Men march with torches during the Newroz festival that marks Kurdish New Year in Akre, Iraq. (Sebastian Meyer)

A charwarwan leans against a wall in Kulajo, Iraq. (Sebastian Meyer)

President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria last month has brought fresh attention to the ethnic group known as the Kurds. For many years, the Kurds have been U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State. Trump’s move led to a bipartisan backlash and renewed interest in the Kurds, who also live in Turkey, Iraq and Iran. But who are they?

According to this Washington Post article by Siobhan O’Grady and Miriam Berger, the Kurds:

“ … are members of a large, predominantly Muslim ethnic group. They have their own cultural and linguistic traditions, and most speak one of two major dialects of the Kurdish language. After World War I, Western powers promised Kurds their own homeland in the agreement known as the Treaty of Sèvres. But a later agreement instead divided them among Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.

“Today, there are about 30 million Kurds living across the region, with about half of them in Turkey. Iraq is the only country in the region to have established an autonomous Kurdish region, known as Iraqi Kurdistan. Its parliament was founded in 1992.”

A new book. “Under Every Yard of Sky,” (Red Hook Editions, 2019) focuses on Iraqi Kurdistan. In the book, U.S. photojournalist Sebastian Meyer documents life in Iraqi Kurdistan, home to Kurds who sided with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and eventually helped spearhead the fight against the Islamic State. For a decade, Meyer covered this region, and “Under Every Yard of Sky" is his testament of that time.

Meyer gives us a deeper understanding of how the book came to be as he writes in its foreword:

“When I first began planning this book, I envisioned it as an exploration of a modern Kurdish identity, one that was grappling with past victimizations while simultaneously confronting contemporary issues, such as rural exodus, gender equality and the widening income gap. Then ISIS came, and Kurdistan returned once more to war. Over ten years, I saw this place — one I briefly called home — rise from a brutal and poverty-stricken past to a fleeting moment of peace and prosperity, only to be plunged back into war.

“A bright future fueled by natural resources and an educated, passionate and entrepreneurial population is tantalizingly within reach. Yet the region remains teetering on the brink of further violence and exodus. This book is my interpretation of Kurdistan: a place of stunning natural beauty, humor, tradition and love, where the young are raised to dream of freedom and independence. But it is also a land of war, loss and grief, a living cemetery to vanished martyrs.”

During his time in Iraqi Kurdistan, Meyer not only worked as a photojournalist but he also helped found the first Iraqi photo agency, Metrography, with his friend Kamaran Najm. Together, they helped train a generation of Iraqi photographers whose work would go on to be published in outlets including National Geographic, Time, the New York Times and here at The Washington Post. In 2014, two days after ISIS overran Mosul, Kamaran was kidnapped by insurgents. Meyer joined the search for his friend, one that continues to this day. “Every Yard of Sky” is dedicated to Kamaran.

Goran Gowhar, a Kurdish tribal leader, poses with his militia in Tuz Khormatu, Iraq. (Sebastian Meyer)

Kazheen is comforted as she cries at the grave, in Sewaka, Iraq, of her father, Capt. Camaran Omar, a peshmerga who died fighting ISIS. (Sebastian Meyer)

Mohammed Haji Mehedin picks marigolds in Ser Aw, Iraq. (Sebastian Meyer)

A priest walks with a doll of Jesus during a Christmas parade in Al Qozh, Iraq. (Sebastian Meyer)

Yazidi men and women pick olives in Lalish, Iraq. (Sebastian Meyer)

Young men drive through the streets on the eve of the Kurdish independence referendum in Irbil, Iraq. (Sebastian Meyer)

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