Kurds are sometimes referred to as the largest stateless people in the Middle East, and some of the region’s most bloody and long-running conflicts stem from Kurdish efforts to create a national community and a Kurdish territorial state. But although these efforts have dramatically changed the political and cultural status of Kurds in and beyond the Middle East, as of the early 21st century there was still no independent, internationally recognized state called Kurdistan.

This exhibit from the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq thus illustrates a political project as much as a place on a map and the people who inhabit it. Almost 4 million people live in the three provinces of Iraq that make up the autonomous zone governed since 1991 by the Kurdistan Regional Government. The photos in this exhibit suggest some of the many ways in which the people living in this area have imagined, celebrated, commemorated, negotiated, and fought to build a national community and a territorial state in the midst of warfare, massive dislocation, internal differences and strife, and many social hardships.

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