Americans Enjoy New Life and Experiences in a Safe Haven in Iraqi Kurdistan
By Salman Ahmed Rasul
U.S. Ambassador Christopher R. Hill gives a speech at AUIS
SULAIMANIYAH, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — A lot of people outside of Iraq, especially in the United States and Europe hear about violence in Iraq a lot, but they do not know that there is an autonomous region (Iraqi Kurdistan) in northern Iraq, which is known as a “safe haven” not only for people from the middle and south of Iraq such as Christian minority, but also for foreigners and tourists. They do not know that Iraq in general and Kurdish region in particular has been developed since the liberation of Iraq in 2003 in terms of security, political life, economy, democracy and education. Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the 41 places to go in 2011, according to a report in the New York Times’ travel section in January, 2011.
They are not familiar with the differences of this most stable region with the other parts of the country.
The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) opened in 2007 in the city of Sulaimaniyah in the Kurdistan region. This university is one of a massive development of the education system in Iraq where students from different ethnic groups, religions, and political backgrounds can study, play football and basketball, and live together. AUIS students managed several demonstrations to support democracy, freedom, and particularly to the recent Middle East revolutions. It is the first and only liberal arts education and accredited institution across the country.
American professors enjoy teaching Iraqi students and living in a place without concern about the safety of the region. Our American history professor has said that he has felt safer here than when he was in the U.S. Last spring, I met David Clough, a Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Colorado in Boulder at AUIS, and he told me that when people found he was coming here, they think that he is crazy. In another word, they think that in Sulaimaniyah, there are tanks going around on the streets, and there are American soldiers everywhere going around because they do not understand about this place.
At AUIS, young Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, Christians, Shiites, and Sunnis have opportunity to meet diplomats and international experts to discuss and debate interesting issues that they had never have in the past. For example on November 24 and 25, 2011 The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) hosted its first international conference on "Democracy, Liberty, and the New Realities of the Middle East and North Africa" in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The idea of these events; conferences, panel discussions, workshops, and seminars is a chance for the students to open their minds, to think critically, and to think more deeply about important subjects.
There were some international experts who explained and discussed the concepts of democracy, liberty, and the new transition process in the Middle East such as Larry Diamond, Stanford University on “The Flow and Ebb of Democracy’s Third Wave in the Middle East and North Africa”, Sandy Lakoff, University of California San Diego on “Building Democracy in the Middle East: Opportunities and Obstacles”, Eric Brown, Hudson Institute on “After the Middle Eastern Revolutions: Making Citizens in a Dangerous World”, former U.S. Ambassador in Iraq Christopher R. Hill, University of Denver Korbel School of International Studies on “Iraq’s democratic struggle and what it means for the Middle East and North Africa”, and an essay by John Agresto, former AUIS Provost on “Democracies, Good and Bad” this was presented by a few AUIS International Studies Students.
Athanasios Moulakis, President and Provost of AUIS indicated the importance of the conference for students and the university internationally. “The conference gives our students an opportunity to meet, hear, and discuss with experts of international standing. It also strengthens ties between AUIS and first rate institutions of learning such as Stanford, UCSD, UD and the Hudson Institute and conversely brings AUIS to the attention of a broader international public, thus enhancing its reputation to the benefit of the institution and of its students and graduates, “he said.
Nevertheless, an American journalist told me that would surprise many Americans that there are places in Iraq that are safe enough for such an event to occur, but in fact, what that conference means is that people outside of Iraq, including American people and the American experts can come to Iraq without any concern about the safety at all.
Dlawer Abdul-Aziz Ala'Aldeen, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was one of the attendees. He was impressed by students’ participation. “What impressed me most was the finding that the students were actively participating. They were indeed contributing with very innovative ideas, and their questions were reflecting the depth of understanding, and their ability to think independently and argue in an academic way. So, I was very impressed by the display of the students as well as the presenters,” he said.
During the conference, the speakers had a chance to take a tour with the staff of the conference of Sulaimaniyah Museum and the Red Museum to be more familiar with the tragic history of the Kurdish people under Saddam Hussein’s regime. It is really common that places will change over the transition of the authorities. The Red Museum was a place for torturing and killing the Kurdish people, including women and children during Saddam’s regime, and today it is a museum to remind people of the atrocity, ferocity and brutality that happened in the past. Diamond explained the conference and the tour in this way, “It was a very stimulating and instructive conference. The speakers learned a lot from talking to the students and hearing their impressions, their concerns, and their aspirations for Kurdistan. We were particularly moved by the visit to the Amna Suraka Museum (The Red Museum),www.ekurd.net and to see the horrific documentation of Saddam Hussein's abuses against the Kurdish people. It is important to remember history, and to be reminded about what is at stake in building a free and democratic Iraq.” After the Baath’s devastation, people like Diamond, and his colleagues could come and conclude the panel discussion of the conference in the Red Museum on a subject where the creator of the building originally made a lot of efforts to keep people not to hear the word of democracy.
Lakoff had the most debatable discussions with the students about Islam as an obstacle to democracy, and he faced a lot of questions from the students about this issue. He is also happy with the progress of the region. “I thought it was a really good meeting because it was informative and stimulating for all of us. I especially liked the comments and questions from the students. The topic is very important for all of us so it was good that we started to think about it seriously and critically. The Middle East and North Africa are in a truly historic period of change. We need to try to understand what is happening. And the prospects for liberty and democracy depend on whether the rising generation -- students like yourself -- understand the situation and act wisely and practically and not simply continue to protest. I was also very pleased to see the progress being made at AUIS and in the Kurdish region,” he said.
This article first appeared on upiu.com