This Photography Series Examines The Difficulties Of Forbidden Love In Kurdistan


Love is a difficult concept to navigate no matter who you are, but when you add the cultural surroundings of a conservative society, it can become even more problematic. There is such a dichotomy divide between Western values and Eastern values when it comes to love (as a generalization) and some of that is affected by the presence of religion in politics and social traditions.

We recently came across an eye-opening photography series by French photographer Laura Lafon, whose insight into the struggles unmarried couples in Kurdistan face reiterate that this issue is both complex and very real.

Laura traveled to the country with her lover and spent time in rural mountain areas, which is where she encountered the notion of “forbidden love”. While there, she started documenting stories of some of the young couples who were rebelling and against cultural and social restraints in order to celebrate and enjoy the kind of freedom in expressing their love in a way many of us across the other side of the world take for granted.


The right to love is the theme of her series “You Could Even Die For Not Being A Real Couple” where her own images are interwoven with a visual overview of the people she came across in her travels. Kurdistan, known for being a country rocked by revolutions, wars and upheavals, still has a very tangible resistance to the type of love displayed in the West.

Laura’s series is now being made into a photography book which she is raising funds for through Crowd Books. The online campaign aims to fund the production of 200+ books and give potential buyers an glimpse into some of the images used. The topic of love, sexuality and gender equality is such a potent and fascinating mix so we had to ask Laura more about her series and what drove her to share this experience with the world.

How did the idea for your book come about?

I always felt concerned for women and gender issues. I had the chance to study political sciences that gave me some keys to question our system of values and discover new kinds of feminism. In 2013 I wanted to make a photo project about love because it’s a universal concern even if it is lived differently by each person.

The Photobook is the way I found to express this project which reunites my proper love story and the Kurdish ones. You can see reference to a storybook, a travel diary or even a manifest, that’s a mix of this. The Photobook also permits accessibility to art space, you can own an entire art project at home. Plus, there are about 150 pictures in it which need to be seen altogether to be understood, it is the result of an experiment.

Laura-Lafon-youcouldevendiefornotbeingarealcouple Laura-Lafon-youcouldevendiefornotbeingarealcouple

What made you want to travel to Kurdistan?

At first Kurdistan appeared randomly in my life. I did not know very much about the Kurdish situation before my trip mainly because the Western world supports Turkey for geopolitical interests. I quickly understood that the reality was completely different from what Western media and politics spread. Kurdish people are one of the biggest populations who live without a proper territory. They are divided into four countries (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria) and have had to face oppression and massacre for many decades.

In their fight for freedom and independence they have integrated women’s rights struggles considering that the patriarchy system cannot be compatible with their fight. We used to listen subjects from Middle-East dealing with terrible women’s rights situations so I was wondering how these Kurdish ideals of freedom and gender equality could exist within a territory marked by conservatism and strong patriarchal relations.

You come from a country where the capital city Paris is known as “the city of love”. How did this narrative play a part in the juxtaposition you showed in “You Could Even Die For Not Being A Real Couple”?

Paris has been depicted so much as the city of love, free love, that for sure I internalized it as a normality. At 24 I already had two big loves, then breaks, and I was so hurt that I didn’t trust love anymore. With the guys I dated those moments we wanted everything except to be a couple, we searched for some freedom, kind of polyamory, taking the Sartre-De Beauvoir couple as a model. French cinema often depicts this kind of love. I have no problem with the ones who experiment with it but I am not made for this in my private life. Sometimes “free couple” in my society is just a selfish reason not to engage in a sustainable and confident relation which is I guess my vision of love.


In your opinion, why do you think there is such a taboo on sexuality and love in Middle Eastern countries?

First I want to say that sexuality and love are still a problem in my own country when it deals with non-heteronormative couples. I am clearly not an expert but we have to remember this is another system of values where decency and shame are predominant in a more collective and mechanical solidarity. Love and sexuality are eminently political because they question the individual within the collective.

Do you think repressive ideas toward love and sexuality affect women more than men? How so?

My project gives men a large voice concerning this question. They were profoundly mindful that the situation was more repressive for women. Why? Because of patriarchy of course! Women are seen as weak human beings who can be trophies you may win and own. One of this manifestation is women’s virginity, although some studies try to prove that hymen does not even exist. On the other hand men are suffering from this as well when they do not want to be what we expect from their gender or sexuality. But this is everywhere in the world because all the systems are based on the heterosexual white male domination. In that way spaces are gender divided.

For example the streets and public spaces are obviously occupied by men. And this idea is maintained by saying streets are dangerous for women, for the fear that you can be raped, however statistics prove the most number of rapes are done by someone you know. This is the kind of insidious domination we do not question, preferring to exclude women from some spaces and continuing to see them as potential victims. But whose is the fault?


Tell us one of the craziest stories you encountered from the couples in Kurdistan?

They met during a political meeting, they felt in love and got married. Some years later they would have liked to separate, classic love story, nothing apparently bad. But they cannot divorce. If they did so they would be socially targeted, they would have to face their neighbors’ gaze, shaming their families. This is worse for the woman who could be rejected by her family or even killed. “If I had a choice I wouldn’t marry again. Marriage fucks you, marriage with kids fucks you two times” was one of the sentences I grabbed there.

What do you think it will take to change social taboos toward women’s bodies, and romantic relationships in a way that isn’t driven by shaming?

Education. This is the answer of all the Kurdish people I met. I would add rejecting fear and starting to live the way we believe.


For those of us who do live in the Western world, we have a different view of sexuality than people in conservative countries, but is it fair to push our idea of love and sexuality on them, or should we find ways to create more understanding?

A Kurdish man told me love does not come in this part of the world even if he was in love with a woman. We were deeply in love, Myself and Martin, when we travelled, then our proper realities collided, driving us to the break. Love is, I suppose, a common sentiment. The way we are able to live it is socially different. I am not trying to colonize my idea of love and sexuality, not at all. Nowadays in Western fantasy love seems obviously chosen.

But first of all there are still a lot of people who cannot live their sexualities without being rejected by their community. What is happening for me is a confrontation between the desire of an individualization always stronger and a remaining of collectives. I do not plead for a loss of community, I am just pro-choice. I met young revolutionary Kurdish people who told me the difficulties they encountered between their desires and reality. I used my own body and experience to reveal some forbidden situations. It was quite difficult to find people who accepted to be photographed like standing with a lover without being married, or woman walking alone at night, even if they do it secretly.

As a foreigner I haven’t been bothered for kissing in the street however, it is forbidden for local people. And I cannot stop thinking this is deeply unfair from a human point of view. This reasoning is the same as being dressed how we wish, as if it is a personal choice, something that my culture cannot tolerate when we talk about the Islamic veil for example.

Laura-Lafon-youcouldevendiefornotbeingarealcouple Laura-Lafon-youcouldevendiefornotbeingarealcouple

Why you think conservative societies place so much emphasis on aspiring to marriage?

Marriage is a contract that allows you to live with someone. Or just sometimes to have sex with someone. It can be sometimes seen as a property contract, a deal between families for example. Being married is the social legitimacy for a man and woman being together. For me it has to be a choice and both contractors must have the same rights. Plus, people who are not linked by this contract should have the same rights as others but, again, we live in a hetero-normative society which excludes those who outrun those boundaries.

What is the main message you want to share with people who buy this book?

Is love something you could die for?


Donate to the Crown Books campaign for ‘You Could Even Die For Not Being A Real Couple’ and check out more of Laura’s work on her website.



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