Zilan Imsik: Where is Home?

2020 student grant runner-up

The Kurds are the largest stateless nation in the world, estimated to number at least 36.5 million people. Historically they have inhabited a marginal zone between the Mesopotamian plain and the Iranian and Anatolian plateaux, which is divided between several countries: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Throughout recent history they have experienced persecution or pressure to assimilate in all of their respective countries, and Kurds remain geographically, politically and economically marginalized in these countries. Due to the oppressive actions, massacres and resettlement plans made by various governments, millions of Kurdish people have been forced to leave their homeland, while others like my family have made the painful choice to abandon it. My family left Turkey, and moved first to Greece, then to Istanbul. They never returned to live in their homeland.

I was born and raised in Istanbul, one of the most populated cities in the world, as a minority. I felt displaced from a home that I’d never known, and this project is a quest to find where and what is home for me, and to rediscover my identity as a Kurd.

From the First Gulf War to the present war in Syria, the Kurdish question has been a crucial issue both in Middle East and international politics, but the world still [doesn’t] know much about Kurds. Historians haven’t mentioned the Kurds much, and Kurds have been unable to record much of their history either in literature or visually, so there are only a few visual works on Kurds even today, and to my knowledge all of [the] well-known photographic works on Kurds [are] made by photographers who aren’t part of Kurdish community, and I want to [tell] our story.

I’ve been working on the project almost for a year. The project takes place in my family’s ancestral hometown, Tunceli, in Central Eastern Turkey where I still have relatives. In Tunceli, people [are] seared with a sense of mistrust toward the government and strangers because of Tunceli’s history of continuous violence, and it is important to be accepted by people as one of them and I am, and probably that’s why I haven’t been able to photograph combat drones on the sky, tanks on the roads, soldiers with their big guns, or very big facilities of army even from far because I was afraid of getting hurt, and that’s also part of the story that I want to tell, and that is missing for now.

I would like to give a place to other Kurds by creating an online platform for them where people can use to expresses their concept of homeland. That might be a song, a memory, a photo, a wish for the future, present or past; a piece of fabric, a drawing, basically anything that represents their version of homeland. I’ll display my work in the platform as well. I believe the platform will help the community, which is spread around the world, to heal somewhat, through the act of telling our own stories.

A middle-aged man stands in a field at night.

A portrait of Deniz at night.

An older woman in a bathing suit, covered in soap suds by the wall of a communal shower.

My mother is in limbo.

A cracked mirror hung on a post in a bedroom reflects a blurry image of a human form.

Reflection on a broken mirror.

A young girl with her arm in a cast lies on a bed and reaches upward with her good hand.

A girl whose arm is broken trying to reach something.

A man with a walking stick moving through a field.

Eren is on the way to check on his cow.

A rearview mirror in a car

On the road to a village. The sticker on the rear view mirror is a picture of Ali whom is the symbol of Alevism. 

A cracked black and white picture of a man

A photo of my great grandfather from my family’s collection.

Two dogs licking at a cement altar covered in animal's blood

Dogs are licking the blood of sacrificed animal.

Two rolled-up rugs wrapped in plastic leaning against a wall.

Choked carpets.

An older woman looks into the camera.

A photo of my great grandmother.

About Zilan Imsik:

Zilan Imsik was born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1996. While she was studying film at Istanbul Bilgi University, she took photography lessons as well. Since then, photography has become a mode of survival for her. Her identity has had a huge influence on her work, and her work explores themes of identity, violence and memory. She received her bachelor of arts in film and television from Istanbul Bilgi University in 2018. She has worked with leading media companies in Turkey, and worked on art house films, some of which have been selected for Venice Film Festival and Visions du Réel, among others.  Her work has been exhibited internationally in photography festivals and galleries. Currently she studies sociology at Istanbul University.