Talk to Sebastian Meyer long enough, and you’ll learn these things about Iraqi Kurdistan: It’s a semi-autonomous region full of competing religions, immigrants, and oil interests. Its people are insanely hospitable and it might very well be the richest archeological area in Mesopotamia. It also has charted a very different course from the collapsing rest of Iraq. Or it is trying to, at least: the day after he told me all this, insurgents took control of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul 56 miles from the Kurdish border and chased the national army out of Kirkuk. As Kurdish forces mobilized, power between Erbil and Baghdad started to shift once again. And while the country descended into chaos, Meyer’ ongoing personal quest to redefine Iraqi Kurdistan away from its status as a victim of Saddam and into today’s reality seems more important than ever. Through themes like religion, war, the environment and modernization, he is documenting the rapidly-changing region that he has called home on-and-off since 2009. He spoke to R&K from Erbil.
Roads & Kingdoms: Why did you move to Iraqi Kurdistan?
Sebastian Meyer: In 2006, I was freelancing for national newspapers in London. I got an assignment through the father of a friend of mine who’s a documentary filmmaker. He was working on a long-term project about Kurdistan and wanted me to do the photographs. So in 2008, I came out for six weeks and it was everything I wanted my life as a photojournalist to be: working on a project in a foreign country, getting paid, traveling, all this stuff that I had wanted to do. That year was when the financial crisis came into effect, and when I went back to the UK, I thought: I’m screwed. Soon after, I was asked to go back for another six weeks and thought, you know what? It makes no sense for me to be anywhere but here. The economy is growing, the people are incredibly warm and friendly, the region is absolutely fascinating, and, on a completely business side of it, there’s no competition, no other Western freelance photographer here. So I decided at that point that I would move.