My first encounter with the Kurds was in 1997, during the last years of the Turkish-Kurdish war. Since 2001, I have returned to visit the Kurds each year, renewing friendships and exploring new corners of their world in eastern Turkey.

For a week in late summer of August 2004 I stayed with the Cevans, a Kurdish family living on the shoulder of Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey. This was the third year in a row that I visited the family, but the first time at their summer camp located high above their village of Kani Kork.


It was grazing season—the Kurds moved to their tented zozans (Kurdish for the summer encampments) with their sheep for the summer months.

The zozan was overwhelmingly a community of women and children. For the most part the men were occupied with cash-paying employment in the town of Dogubayazit. Leli, the widowed grandmother, was the matriarch of the Cevan family. Two daughters and two daughter-in-laws, with many of their children, made up the most of the zozan.


Every morning shortly after daybreak a troop of women, teen-aged girls, children, and donkeys headed out to collect water. “Av teney.” No water, I heard Nide, Leli’s oldest daughter, say one morning upon the group’s return to the zozan.

Just days earlier, I’d walked with them to the nearby water source half an hour away, and drank from a barely flowing rivulet that ponded water in rocky pools. The women and girls ladled water into plastic and metal containers of all shapes and sizes, the largest saddled on the backs of the three donkeys.


Just below the water gatherers, two granddaughters, Penar and Elif, quickly washed clothes in the frigid water. The women parceled out the cans, jugs, and buckets of water that could not be loaded on the donkeys. The stronger women tied 15-20 liter containers to the ends of poles that they balanced across their backs behind their necks; others, including children, carried the remaining containers. Thus loaded, we crossed the yellowing landscape back to the zozan.


When we returned to the same water source the next day, it was dry. With a brief and muted discussion of disappointment, we continued on below Mount Ararat’s shrouded peak. Only when we approached a small zozan of three tents did everyone become more animated and apprehensive because of the particularly menacing sheep dogs known to live there.

And the following day, we set out earlier yet. The demeanor of the group was unchanged—idle conversations, the children alternately being children and walking silently. Yesterday’s water source was dry. This time there was a collective sigh as we continued several kilometers further. We descended down a deep ravine where we found a smaller group of women already squeezing water from the rocks. We picked our way downstream at the bottom of the gorge, cutting deeper into the landscape.


We found scattered small pools, and patiently harvested the water one cupful at a time. Because of the steepness of the terrain, even the largest 50-liter containers had to be hauled up to the donkeys, and loaded on their backs full. It was mid-morning before we returned to the zozan. We eagerly sat down to the tea, nan (traditional flat bread), and cheese that awaited us.


But Nide’s Av teney turned conversations to the end of the zozan season—they would have to move back to their village, Kani Kork. I left the zozan amidst these conversations. Upon my return a week later, they were loading the last tent poles on the horses and donkeys.

—Submitted by Rob Leutheuser