End of Eden

Posted: 18 January 2001

Since the end of the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq has been ruthlessly destroying one of the oldest civilisations on earth and their ecologically unique homeland.

They are the Marsh Arabs: their world is the great Mesopotamian marshlands, situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where Iran, Iraq and the Persian Gulf meet; a region better known for thousands of years as the biblical Garden of Eden. Until recently this was the largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle East. But since the end of the Gulf war the Iraqi regime has been mounting a systematic operation to drain the marshes in a bid to flush out the people for whom it was home.

People have been living in these once vast marshlands for 10,000 years. Over this time the Marsh Arabs have developed a sophisticated if isolated culture, building their communities afloat on great rafts of reeds. Home to a rich diversity of wildlife, the marshes beautiful and impenetrable maze of waterways provided for all their needs. Now, most of the fish are dead and migratory birds no longer visit. The Marsh Arabs, had already suffered 20 years of persecution at the hands of Saddam Hussein when the Gulf War broke out in 1991. Believing the West would back them and crush their oppressors, they rose up with the Shi'a Muslims against the Iraqi regime. But the war ended and the Western troops went home leaving the Marsh Arabs to pay the price. Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard moved in and began to exact a brutal revenge. Four years, 100,000 deaths, and half a million refugees later the reprisals continue. Produced and directed by anthropologists Andre Singer and Michael Yorke, End of Eden features haunting archive footage of a people and a region unchanged in 10,000 millennia, and also visits present day refugee camps for a perspective, on a tragedy that international governments and media have actively ignored.

Reviewer: Nick Rance

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