Under Every Yard of Sky (Red Hook Editions, 2019) by Sebastian Meyer chronicles an unprecedented and intimate journey through modern Iraqi Kurdistan. From 2008 to 2017 as Meyer followed the Kurds, his life became intertwined with theirs while they rose from their bloody past and briefly achieved a state of peace, before being plunged back into war. Under Every Yard of Sky, which takes the reader deep into the Kurdish experience, also reflects Meyer’s personal story of friendship and loss.
In 2009, Meyer and Iraqi photojournalist Kamaran Najm co-founded the first Iraqi photo agency, Metrography. Their goal was to train local photographers to tell stories about their country that didn’t only focus on war. Then in 2014, Najm was kidnapped by ISIS. Kurdish authorities briefly searched for him, but when they failed to find him the task was left to Najm’s friends and family, like Meyer.
Iraq’s Kurds have long paid a heavy price in their fight for self-determination, oppressed by British colonialists, Iraqi monarchists and Saddam’s Ba’athists; every decade has been marred by genocide or displacement, often both.
But in 2003 when the U.S. invaded Iraq, the Kurds managed to insulate themselves inside the war-ravaged nation, creating a space of relative tranquility. Kurdistan’s fossil fuels were tapped for the first time by major oil companies and gated communities proliferated. Kurdistan was booming.
When ISIS launched itself into Iraq in 2014, invading huge swaths of the country, Kurdish soldiers were sent to hold a front line that stretched over five hundred miles. Just like that, Kurdistan was thrust back into war.
“Under Every Yard of Sky shows Kurdistan as a place of stunning natural beauty, humor, tradition and love, where the young are raised to dream of freedom and independence,” states the press release. “But we also see that it is a land of war, loss and grief, a living cemetery to vanished martyrs.”
Sebastian Meyer is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker, and recipient of multiple grants from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.