AUIS Professor E. Randall Floyd discusses the history and growth of the Kurdish region and this area’s potential to grab hold of western democratic values.
American University of Iraq Sulaimani
AUIS started as just an idea. After eight years, this vision is much more than partially realized: AUIS is a maturing organization on an amazing campus with successful graduates around the country and the world. When I arrived in 2010 to work for the administration, AUIS was still in early maturing phase, located on our original, temporary campus of portable cabins. University revolved around a few key people and functions – few systems were in place. Since my arrival, each day, each year, the university has worked to improve itself, to propel itself forward despite challenges and uncertainties. We have had a singular goal, really: improve. This drive for improvement is, in my opinion, the core value of AUIS. AUIS drives improvement in a few different ways: educational progress within our students, organizational improvements over time, intercultural progress within the American and foreign faculty and, finally, a wide sort of social progress made within the higher education system of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. The liberal arts education experience of AUIS allows students to grow and learn as individuals. My greatest joy at AUIS is to see the progress that students make in their lives during their university experience: improving their English, learning about complicated, modern skills in labs and on computers, taking on new internships and jobs, starting new club. Every day, students put in work, driving themselves forward to a better, more educated life. This level of progress is clear in all students, but especially cases like Peshawa or Mahdi, cases that started in cities like Halabja or Rania and are now successful on the international job market. AUIS has also improved as an organization. Starting an totally unprecedented university in Iraq is a challenge – an environment like Sulaimani, Kurdistan, Iraq is constantly shifting and changing. Planning is not always easy, new challenges arise regularly that the administration cannot control. But, despite, the university has pushed ahead with creative ideas, new plans, new efforts. Gradually, over time, AUIS has learned how to better attract students, how to better manage its internal systems like registration, how to better manage it resources. As the organization progresses, the students, faculty and staff all benefit. AUIS also helps Americans and other ex-pats improve our understanding of Kurdistan and Iraq. Coming into AUIS, most of us have very little nuanced understanding of Sulaimani, the KRG or Iraq – maybe we have read books or watched CNN, but there is often a lack of depth to our insights. Every day, we encounter cultural and social differences. However, AUIS allows us to work side-by-side with our Iraqi colleagues and students. Because of this open, inclusive spirit, foreigners like myself make progress in understanding the world. Finally, and importantly, AUIS is helping to improve the higher education system of the Kurdistan Region. AUIS leads by example. We do not simply “copy and paste” the same programs and curriculum as other universities in the country. We are not driven by profit, we are entirely non-profit. We try to use the most modern, open teaching techniques possible. We intentionally blaze a new path, introducing new ideas and techniques into the Kurdistan Region for others to see. We force others to be better. On a personal level, it is been a great honor and responsibility to help AUIS grow. I have learned a lot in my time – a lot about universities, about Sulaimani, about Kurdistan, about life… Thanks to AUIS, I have improved as well.
The commencement speakers included Jane Arraf, Middle East correspondent for Al-Jazeera English; Dr. Amanj Saeed, advisor to and official representative of the KRG Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and Professor David Clough from University of Colorado Boulder. The ceremony was presided over by the AUIS Interim President Dr. Esther Mulnix and Vice President for University Advancement, Dr. Hemin Latif. In her commencement address, Arraf urged the students to really “figure out their dreams” and to look for work that they have a passion and motivation for. She also advised them to rely on hard work and fairness in pursuing their careers, and to not back down from challenges. “Do not be afraid to try new things. Don’t let your life be guided by fear,” she said, adding, “Never stop asking questions. It’s your privilege and right.” She congratulated the diverse student body and urged them to stand up for the same principles in their future lives, never settling for injustice and discrimination. Dr. Saeed and Professor Clough also congratulated the graduates and AUIS for all their achievements. In her address to the new graduates, Interim President, Dr. Esther Mulnix urged the Class of 2015 to build upon the knowledge, skills and values learned at the University, “During your life-journey, remember that the value of democracy needs to be tempered by responsibility and respect for your community. We hope you will be open to the richness differences bring, and that you will reflect critically to construct a better world. Begin in earnest to give back much of what you have received.” The first student address was delivered by valedictorian Nawaf Ashur Yousif, a business administration graduate, a member of the Yezidi community from the troubled Shingal region of Iraq. He urged his fellow graduates to use the knowledge and skills gained at the University to give back to their communities. “I am delighted that I spent four years with roommates and classmates from Dayala, Anbar, Baghdad, Basrah, Chamchamal, Erbil and Sulaimani, but it saddens me to remember that many of us are moving back to tents or cities far from our homes. AUIS brought us together in an intellectual and cultural environment that was far from the political struggles of our country. But should our dreams end today? And stay within the walls of this university?” he said in his speech. “AUIS has given us the knowledge, self-esteem and determination to journey through life with independence and wisdom. For the last four or five years every one of us has learned enough to be a part of a social solution to the problems facing our region. We should start making good decisions today to guide and reform our history. When we pass through that door, we will always remember that we were here for a reason. I wish you all the best in the pursuit of your dreams and I hope together we will work towards building a better future.” Shan Hiwa Omer, MBA valedictorian, talked about the role of education in transforming societies. “When we educate ourselves, we are not only growing as individuals, but as a community, and with us our larger society will grow as well. We are at the forefront of change in our region and it is an obligation for us graduates to help our communities and improve the quality of life in our societies; so that everyone can reach their fullest potential,” she said, addressing fellow graduates. The last student speaker of the day was Zmnako Muhammed Ahmed, an IT graduate, who spoke about his personal story of resilience and success. Zmnako is the youngest survivor of the chemical attack on Halabja and was adopted and raised by an Iranian family. Later, in 2009, he returned to be reunited with his own mother in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He was offered a full scholarship by AUIS Chairman Dr. Barham Salih to complete his education. He urged graduates to use their education to influence and empower communities and to advance peace in the region. “As the next generation, we are the hope for the future. Studying at AUIS has empowered us to improve our future and our communities, so we can look forward to a future with no hatred, war or violence.” The ceremony was attended by almost 1000 family members and distinguished guests, which included AUIS Board of Trustees members Azzam Alwash and Kamaran Ahmed, Speaker of KRG Parliament Yousif Muhammed Sadiq, Sulaimani Governor Aso Fereydoon, Former KRG Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Ali Saeed, and presidents of KRG universities along with donors and sponsors. View photos of the commencement ceremony on our Facebook page.
The ‘Equality for Women’ lecture series aims to draw attention to the issues facing women in the region and to contextualize the socioeconomic and political circumstances within which they have developed. The series will include two lectures each Fall and Spring semester to discuss the different aspects of how conflict and culture affects and shapes the lives of women in the region. The first talk of the series was given by Dr. Choman Hardi, associate professor of English Literature at AUIS, on March 8, 2015. She spoke about the achievements of the women’s movement in Kurdistan, based on in-depth interviews with women in Kurdistan, as well as her own research on the Anfal campaign that she conducted during 2005-10. Dr. Choman Hardi is a celebrated poet, as well as a writer, translator, and a women’s rights activist. Her most recent publication, Gendered Experiences of Genocide: Anfal Survivors in Kurdistan-Iraq (Ashgate, 2011), was chosen by the Yankee Book Peddler as a UK Core Title. Listen to Dr. Hardi's lecture on women's movement in Kurdistan in the podcast below. On May 3, 2015, Dr. Nazand Begikhani, senior research fellow at the University of Bristol, was invited to give the second lecture of the series. Her talk focused on the impact of the emerging global trends on the situation of women in Kurdistan, specifically on gender based violence. Dr. Begikhani has over 20 years’ experience in research, writing, advocacy for human rights and consultancy, publishing widely on gender and ethnicity, violence against women and honour-based violence (HBV) in English, Kurdish and French. She is currently a senior international advisor to Kurdistan Region’s Prime Minister on higher education and gender, and a member of the Kurdistan’s Women’s Rights Monitoring Board. In 2000, she was awarded the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize for her work on HBV, and, in 2012, the French Simone Landrey’s Feminine Poetry Prize for her poetry collection, Le lendemain d’hier. Listen to Dr. Begikhani's lecture on globalization and gender violence in the podcast below.
The workshops were arranged by Dr. Tobin Hartnell, assistant professor of Social Sciences at AUIS. The workshops came about as ifpo and AUIS are discussing the framework for future collaboration and cooperation between the two institutes on archeological work in the region. The workshops were led by Dr. Jessica Giraud, research fellow and resident archaeologist at Ifpo and Cécile Verdellet, also a ceramics archaeologist at Ifpo. Dr. Giraud delivered the first training workshop on May 2nd on the “principles of landscape archaeology”. She explained in great detail the concept of landscape archaeology and how it adds value to historical research. The students also learned about geographic coordinate systems and how to locate specific areas using modern GPS systems. It was a very useful exercise since most AUIS students do not use maps in their daily lives, but are now familiar with how maps are produced and how coordinate systems work. Cécile Verdellet led the second workshop on ceramics and pottery analysis on May 9th. It was an all-day training session on how archaeologists select and use particular pieces of pottery or ceramics to gain valuable insight about the past. They also learned about the special properties of clay that make it one of the most valuable artistic mediums of the pre-modern world. Students learned about how specialists would collect clay, shape vessels, fire vessels, and what ancient residents would use these vessels for. The third and final workshop was a field a trip to the Ranya Plain on May 16th to study landscape archaeology. Dr. Giraud used different historical sites and structures to explain and teach how archaeologists see and document landscapes for research purposes. The students also collected and reviewed samples of pottery and ceramics from some of the historical sites. Dr. Giraud was a very good guide and the site she chose systematically dealt with different issues of landscape archaeology to provide valuable lessons in archaeological survey. Overall, the workshops served as an excellent introduction to archaeological survey and training for the students. AUIS now aims to explore the possibility of running a more sustainable and systematic training program with Ifpo, Erbil to create a strong foundation for archaeological fieldwork in the region. See photos of the workshops on our facebook page. A full report of the workshops can be viewed online here.
On May 10th, Dr. Wendy Hamelink, a researcher on the Kurdish region, delivered a guest lecture on the longstanding art and tradition of Kurdish storytellers and performers called “dengbêjs”. Her talk focused on how this tradition is faring in the modern world; the meaning of tradition and modernity, of progress and backwardness, and the use and misuses of these global discourses. Dr. Hamelink gave a detailed talk about the art of the dengbêjs, which is the art of storytelling in sung verse. It was one of the most important forms of Kurdish cultural production in Turkey until 1980. Many dengbêjs stopped performing or sang only occasionally after that year, but came back into public life in the 2000s. She spoke in depth about two topics in particular related to this tradition: the life stories of dengbêjs and the politicization of their art. Their life stories reflect important changes taking place in Kurdish communities since the 1980s. She also mentioned the discourses of political activists who understand and present the dengbêjs as cultural and historical heritage of the Kurdish nation. Listen to the lecture in the podcast below. Dr. Hamelink holds a Ph.D. from Leiden University. Her thesis "The Sung Home: Narrative, morality, and the Kurdish nation", is an analysis of the lives and works of dengbêjs. In 2014 she conducted a research project funded by the Max Weber Foundation about cultural memories of Armenians from the Sassoun region in eastern Turkey, who now live in Beirut, Istanbul and Paris. She is preparing a new larger research project that focuses on the representation and experiences of Syrian Kurdish women. She is also an associate editor of the Kurdish Studies Journal, an international academic peer-reviewed journal.
The visit was arranged by the Professional Development Institute (PDI) at AUIS to present information about the professional courses and programs offered by PDI to the graduating students of the Polytechnic University. This was the first visit of its kind to help students become familiar with their options for post-graduate and professional certifications offered by the University. The group of students, accompanied by a few faculty members, were given a detailed presentation by PDI staff on the MBA program and application requirements, English language courses as well as other professional IT and management courses offered by PDI. The presentation focused on how students can learn to develop their knowledge and career in a competitive and global environment and was followed by a comprehensive round of Q&A with the students. The visiting students also had the opportunity to tour the campus and its facilities. The Director of PDI Dr. Robert Ritchie mentioned during the presentation that PDI hopes to increase its outreach to more educational institutions throughout the year through similar orientation activities. See more photos of the visit on PDI's Facebook page.
The project was led by Dr. Hemin Latif, vice president of university advancement from AUIS and Tamara Jafar and Alexander Jacobson from GSD. Dr. Hemin explained that the idea behind the event was to extend the use of the internet beyond conventional conference calling and face-to-face meeting. Using custom designed software, the event created an augmented reality experience where participants from two ends seemed to be sharing the same physical space. The event was part of Harvard Graduate School of Design’s project entitled Interlaced Space, “which is the first iteration of an ongoing experiment in empowering civilians to directly connect despite pre-conceived, spatial, national, or cultural barriers,” according to their press release about the project. Dr. Latif explained that the event came about after a visit by Harvard student Tamara Jafar to AUIS last year who initially proposed the project. Jafar is an Iraqi-American urban planning student with a political science background in conflict areas and is a member of Brooklyn-based indie rock band, Cultfever. The digital portal intermittently connected the AUIS cafeteria with Chauhaus Cafe at Harvard Graduate School of Design for four days from April 20th to 24th. The inaugural event on the 20th included interesting discussions and musical performances from students at both ends in the informal setting of their cafeterias. Food and snacks were provided on both sides to add to the natural interaction of the participants. The Interim President of AUIS, Dr. Esther Mulnix, and Associate Dean at Harvard Graduate School of Design, Michael Hays, also spoke to the students at the event. “Only when we believe that distant communication cannot get better and our social life cannot be more controlled by Information Technology, come new ideas and tools that challenge our perception. This project for example, made us rethink how institutions and communities across the world might communicate and socialize in the near future due to continuous innovation in the use of Information Technology,” said Latif about the event. “We believe that the participants enjoyed the experience. A good number of students have signed up for follow up events and further interaction,” he added. While this particular setup was arranged for the launch event only, other smaller events are planned for the future, such as classroom discussions. Dr. Latif extended his thanks to Korak Agha from AUIS IT department, IT student volunteers, Dr. Esther Mulnix, Ms. Tamara Jafar and Mr. Alexander Jacobson from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, AUIS Communications department and Avesta Restaurant for their support. Read more about the project in this press release by Harvard GSD. See photos of the event on our facebook page.
The idea was initiated by Abdullah Mohammed Wajeeh and Nawfal Sattar Mohammed, two Academic Preparatory Program (APP) students in level 2, who were quickly joined by Hayas Ismail in level 3 and later by Zhiwar Jawhar Rasul in the Undergraduate program. They were supported by APP Instructor, Chris Guajardo, in organizing and setting up the activities. Both Abdullah and Nawfal had participated in the service learning project in the Fall, and wanted to continue and do something similar to give back to the community this semester. “I think that the event that these students created will really change the way in which fundraising is done here at AUIS,” said Guajardo, “They have set a new bar and provided fresh ideas for helping those who are most in need.” In three days, the students managed to raise $2,694.00 for the refugee camps. Over the course of three days, the students organized several interesting activities and events to raise the funds. Creative art pieces, photographs and handicrafts made by AUIS students were put on sale. A group of young and talented artists, The Iraqi Touch, participated by donating their art pieces for auction at the fundraiser. There were other fun activities like music, a cook-off, and hand painting. One of the highlights of the event was a guest lecture from renowned Kurdish artist, Ismail Khayat, who also donated prints of his artwork for the fundraiser. “I am extremely proud and amazed by what these students were able to accomplish. They put in weeks of planning, organizing, and networking, and it was all done under their already very busy schedules and workloads in APP and Undergraduate programs. These students have shown once again how creative, dedicated, and capable they truly are,” added Guajardo. Following the success of the fundraiser, the students are already thinking about making this an annual event at the University. The organizers would like to thank the AUIS community for their continued support, and in particular, the following people who helped and contributed to the event. Mr. Ismail Khayat, who contributed his artwork, time, and all printing of the photographs that were sold during the three days of the event for free as a donation. Masti Khalil and Saya Ahmad, organizers of the cook-off. Sanya Rzgar for her contributing art and craft work. The Iraqi Touch group for donating their artwork. All the photographers who contributed their work: Korak Agha, Rawand Taha, Hogr Hadi, Nvar Kawan, Hayas Ismail, Zhiwar Jawhar Rasul, Danyar Jalal, Rawand Ali, and all who volunteered their time. Mr. Oliver Keels, director of Student Services, and the Communications Office for their support. See more photos of the event on our facebook page.