Finalist 2017: Emilien Urbano
Since the summer of 2014, the French photographer Emilien Urbano has been working on his long-term project ‘War of a Forgotten Nation’, documenting various Kurdish militias in their struggle for autonomy as well as against Islamic State. Kurdish fighters were just involved in freeing the Iraqi city of Mosul from the clutches of IS.
M. Urbano, what is your project about?
Since the summer of 2014 I’ve been documenting, on the one hand, how the Kurds in Iraq and Syria are resisting the self-proclaimed Caliphate State of Abu Bakr Al Baghadi. On the other hand, it’s also about the uprising of Kurdish youths in South East Anatolia against the Turkish government, that considers them covert sympathisers of Islamic State.
Was there a particular reason for your first trip there?
I set off shortly after Islamic State had taken over the city of Mosul, one of the largest and most strategically significant cities in Iraq, in a surprise attack. The conquest of Mosul had considerable symbolic meaning for the jihadis who, following their own, extreme interpretation of Islam, had enslaved and murdered numerous minorities in the region, such as Shiite Muslims and the Yazidi.
“The conquest of Mosul had considerable symbolic meaning for the jihadis who, following their own, extreme interpretation of Islam, had enslaved and murdered numerous minorities in the region.”
In the meantime, one can say that Mosul has been freed from IS.
The Kurds played a big part in that. On the one hand, there were the battle-tested Peshmerga (‘who look death right in the eye’) from the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq; on the other, there were fighters who are close to the PKK workers’ party that is forbidden in Turkey.
‘War of a Forgotten Nation’ – what does the title of your project imply?
Embedded between foreign realms, in part unrecognised in their rights as an ethnic minority, Kurds settled in Turkey, in Iraq, in Iran and in Syria. They have been dreaming of an independent Kurdish State for a very long time. For the first time in their history, and of all things because of the conflict brought into the world by Islamic State, they feel that the fulfillment of that dream is on hand.
You took your camera to…
…many relevant locations in Iraq, in Syria and in Turkey; and I am totally committed to continuing this reportage as a long-term project.
Before dedicating his work to the Kurdish struggle, the French photographer spent two years dealing photographically with the extreme right within the context of the French Front National. In 2013 he was head of the photography department of UNESCO. His work has been published in Le Monde, Le Figaro, GQ, Die Zeit and in Corriere della Serra. Urbano is represented by the Myop Agency.