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Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History

A photographer creates a living archive for Kurds.

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(To see images from this and other photo books reviewed by the Monitor, click here.) Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (University of Chicago Press, 472 pp., $49) is an extraordinary visual history of an oppressed people.

Award-winning documentary photographer Susan Meiselas spent years collecting photographs and information relating to the Kurdish people and the history of their homeland, Kurdistan (which includes includes parts of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Armenia.)

In this book, family photos fight for space among military documents, postcards, maps, and other pieces of oral history. Meiselas wanted her project to “address the partiality of knowledge rather than suggest the objective truth.”

Dutch anthropologist Martin van Bruinessen contributes historical context in his chapter introductions, but there is no master narrative to tie the collection together.

Memoirs from Kurds and Westerners alike are grouped together and the juxtaposition of viewpoints can be quite poignant. In the case of documents and photos pertaining to a 1924 British bombing of the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, a yellowed British military document that orders “intensive bombing of Sulaimaniyah” for two days sits below a photo of a beer-drinking contest among a bomber squadron in Mosul.

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