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