A Kurdish family
the lens of Rodrigo Jardón

Text by Jorge Comensal

Photographs by Rodrigo Jardón


At the top of that mountain is the center and ancient city of Mardin; it’s the first thing you can see from afar.

Photo essay / Mardin / Rodrigo Jardón

He looks me in the eye and I feel the challenge of a world that scares me. In that moment, I remember a few verses by Miguel Hernández, from Cancionero y romancero de ausencias (Song book and collection of absent ballads) as I watch

(The world is as it appears

before my five senses,

and before yours that are

the edges of mine.

The world of others

is not ours: it’s not the same.)

                                 the photograph of a man that encompasses everything that I understand from the word “patriarchal.” It is “Baba” Cirik, the father of a family that Rodrigo Jardón lived with in Mardin, a city placed by history’s caprice within the current limits of Turkey. In this picture, I cannot distinguish the accidents – some older than others – between being Kurdish, Muslim or Turkish. What I see is a grey-haired man that confronts the photographic lens without shame, with haughtiness and satisfaction. He does not fear to have his image taken, he seems content, satisfied, on top of his domestic kingdom, and although a feminine hand appears on the edge of the portrait (why only one hand, why did Jardón leave that hand, there, like an indication?), the man is alone in the center of that world, the man, no the human, but the male, sex turned into hierarchy, power.

But there is an earthquake that cracks the foundations of that world, I can feel it, and although the best thing to do along these lines would be to condemn the atrocious oppression of the Kurdish people (whose culture is persecuted in Iran, whose language was forbidden in Turkey until 1991, whose people was massacred in Iraq by Saddam Hussein’s government), what fascinates me is the gesture of the woman portrayed amongst her fellows, three generations of women; those women who look after the men and eat their leftovers, those women who cover their head with a veil of submission, those women that were relatives of Shahmaran at some point, Persian goddess of serpents, that centaur woman Jardón photographed in the market in Mardin, crushed by the religions of one masculine god; women, those that Ricardo Arjona offends with  repulsive lyrics, women, and on this photograph there’s a woman showing the V for Victory or Peace or Fate, because it might have been by chance, but I feel… and want to see: women that without knowing conspire and have started to change.

I look at the plate of innards with rice, the minarets, the mosques, the clandestine tags of the Kurdistan Workers Party, a repressed separatist group, I look at the boy that is coming towards us riding a donkey as the cars sit turned off, I look, I find out that Rodrigo Jardón could communicate with the Cirik family thanks too Google translate, and I understand that Mardin is a friction point between tectonic plates, a place where the stone of millenary traditions heats up and softens, boils, pure magma. The cultural aliens from Turkey, that Muslim country that sighs for the Ottoman Empire as well as dreams with the wellbeing of Europe, and before reaching the Union dream, the Union threatens to collapse.

In these photographs there’s history, politics, context. But what is truly there, in the images, without inks of color to distract us, are people that mimic ancient getures, walls of warm earth, rowdy birds, stacks of holy water, afternoon sun. The same that is found here, in Mexico, but crossed with other daggers of injustice, still stabbed to the ribs, sharp, under a leather jacket and with an inscrutable face, under innocent smiles, burkas and women’s hands so powerful that they knead life with bread on a daily basis.

Here, on the other side of the planet, a familiar scene, a strange place. It depends where we set our gaze.

On the last picture of the photo essay, there’s a Mexican sitting with Kurds. Mehmet Emin Cirik, the young mand who opened his house and family to Rodrigo Jardón, took the camera and took a picture of the photographer who came from America, eating among his own. What did the Ciriks know about Mexico before the encounter, what did they know after? Let’s hope we’re nothing more than Chespirito, el Chapo, Pedro Infante. What do we know of the Kurds in Mexico? Who is he, that Mexican, in the minds of Mardin, faraway land? And I, who at first wanted to condemn a regime of patriarchal oppression and a history of ethnic injustice, find myself at the ends of my eyes, in Kurdistan, and look at this photograph where food and gazes are shared, where the roles have changed, where I am from the eyes of Mardin and where, despite the defeats and massacres, in this room where there are no tables, cutlery or sofas, there is abundant beauty, and one can smile.


Rodrigo Jardón explains:

Mardin is a city in southeast Turkey, near the border with Syria that belongs to Kurdistan, a stateless nation divided between Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Turkish Kurdistan suffered massacres perpetrated by Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish state at the beginning of the last century; currently its population is discriminated around the country and is a victim of government policies used to dissolve its language, flag and customs. Kurds in Turkey fight against integration, a cultural more than armed fight like the one that occurs in Iraq. I’m interested in learning how this identity resistance that greatly depends on family unity is expressed.

I got to Mardin after travelling by train to Diyarbakir, the capital of Turkish Kurdistan, thanks to the friend of a friend of my ex girlfriend from middle school who introduced me to a Kurdish girl studying in Poland. She asked her friends to house me although they did not speak English or I Kurdish. We communicated thanks to Google translate on our phones and computers.

One of the friends was Mehmet Emin Cirik who took me into his home with his 9 brothers and 3 sisters. They not only shared their space with me, but included me in their activities and made me feel part of this house they shared with almost 30 other people; they showed me a family unity that I – an only child of divorced parents – had never experienced before or had ever encountered in other contexts. It made me think how similar it is in traditional Mexican families, but how foreign it felt to me; I wondered if I could ever have such a family.


“Baba” Cirik, the father, is the head of a traditional and extremely devout Muslim family.


Two sisters heat up the food on the roof. “Give me your shirt so I can iron it,” is one of the first things one of Mehmet’s sisters said to me. It took me almost a day to realize that the women always got together in a different space and ate the men’s leftovers, after serving all of us tea.


My welcome dinner consisted of fresh goat innards (uncooked or fried) stuffed with rice. As soon as I walked into the room, the smell was so strong that I felt nauseous at the thought of eating it, but I did it anyway out of courtesy. They later told me that this dish was a delicacy in their culture.


As the days went by in Mardin, I started feeling more at ease to approach the places where the women were. Here Mehmet’s mother is kneading bread.


Photograph of a mosque’s water basin where one washes his hands before prayer, this symbolizes the river of life and the widest part – the sort of pool – represents adult life, which comes from a small river that springs from the wall, representing birth.


Children play on a hill.


A group of Muslim school children visit an old church. In Mardin, Muslims and Christians get along.


Photograph of a door with a heart in the old part of town.

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Interior of an old abandoned house inside a cave.

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The Cirik family live off the butcher shops they have in the city. One of Mehmet’s uncles asks me take a photograph.

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Sticker of a woman with burka stuck on a car.


I photographed a friend of the Cirik family after he was forced by all of them to pose.


Panoramic view of the old part of Mardin.


Photograph of a street in downtown Mardin.


An old door lets a bit of light into a mosque.


Set-up of a typical Kurdish family scene in a museum in Mardin where Mehmet took me to learn more about Kurdish traditions.

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Food in one of the family butcher shops.


Tower of the Great Mosque. In the background, one can see Syria.


I accompanied Mehmet to pray in the Great Mosque on my last day. Him and his family have strong ties to their religion, hence it is very important for them to do the 5 daily prayers.


Photograph of a street in the city market.

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Tag in an alley, APO “Abdullah Öcalan”: president of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), convicted to life imprisonment in Turkey charged with terrorism and armed separatism. The PKK, Kurdistan Worker’s Party, fights for the independence of Kurdistan as a socialist state and is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey as well as the US and the European Union.


In Mardin’s market, souvenirs like these hand painted glasses with images of Mesopotamian legends like Shahmaran, goddess of the serpents, are sold.

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Room where the women gather.


Scenery from the Cirik’s house rooftop. One can see the beds were they sleep under the stars in summer because of the extreme heat.


One of the grandchildren shows me the stable where they keep the cows, goats and a camel.


Scenery of Mardin’s suburbs.


PKK tag near the Cirik’s house. During the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, the PKK was active in the armed struggle.

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A sculpture of a peace dove placed by the Turkish government at the entrance of a neighborhood in the outskirts of the city.


A picture taken by Mehmet at my farewell dinner. That night he gave me an edition of the Kurdish book “Mem û Zin”, a sort of Romeo and Juliet, a pillar in Kurdish literature. I might never be able to read it but when I showed it to a Kurd in a bar in Istanbul, he started crying as he read it.

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