A Student Reflects on A Summer in Kurdistan

Archie Hill submitted the following story to the Kurdish Project. We hope that it inspires you to submit your own personal ‘Story from Kurdistan.’

Last, Lost Summer

by Archie Hill


I’m a student at Durham University, in the north of England, studying literature, not that it matters. It’s a fairly quiet, comfortable and unexciting existence; days spent eating, reading and sleeping. So, whenever I read the news about the deteriorating political situation in Kurdistan, I do so with a certain amount of guilt, as well as an enormous sadness: sadness at the suffering of a land that I miss, and which now seems so distant.

I spent all of last summer, in the last halcyon days before the rise of Daesh, travelling through the Kurdish region of Turkey, down in the south-east. I’d originally planned to head on down in to Iraq, but by that time Mosul was already about to fall; the inexorable process of savagery and destruction wreaking its way across the beautiful landscape of Kurdistan.

Looking at the expanses of Kurdistan from atop a mosque.

I’d always wanted to explore it: a year later, all I want to do is return. I still can’t think of the amazing places I saw and the wonderful, eternally hospitable people I met without feeling intensely nostalgic. From the Syriac monasteries of Tur Abdin, to the astonishing colours of Lake Van; from the golden towers of Mardinto the black basalt walls of Diyarbakir, everything resonated with the power of its history and the pride of its people – something that no bomb or plane strike can ever take away.

Various memories flash suddenly before me unexpectedly. Buried away in the dark and wet English winter, I see the Tigris flowing before me once again through the cliffs of Hasankeyf, lit red and yellow with the fire of an August sunset. I’d hitched there, sharing the back of a truck with some young lambs, and no sooner had I arrived then I’d met a family who welcomed me into their home overlooking the river and the crumbling old bridge. Later that night, I was invited to a local Kurdish wedding, an explosion of drink, song, music and – much to my surprise – gunfire. Moments like that are my abiding memory of the Kurdish lands and its people, of happiness and beauty even in the face of hardship.

One day I will be able to return again and see more of this astonishing part of the world, situated in the cradle of civilisation. In the meantime, I read of places where I stayed being attacked and bombed, and wonder what happened to all the kind and generous people I met; whether they’ve been driven from their homes and families, or worse.

In my holidays from university, I work as a volunteer for the Kurdistan APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) in Westminster, trying to help spread awareness in the UK of the struggles being faced by the Kurdish people on a daily basis. But it’s not the same as being there.

I don’t know why I’m writing this really – partly perhaps as a reassurance that, despite general Western apathy there are some people for whom Kurdistan matters hugely. Or perhaps it’s just to try and relive that lost summer, full of places and people that I admire and respect more than words can say.

This is part of the “Stories from Kurdistan” series from The Kurdish Project.