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“Who Is My Neighbor? A Story of the Kurds”
by Doug Hopfer

The Kurds are an ethnic group made up of 26.3 million people, the largest without a sovereign nation-state or official borders. Kurdistan, their homeland, is the rich and mountainous region that is divided among the countries of Syria, Iran, Turkey, and Iraq- a reminder of the injustice of the Europeans creating political boundaries at the beginning of this century.

Their ancient history is stained with violence, and they have a reputation for being fierce warriors. Over the past 100 years, the Kurds have been busy killing each other in numerous civil wars; in 1988, Saddham Hussein of Iraq was busy with their “ethnic cleansing”-an estimated 250,000 people were killed or reported missing and over 4,000 villages were destroyed.

Because of the no-fly-zone enforced in Northern Iraq by the U.S. Air Force, the Iraqi Kurds have a somewhat safe haven, but are still surrounded on all sides by hostile nations and are plagued by the continuous internal fighting. Their economy is mainly supported by U.N. programs, black-market operations, and subsistence farming. Refugee camps in the region are filled with widows and orphans - the legacy of a torn and fragmented society.

In 1995, I spent one month in Northern Iraq and was introduced to the Kurds. I am neither a scholar nor a statesman, but I was confronted by the urgent need for explanation and solution. I still don't know why I went: curious, perhaps; I wanted to take pictures and thought I could make a difference.

I was rudely awakened from my fantasy by a Kurdish widow who had no means of support and lived in a lean-to made of rough branches and rags. With piercing eyes she asked me,”Are you the one who will help us?” I had no answer. I often wonder if she is even still alive after those snowy winters in the mountains.

While trying to find a loophole regarding his duty to his fellow man, a lawyer once asked a great teacher, “Who is my neighbor?” I struggled with that question in Northern Iraq and still do as I encounter the homeless, the destitute, the addicts, the fatherless , the desperate who live in my own comfortable and prosperous community. I suppose how I answer that question will effect what I do each day of my life.

As you view this exhibit, I hope you will be able to see not only the humanity of my subjects, but also the face of your own neighbor.


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