Iran – Kurdish Exodus

This was my first exodus. The Gulf War waged by a broad, U.S.-led coalition of forces on Iraq in response to its invasion and annexation of Kuwait also led to a Kurdish rebellion in the north and subsequently to its bloody suppression by Saddam Hussein’s resurgent forces. More than a million refugees fled to the mountainous borderlands of Turkey and Iran, both of which could not cope with the influx. Denied its onward journey, the human tide was left stranded in harsh weather conditions, its piteous quest for sanctuary ending only when a no-fly zone made a return home possible. For the Kurds, this exodus was yet another episode in a history replete with tales of persecution, betrayal, and desperate flight.

I covered the exodus in preparation for a book project to be called Global Migration. But on learning that Sebastiao Salgado had taken up the same subject and with logistical, financial, and media backing that I would never be able to secure, I dropped the idea, which in retrospect I think was a mistake. Soon, when travelling with other photographers, I would find out that every subject and every story is open to as many perspectives as pairs of eyes looking at it. Salgado’s book was published, and as the years passed other photographers, among them Kadir van Lohuizen, would take up the topic of migration, providing insights into other aspects of the phenomenon.

A quarter of a century later, in late 2013, the world would have 51.2 million displaced people, six million more than the year before, and in 2014 their number would rise again to 59.5 million. The wars in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and the Horn of Africa, as well as the worsening local and global effects of climate change in Africa and the hope for a life with perspectives would turn the Mediterranean into a graveyard for thousands more each year. In 2015 Europe would be overwhelmed by an unstoppable wave of refugees, a tragedy unknown since the end of World War II – a sign that global migration will be the megatrend of the future.