Young Kurdish men drink beer and smoke a water pipe atop a mountain overlooking Sulaymaniyah.
A Kurdish street musician plays music on the side of the street in Sulaymaniyah.
Young Kurdish women have their photo taken by a friend in a park in Sulaymaniyah.
Kurdish musicians sing and play music at a cafe in Sulaymaniyah.
Young Kurdish boys take photos of a music performance with their smart phones.
A young man looks through a bookshop in Sulaymaniyah.
A Kurdish woman gets out of her car to shop with her children in Sulaymaniyah.
A Kurdish man walks through the Hall of Mirrors in Sulaymaniyah's Red Museum. Named after the red facade of the main building, the museum is housed on the old site of Saddam's notorious Mukhabarat intelligence service where thousands of Kurds were imprisioned and tortured. 182,000 pieces of broken glass line the Hall of Mirrors - one for each victim of Saddam's Anfal campaign, and 4,500 lights dot the ceiling - one for each Kurdish village destroyed under his reign.
A waiter carries a tray of tea through one of Sulaymaniyah's many tea houses lined with famous Kurdish poets, writers, and revolutionaries.
Hedi, 18, works at a cafe book store in Sulaymaniyah. "Culture is not only clothes and appearance," she says amid stacks of books by Kurdish poets and writers "but culture is also what you are doing. When you talk to someone who is Kurdish you feel something right on your heart. When I speak to a Turkish person I don’t feel the same, because he doesn’t understand what is on your heart. I think culture is directly on your heart."
Sarkash sits on the turret of an old Saddam-era tank in Sulaymaniyah's Red Museum. Housed in the old complex of Saddam's infamous intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, the museum commemorates the torture, abuse and death Kurds faced under Saddam's rule. "My uncle was arrested and held here for 18 months," recalls Sarkash, "He was later rescued. After he was released he was sick psychologically. He didn’t like to go to crowded places or parties but liked to stay alone. This museum reminds me how people used to have to live and how I am able to live now. It makes me feel better but also allows me to think about our past."
Choman Hardi is a Kurdish poet, academic, and painter. "Kurdish identity has formed in relation to threat," she says at her home in Sulaymaniyah, "From the beginning of it if you look back to the Ottoman times, to the earlier times, this nationalism wasn’t there for any of the groups. The problem in Iraq is everyone feels like a victim and that's true. But on the other hand we have totally different senses of what Iraq means. To me as a Kurd Iraq is something, to a Shia Arab it's something else, to a Sunni Arab its something else."
Lukman, a pesh merga fighter. "Each of these lights is a person," he says standing atop a mountain with the lights of Sulaymaniyah glittering below, "all these people died for Kurdistan. The British took this land from us before and I’m not optimistic things will change. ISIS now has new equipment and weapons and the only reason we can fight is because we are fighting for our homes. I will be pesh merga until I die."
Sherzad Hassan is a Kurdish writer now living in Sulaymaniyah. "Thinking about a Kurdish state is like a poetic dream. It’s not real," he says of his region's future, "Why? Because by no means does anyone let you do as you want. Even the western states will say be quiet, be calm, be a good boy. I think Kurdistan would be a country of crazy men. Fighters in the name of Marx or in the name of god. Both of them are tragic for me."
Bahar, 19, stands in a cafe in Sulaymaniyah. "The thing that makes Sulaymaniyah different than other cities is that people like to make cultural activities, others like to attend these activities and they like to do these for free. There doesnt need to be any support from the government. And in Sulayamniayh you have every kind of freedom. You are free to think and move freely and have your own opinion."
"Being a Kurd means honor," says Sivan, "We should be a nation but we have been divide. Still no one can destroy us. My favorite thing in Kurdish culture are Kurdish clothes."
"We Kurds are more than 40 million people and yet we still don’t have a nation," says Wasta Rasul, "You must be proud to be a Kurd, because you must push for your country as nobody else will do it for you."
"Being a Kurd means survival," smiles Mehiadeen Karim, "Surviving by any means. And it means having a good heart so that you can be happy when you are alive."
"My name is Osman Ahmad and I think being a Kurd means freedom and being a leader."
As a young man fighting with Pesh Merga, Khalid was captured and imprisioned by Saddam's forces in 1981 and held for more than 14 years. Much of that time was in Abu Ghraib prision. "My body has never healed from thos years od darkness. I am still not well," he says in Sulaymaniyah where he now lives, "but I am proud of my language and proud of being a Kurd."