Winner of the 2023 Ville de Perpignan Rémi Ochlik Visa d’or Award

When I first entered the home of an Iraqi family it felt as if my world had opened up. There, in amongst the date palms on the banks of the Euphrates River, a family took me in. It was in 2017, and I was walking the Arbaeen pilgrimage, the world’s largest pilgrimage from the holy shrine in Najaf to the holy shrine in Karbala, following the Euphrates. Since then, I have returned to walk it three times.

I first saw the Tigris River, known as the Dijlah, in 2019. I traveled on the waters of the river that had seen the birth of civilizations, going by boat through Turkey, Syria and Iraq. I spent two years researching the river, and preparing a complex network of contacts across the region. It took over 70 days to travel the 1,900 kilometers, and involved over 40 vessels and hundreds of hours of negotiations with police, military and militia. In 2023, I returned to follow the river, to journey along the banks in search of the Garden of Eden.


The Tigris has always been more than just water, and today the river basin is home to almost 30 million people. With the Euphrates, they irrigated early civilizations, and for 7,000 years, cycles of flooding have created seasons of plenty and scarcity. Major centers of power and influence emerged and expanded at confluences and natural ports. As trade moved upstream and downstream, so did the political capital. Many settlements dating from ancient times are still standing, with cities such as Mosul, Baghdad, Samarra and Basra that are hubs of industry.

I encountered all aspects of life, traveling through sites of memory and trauma, and into zones of environmental disaster, in search of safe harbor and renewal, in the hope of seeing what has been lost and what has survived. The Tigris River has bound Iraq together, as it has bound all my experiences in Iraq, and has now bound my life to this land as a home.

This is the story of Iraq, from ancient civilizations to contemporary life, as seen from the perspective of the Tigris river.

Emily Garthwaite

Supported by CCFD – Terre Solidaire, The Amersi Foundation and The Abraham Path Initiative

Exhibition co-produced by CCFD – Terre Solidaire

Emily Garthwaite

Leon McCarron
Follow on
See full archive

Up next

Sandra Mehl Farewell Isle de Jean-Charles