A Tragedy Inspires an Impromptu Art Intervention in Iraqi Kurdistan

For a week after the Iranian Army’s deadly missile attack on an Iranian Kurdish community, artist Shorsh Ahi and his family slept among the ruins, expanding upon his installation.

KOYA, Iraqi Kurdistan — The eastern approach to the Kurdish town of Koya descends down a narrow two-lane highway that carves through a valley of endless sideways slices of brown and ochre, pocked with stubborn brush and spindly oaks. On the outskirts of town sits an imposing, beige brick fortress that resembles a military base or prison. Built by the Soviet Union for Saddam Hussein in 1977, it is an unusual site for an art installation. But Shorsh Ahi’s latest work came about through unusual — and unusually tragic — circumstances.


The fort was turned over to the dominant local political party after the establishment of the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in 1991. Two years later it was gifted to a newly arrived community of exiles, the persecuted Rhojelat Kurds of northwestern Iran. For 25 years, hundreds of stateless families have lived a kilometer from the fort, in the Azadi camp. The fort is the social hub of the camp community, housing its political party alongside its library and the meeting rooms used by its youth and women’s clubs. The morning of September 8, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched seven mid-range, surface-to-surface missiles at the Koya fortress. They were targeting a political meeting but, ultimately, destroyed most of the apolitical buildings, including the library. Sixteen people died, and more than 40 were injured, including several children. Less than 24 hours later, with smoke still rising from a blast crater studded with rubble, Ahi began his latest installation. Continued…….