B.C. photographer captures up-close look into the lives of Kurdish rebels
In the early 90s, then-27-year old photographer Mark West spent four months documenting the lives and travels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant organization working out of Iraq and Turkey.
The group has long been locked in an armed struggle with the Turkish government in their fight for the rights of the Kurdish people. International organizations, like the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), consider them as terrorists.
“There was increasing violence with the PKK. So what I wanted to do was to go down there and see that for myself and find out who these people were,” he says on cbc.ca.
“I was inspired by images of the oppression of the Kurds published in 1992, but felt that their armed struggle needed its own coverage,” he adds.
But this image of a menacing extremist group was far from what West saw and captured on his camera.
He remembers the PKK members who let him take a glimpse into their lives as friendly and welcoming people. His photos offer an intimate, up-close look at the people waging the fight, giving a human face to the resistance.
The documentary photographer from Smithers, B.C. also has an interesting story to explain how he got into contact with the group in the first place.
West coincidentally found contact information for the group while working on another story, leading him to a man in London affiliated with the organization, which led into a lengthy arrangement process where he was given a typewritten pass to show to PKK soldiers while traveling to Iraq.
Traveling in the PKK’s training camps for months, West took hundreds of photos, each with a personal story behind it.
These eventually comprised No Small Country, a photographic exhibition in Smithers, B.C., featuring photos from his PKK portfolio.