Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Kurdish State

I went out tonight with my friend Aram.  Aram was an American Voices scholarship student, studying over the last year in St. Louis.  He just returned from his year exchange to his home in Duhok.  He took me out, and over to see the Duhok dam and a nice nighttime area where people come to eat, smoke nargila and watch the football match.  The spot was up in the mountains, just a bit out of town and was much cooler than the temperature in the city.  The air was breezier and there were waterfalls around to give the wind a lil wet coolness.

We were sitting up waiting for our food, when one of the server came to give us plates of salads.  Aram said something to him, but couldn't understand his response.  He mentioned that the fellow was likely a Turkish Kurd.  I asked if there were a lot of Kurds from Turkey and other areas.  He replied that Iraqi Kurdistan had become a hub for Kurds in the region.  He mentioned that Kurdistan's President Masoud Barzani had spoke of an open-door policy for Kurds of the region, and that many had flocked here for work and to live in freedom.  Just as my friend Kani Xulam had said about Iraqi Kurdistan being a beacon of light and hope for all the Kurds in the region.  Iraqi Kurdistan as haven and home.

Immediately, the Zionist in me framed it in the paradigms of the Jewish State.  Having a land to call your own changes you-- it has a special effect on the way your culture percolates, and on the way you view the world.

We sat eating plates of salads of shredded red and white cabbages, turshu pickles and olives and tomato and some kind of  sour lettuce that I couldn't place, and I was bubbling with public diplomacy questions about Kurdish PD.  How does the KRG conduct public diplomacy to Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iran?  How does it conduct public diplomacy with the Kurdish diaspora?  These are questions that I can't answer at present, but will hope to find some answers for during my stint here, or perhaps for future research endeavors.

Dinner came, with heaps of juicy beef kabobs, onion shred covered in purple sumac and fluffy pita-naan.  We stuffed the succulent kabobs in fold of naan, and chatted about what Kurdistan was like then and now.  I asked Aram about what he remembered from the Second Gulf War.  He would have been about 13 then.  He said that he remembered everyone clearing out of the cities.  Whole cities emptied and went to the villages in the countryside for safety.  He stayed for a month in his mother's village.  He spoke of the joy and openness that came during the first two years, before the terrorism kicked up and the suicide bombings started.  He said that people felt free to travel to Baghdad and Mosul; today people rarely venture out of Kurdistan.

He spoke of what Kurdistan was like.  Before the war, Kurdistan was basically free from Sadam, but had no suzerainty.  Kurds didn't have passports, and life was spartan.  He said after the fall of the Saddam regime, all sorts of goods came pouring like mobile phones, new cars and all sorts of new companies coming to do business.  He also said that education improved greatly, both for the quality and access to education.  There is still work to be done in Kurdistan, but it has come a long way and is a real success story.

We sat smoking double apple shisha, pulling plumes of perfumed smoke as the Euro cup blared.  Aram mentioned that he had never been to Mosul, just 2 hours from Duhok, and had no desire to go.  He said that he didn't even especially want to visit Kirkuk.  It was a reminder to me that Kurdistan's situation is still somewhat precarious.

The Kurds need more friends in the world, and that comes through better public diplomacy.  If it were up to me, I would conduct robust Kurdistan nation-branding/cultural diplomacy campaigns centered on introducing the pesh merga into popular culture. The valiant Kurdish warriors would translate nicely in graphic novels and comics, and is an oblique way of introducing Kurdistan into popular culture.  Pesh merga anime uploaded to YouTube would be an inexpensive way to push virality of Kurdish imagery.

And of course, I would push Kurdish gastrodiplomacy.  More on that to come, I am sure.

I would also work to link Kurdistan to other groups that have had to battle so fiercely for their communal independence.  A Kurdish-Sikh-Druze connection, if you will.  Or a Taiwanese tête-à-tête.

I have mentioned to any Kurdish diplomat I had had tea with that they need to do better public diplomacy to Middle America.  Their story would resonate mightily in Middle America.  I know that some get it in some fashion, including a certain diplomat who has a "Don't Mess with Texas. Don't Mess with the Kurds" banner in his office.  The Kurds (and the Taiwanese) need to take a page from Israeli public diplomacy and understand that support in America comes from the heartland.

Enough for now, I need to get some rest.  The road does me well, and the Kurdish Question has me thinking again.

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