Documentary photographer speaks on the tragic history of Kurdistan: Susan Meiselas

Documentary photographer speaks on the tragic history of Kurdistan


Susan Meiselas, an American born photographer created this archivale body of work on Kurdistan during the 1990’s, capturing what was left of Kurdistan after the conflicts with Iraq. She creates almost a seemless timeline of events from her visits. Starting off in the present day (90’s) which then jumps to memeories of the past with her images of vintage photographs, looking at, the men who shaped Kurdish life. She looks at the relationship to these olden day images which are carried by Kurdish men and how their meanings transpire. She then dives deeped to look at the historical images and origins of the Kurds. She also then goes on to show her working, creating the book, creating the website which help inform the project and teach about Kurdistan. But i’m more interested in her actual photographs.


The imagery is intense and powerful, capturing sorrow and greavence in its purest form. Her images of mass graves and forgotten possessions, such as clothes in those graves send a chill down the spine, showing a glimpse and harsh reality of what was once Kurdistan. She comments: “Although few Western observers had been inside northern Iraq for nearly a decade, reports periodically leaked out through the Kurdish network about Saddam Hussein’s 1988 “Anfal” campaign, a brutal attempt at annihilation. Nearly 100,000 Kurds were said to have “disappeared.” After reports that mass graves had been uncovered inside the Kurdish enclave, the group Human Rights Watch sent a mission into the territory to investigate. It was an opportune moment, since no one knew just how long it would take Saddam to regain military strength and reassert control over the region”. 


At Sardaw, a former Iraqi military headquarters on the outskirts of Sulaimaniya, trench graves are dug up to reveal the remains of executed Iranian prisoners of war. A total of 18 Iranian soldiers were found executed in violation of the Geneva Conventions. An additional 13 civilians were found buried beside them. Northern Iraq, 1991


Widow at mass grave found in Koreme. Northern Iraq, June 1992


Dr. Clyde Snow, internationally known forensic anthropologist, holds the blindfolded skull of an executed male teenager estimated to be between 15-18 years old. The skull was found with two bullet holes in his head. Northern Iraq, December 1991


Children’s graves. Iraq, 1992


Kurdish men look closely at clothes left on top of graves, marking unidentified bones exhumed below. Arbil cemetery, June 1992

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