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Courtesy of 

Emily Garthwaite

LEICA Fotographie International / BarTur Photo Award: Photojournalist of the Year

Excellence in Photojournalism

Emily Garthwaite

Tears of the Tigris


When I first entered the home of an Iraqi family it felt as if my world had opened up. There, held among date palm groves on the banks of the Euphrates River, a family took me in. I was walking the Arbaeen pilgrimage, the world’s largest pilgrimage from the holy shrine in Najaf to the holy shrine in Karbala. Since then, I have returned to walk it three times. I first saw the Tigris River in 2019 and become two years of researching the river and preparing a complex network of contacts across the region. The Tigris River has always been a conduit for more than water. Along with its sister, the Euphrates, it formed the eastern bound of Mesopotamia and irrigated some of the earliest civilizations on earth. In 2021, we led a 1,900-kilometer expedition down the Tigris River by boat from source to sea. Joined by Iraqi environmentalists, the journey led us from the river source in Turkey, through Syria and Iraq, and out to the Gulf. It required over 40 vessels and hundreds of hours of negotiations with police, military, and militia. Our quest was for the enduring aspects of the river - the culture and heritage that have survived for millennia. We experienced the beauty and depth of history but also saw the impact of past decades of conflict and the environmental and geopolitical threats that have left the birthplace of civilization at risk of becoming uninhabitable to the 30 million people living in the Tigris watershed. In 2023, I returned to follow the river through Iraq in search of the Garden of Eden and to return to the communities who welcomed me into their lives.

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