In the Kurdistan region in the north of Iraq, some people believe they live at the centre of the world. This area, their tradition says, is where east and west were first brought together. Their mountain range looks out over ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, and for centuries its passes were central to the Silk Roads. In more recent times, generations of conflict have played out, which has fragmented the land and challenged the pastoral ways of life.

All of these strands have been drawn together to form a long-distance hiking path called the Zagros Mountain Trail. The trail forms a 220km-long corridor that runs from the Syrian and Turkish border in the west to the Iran border in the east. Alongside the economic opportunity, the trail attempts to help those who live there reimagine their own homeland as a place of recreation rather than refuge; of wonder over war.

There are challenges too, including large areas of unexploded ordnance, Turkish drone strikes on militant organizations, and not least the negative perception abroad of Iraq.

Since 2019, I have walked almost 1,500km to document the communities living along the trail. Slow journalism, and ‘the return’ are two subjects I think about deeply - the return to a site, community, or mountainside regularly, patiently, and with care. By moving to Kurdistan in 2019, I was able to witness all four seasons, the life cycles of the land, and write down the stories of those who attest to its brutality and beauty.

Light Between Mountains is an account of the historic creation of the Zagros Mountain Trail, but more deeply, it is a rich insight into a fading pastoral way of life and the folkloric tales which survive. Here we see ‘the other Iraq,’ by way of shepherds and foragers, farmers and beekeepers as well as retired guerrilla fighters and pilgrims. I travel on foot along the margins of life, through sites of memory and trauma, and into zones of environmental fragility in search of hope and renewal.

Work in Progress

Supported by CCFD


Ahmed Rezani, a founding guide on the Zagros Mountain Trail,  in Choman.
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