghdad government. This was June 1965. To this day, some friends think I was working for the CIA in that era. Far from it. I was a freelance photojournalist, on assignment in this case for LIFE Magazine. Authentic except for the explosives, the grenade had been proudly presented to me by the Kurds after  I visited a nondescript village house which my hosts had transformed into an impromptu arms factory.

Weapons factory, northeastern Iraq, 1965

Weapons factory, northeastern Iraq, 1965

This was the pesh mergas’ way of showing how self-sustaining they were while at the same time begging me to tell America how much they needed modern weaponry. That was not the first time, those past glorious weeks, when I had to improvise a semblance of diplomacy.  “America is a big ocean,” I replied, “And I have only a small spoon.” Hearing the translation, they laughed and slapped my back with that ready good cheer that has charmed many another visitor to these Swiss-like mountains of Mesopotamia, origins of those twin rivers of life—the Tigris and Euphrates – which, millennia earlier, had enabled the blossoming of man’s earliest civilizations in the vast deserts below.

But what was so obvious among the mountain-based Kurds were the profound differences between their character and those of the Arabs, Iranians and Turks under whose authority they were forced to live. After World War I, following the collapse of the centuries-old Ottoman Empire and the century-old British Empire, the international boundaries of the Middle East had been drawn in the drawing rooms of Europe, with scant regard to tribal realities on the ground. For a century, and counting, those artificial lines on the map have remained a recipe for instability — magnified now by the ever-increasing importance of energy resources in a globalizing economy.

P.S.  I made it okay back to Beirut, developed my black and white film in my impromptu bathroom darkroom, scribbled the story and some captions, and airfreighted all that — plus the undeveloped color films – to Manhattan. LIFE ran the story only in black and white. Few of the color slides have ever been published, but you can view them now by hitting the button below.

That was 47 years ago, when I was 30. Our thanks to old Kodak for creating Kodachrome, a wonderful, permanent film whose worldwide success has outlived that of the company. And to Leica for the cameras, an M3 and an M2 (later ripped off my neck covering a flood in Jordan, but that’s another story).

Oh, the hand grenade? I lost it at the Beirut airport, if you can believe that. Perhaps it got reloaded with explosives for use in one of Lebanon’s own fierce tribal wars soon to come in the later ’60s and ’70s. Which I was not around for. Except that my (now) wife (of 27 years) did live through those bleak Beirut years. Which is another story.

I recount the story of the hand grenade and the coat in this video segment.

Here is a video segment in which I recall my travels in Northern Iraq with the Kurds in 1965.

With Mullah Mustafa Barzani, Iraq, 1965

With Mullah Mustafa Barzani, Iraq, 1965

 

With Kurdish pesh mergas, Iraq, 1965

With Kurdish pesh mergas, Iraq, 1965

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

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Written by bywilliamcarter

December 26, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Much More on the Kurds Part 6

with 2 comments


northern Iraq 1965

photographs and text © William Carter

They defended their birthright as a people.

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

January 14, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Much More on the Kurds Part 4

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northern Iraq 1965

photographs and text © William Carter

 

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Mullah Mustafa Barzani (right) with an assistant

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Marching peshmergas getting directions from locals

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Shepherds in spring: Kurds and their lands are distinct from others in the Middle East

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Migrant shepherd family in spring

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Relaxing in a village tea shop

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Christian girl sheltering in a cave from Iraqi bombing

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Mullah Mustafa Barzani during our last interview

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

December 24, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Much More on the Kurds Part 3

with 4 comments


northern Iraq 1965

photographs and text © William Carter

 

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These are actually Yemenis. See explanation below in comments.

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Kurdish villagers beside a well-used road in northern Iraq

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Kurdish village, northern Iraq

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Shepherd boy in spring

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Spring religious ritual, near the Iraq-Iran border

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Spring religious ritual, near the Iran-Iraq border

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Sorting grain on a rooftop

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

December 10, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Much More on the Kurds Part 2

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northern Iraq 1965

photographs and text © William Carter

 

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Morning in Kurdistan

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Native Ibex from Kurdish area of eastern Iraq or western Iran

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Conference between locals and peshmerga commanders

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Burial of an executed “josh” (“donkey” or Iraqi government spy)

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Kurdish graveyard

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Peshmergas enjoying home hospitality in village north of Suleimaniya

yet_more_2.7Peshmerga platoon on the march

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

November 26, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Seeds of Today’s Headlines

with 3 comments


plus some heartwarming responses

by William Carter

Mullah Mustafa Barzani, 1965

Mullah Mustafa Barzani, 1965

Running in this space for several months, my Kurdish blogs attracted wide attention, not least from the Kurds themselves. Seeing unknown, 50-year-old photographs of their own legendary founding hero, Mullah Mustafa Barzani (left), was a heart-warming revelation.

One non-Kurd who responded was Chris Kutschera, who runs a photo archive in Paris dedicated to his and others’ photographs from Kurdistan, and to his several books and many articles on the Kurds. Chris has added a number of my 1965 photographs to his ongoing collection, which can be visited at www.chris-kutschera.com

These days I get up early to scour the headlines for the latest news of the Kurdish peshmergas’ valiant struggle against the ISIS marauders in Syria and Iraq, helped by U.S. airdrops of supplies. Those of you who see the New Yorker magazine can read Dexter Filkins’ recent report in depth and detail on these special people.

Over the years visiting journalists, including myself, have admired these proud and independent folks to the point of struggling to maintain professional objectivity on the ins and outs of their long-running struggle for “autonomy” within existing Iraq, Turkey, and Syria — or, one day perhaps, independence as a separate nation.

One Kurd who responded to my photographs of the ancient Mesopotamian stones was Kozad Ahmed.  A Kurdish archeologist born in Baghdad in 1967 (two years after my visit), he contextualized those stones in his detailed 2012 Ph.D. thesis at the University of Leiden in Holland, titled “The Beginnings of Ancient Kurdistan” (c. 2500-1500): A Historical and Cultural Synthesis.” Evidently those stones were smuggled out of the village of Betwata the 1970s, auctioned in Geneva and are now in museums in Jerusalem and Baghdad.

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

October 27, 2014 at 6:35 pm

Iraqi Kurdistan: More Surprises (Part 3)

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Many of us learned in school that Mesopotamia’s Tigris-Euphrates Valley cradled the world’s earliest civilization. Unending waves of conquest would sweep over this well-watered land, obliterating much —  but not all — of its history. Recent violence in northern Iraq spotlights once-isolated ethnic groups, such as the Yazidis and the Chaldean Christians; Aramaic-speaking villagers as well as remote members of the Muslim Kadri sect. Some of these far-flung peoples and languages date back thousands of years.

And, archeologists have long suspected there were important artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia still awaiting discovery in caves in Kurdistan. I learned this after a journalistic trek on foot and by donkey through the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan “recently” — only fifty years ago.

Welcomed by the, as yet, little-known Kurdish peshmerga guerrilla fighters, I was doing a photo story on their long-running struggle for autonomy within Iraq and Turkey. At one point my hosts showed me broken, thick stone rock carvings a local sheik had had dragged out of a cave. Evidently he wanted to sell them to me, but I was not in that business. It would have taken an expedition to move them. I took pictures of them, with their hieroglyphic writing. The next year, in London, I showed the photographs to the British Museum. The experts became quite interested, and wanted lots of details, including the exact location, which I was unable to provide other than “oh, we just happen to stop there for tea last June on the march from point A to point B, somewhere north of Sulaimaniya.” Nonetheless the British Museum reproduced my pictures in a scholarly publication.

Given the destruction of the once wonderful Baghdad Museum occasioned by the Bush-era invasion, I sometimes wonder if that stele, and others (?) like it, are not safer staying in their caves. During Saddam Hussein’s ruthless bombings and gassings of isolated ethnic villages — as under the current Isis marauders — some of these thousand-year survivors have themselves reverted to living in caves. Again, I photographed one group all too briefly before hurrying on to rejoin the peshmergas’ march. I always wanted to go back and explore these other ethnicities of Kurdistan, but that was not to be. This year, 2014, the Kurds invited me to fly into Erbil, now a modern city built on oil revenues. We would have loved to, but pushing 80, I hesitated — luckily, just before a new wave of gunmen surrounded the city.

 

Iraqi Kurdistan 1965 photographs © William Carter

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Member of the Muslim Kadri sect celebrates spring ritual near the Iraq-Iran border

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Members of Muslim Kadri sect celebrate spring ritual near the Iraq-Iran border

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Christians sheltering in a cave from aerial bombing — Iraqi Kurdistan

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Christians sheltering in a cave from aerial bombing — Iraqi Kurdistan

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Mesopotamian stone carving hidden in cave, Iraqi Kurdistan

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Mesopotamian stone carving hidden in cave, Iraqi Kurdistan

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Hieroglyphics on stone in cave, Iraqi Kurdistan

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

September 19, 2014 at 1:16 am

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