It had always been my dream to go and visit the Harvard University. This dream was different from the others because I thought it would be almost impossible for me to go Boston, since I am from Kurdistan, which is far away from Boston. However, not only did this dream come true, but other things also happened that really went beyond my expectations. Last summer, I applied for a summer program called Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) funded by the US State Department. I got accepted! The program offered some things that I had not even thought about. Going to the States was something I expected to happen, but did not know how, when, and why. Going to Massachusetts and visiting Harvard was something quite difficult, but still I didn’t consider it impossible. However, giving a speech in Harvard in front of two Harvard professors, four Mercy Corps directors, and 18 students from 16 different countries was not something that I had ever thought about! My dream was to go and only see Harvard University, one of the most famous universities in the world, but something happened that went dramatically beyond my expectations. As I said, not only I went to Harvard, but also I gave a speech there about the History of 1988, the Year of Kurdish Genocide. Not only that, but I gave a presentation at Portland State University as well! What was very appealing about Portland State was that all of my audience were Americans who knew almost nothing about Kurdistan. I was very pleased because I told Americans who I am and who my nation is and where my country is. Most of the students who attended my presentation were students in the Portland State University. Plus, there were two professors. Here's a picture of a letter by one of the student who attended my presentation. She was also one of my RAEs in Portland. I also met some politicians who have high positions in the US government. One of them was the Senator Jack Reed, who was very friendly and willing to share his experience with us. Also, he was enthusiastic to listen to our questions. I got a chance to talk about what happened in 2003 in Iraq and asked him questions because he was one of the few senators who went against the Iraq War. There are many more things that are worth mentioning, but I do not want take the time of my readers. But I will say… my Summer Program (MEPI) should be called Life Changing Program because it has obviously changed my life!
Studying, chatting on the internet, and checking Facebook everyday takes up a lot of the time of men in the Kurdistan Region, in Iraq, and in the broader Middle East. However, there are some who want to escape from the meaningless and mundane activities of everyday life. They want to have a respite, to escape into books, an occasion when they can get away from everything but their books. In Iraqi Kurdistan, there are dozens of students who regularly schedule a “reading retreat” in which they dedicate themselves to poring over their favorite books. These events are being held in different villages, towns, and cities in this region. Each time a different student reserves a house or a villa belonging to a relative or himself. There they spend a week, a weekend, and sometimes even a month doing nothing but reading. I have been involved in such reading camps for two years. However such events have been going on for many years, and no one can exactly mark its history. Students from different areas participate, mostly from Sulaimani, Hawler, Halabja, Chamchamal, and Rania. 15 students from the American University of Iraq Sulaimani participated in the most recent retreat that I participated in. How and what to do? The person who arranges the reading camp creates an agenda and discusses it with his companions soon after they arrive at their destination. The agenda must include activities as well as reading periods and rests. In other words, the reading retreats we arrange are activities within activities. Activities include hiking, swimming, watching movies, playing soccer, field trips to local museums and parks, and lectures by invited intellectuals. At the end of each day, each participant presents a brief summary of what he read. This time, we headed to a very exciting place named Warte, a sub-district three hours from Sulaimani. The “reading retreat” took three days. In Warte, we went to a villa in the mountains. At night, I heard the cries of owls, and in the mornings, I heard a variety of birds, especially nightingale songs. Because the place was a mountainous area, we were able to do something very exciting: hiking. We went to Karokh Mountain, one of the highest mountains in the Middle East region. Salman Ahmed, an AUIS student from Rania describes the hiking, “I was truly enjoying hiking in my last trip with some of my colleagues because one of my most interesting hobbies is hiking. It was my second time to do some Hiking in Karukh which is one of the highest mountains, and it is really a wonderful place for hiking especially during spring. Karukh stands against the Zagros Mountains, and we saw Halgurd Mountain which is the highest mountain in Iraq, and it is a part of the Zagros Range.” How Did We Feel? The reading and activities delight the participants. One mentioned, “Even though I dislike getting up early in the mornings, I am really pleased to have this chance to participate again because the reading, the food and above all, the activities and being with such great friends cannot be easily described.” These reading retreats also reconcile participants with nature as in this hectic life, as they are too busy keeping up with the speed of their modern lifestyles. “These reading camps don’t only make me read books, but also read nature. Each plant is a book itself that should be read, and each sort of their leaves is a book too.” Danar, an AUIS student from Sulaimani said. Krekar Muhammad from Rania was another participant and expresses his feeling, “This is unprecedented experience. When you view someone reading, you subconsciously pick up a book and commence reading. I like the discussion part most because I think if you read something and have no reaction, you then have read nothing. But it is certainly fun to learn how our fellow reading campaign members value both the experience of reading and their time spending with books.
Before I went on stage to perform in front of the audience, I felt that “Noor” was just a name of a girl, and nothing more. Between classes and getting ready for our opening night, I haven't exactly had the time to think about it deeply. However, I realized what an amazing name Noor was, right on the stage, as I was acting. Every single word of the play meant Noor in my mind. Noor means light. Yes, it brings light to every dark corner of my home. As I listened to my fellow cast mates on stage, every single word of the play showed me photos of the past. Usually, they were not pretty photos, and some brought tears to my eyes. It was even hard at times to say my lines. If you could have seen the audience, you would have known that many have lost someone very close to them in a war. I say a war because there have been many of them since the day we were born. However, none of us have had the opportunity to cry for the people we have lost. We, Kurds and Arabs in the Noor cast, are joining hands together to shed light on the life of every single person in our country. We are gathering together to shed our last tears over the sad events our people have experienced. It is incredible to hear some people crying for war again. The headlines right now tell stories between the KRG and Baghdad, between the PKK and Turkey, and between the whole of Iraq and Iran. The drums of war, believe it or not, are beating again. But during our performance, we did not cry for war. We, the cast, stood together, as Kurds and Arabs, to cry for the innocent sons and daughters that were lost. But it would be selfish to do just that. We also cried for the soldiers, on all sides, who gave their lives. We also cried out against corrupt politicians and greedy businessmen, a warning to everyone who thought someone was evil just because they spoke Kurdish or Arabic or English. We cried for all these things, but most of all, we cried for every Noor in every home, wherever she was.
While the Arabs are uprising and New Yorkers are protesting in their Zuccotti Park, I am also doing something that is big news. At the beginning of this year I decided that biology is not for me; I decided that I would be better off doing public administration. That opened doors and closed others for me; the first door that opened was that flow of continuous disapproval from family and friends who did not even understand this new major. Then as I tried to explain what it means to be a public administration major, some understood while others did not. However I stopped caring, the only thing that matters here is that I love what I am doing and this is amazing. Beside all the “shame” I brought my family for being the kind of person who is not studying something scientific, I did get an awesome internship at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani that I would have never gotten if I was still a biology major. This internship will not only benefit me in my future career but also it would help me understand the people of my country more. I never lived in northern Iraq, so Kurdistan for me was this mysterious place where people spoke Kurdish only and looked at any Arabic speaking fella as an intruder. But that was hardly the case. People were really friendly and even though there was a communication barrier in a lot of my interactions, I still sensed that they were trying as hard as I am to help me do whatever I wanted to do. This is actually motivating me to learn Kurdish and maybe one day I will be speaking to them in their own language without any difficulties. While sitting at AUIS, writing this, I was looking at students moving around and rushing to classes, I was thinking, what an amusing thing it is to not have classes, but what is more important is how nice it is to be able to witness this university evolving so nicely to be one of the most prestigious universities of Iraq and hopefully the region.
When I accepted the offer to come teach at AUIS, so many friends, family, and colleagues were nothing less than amazed that I had done so. Yet there were so many reasons why this opportunity appealed to me, and several of those reasons were sufficient reasons in their own right. Perhaps the greatest reason was my sense that were I to pass up this rare opportunity, I would look back with regret for the rest of my life. This was simply an opportunity for personal growth and development that I just couldn't refuse. Now in my second year, I have to say that this has been one of the more fascinating and transforming adventures of my life. Was it the daily interaction with delightful students and interesting colleagues? The opportunity to explore and photograph so many historic and prehistoric sites I've only read about? The rich experience of learning an entirely different culture? The fascinating experience of taking a fresh look at my own culture, beliefs, and assumptions from an entirely new perspective? Having a base camp in the Middle East from which to explore several other countries and cultures? While I really can't narrow it down to just one reason or benefit, I cannot imagine that I'll ever be the same because of this experience. And I'm grateful. For any who regards oneself as insatiably curious, addicted to learning, new experiences, and gaining new perspectives, this could be the richest "kid-in-a-candy-store" experience of one's life. Rather than feeling like I'm at work, I've generally felt like I'm on an extended study sabbatical. I keep in daily touch with friends, family, and colleagues through face-to-face conversation using Skype, G-chat, or FaceTime. Some occasionally tell me they feel like they're living vicariously through my frequent Facebook, blog or photo album postings. Yet I know they're getting but a tiny glimpse. I keep saying to them, "Come and work here! You'll love it!" Of course, others continually ask me when I'm "coming home." All I can say is, "well... not yet!!"
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.
The symposium convened three sessions to consider cultural heritage from different perspectives. The first session convened the leading managers of cultural heritage in Iraq and Kurdistan Region. Gyorgy Busztin, special appointee of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq opened by calling for Iraqis and Kurds to celebrate their cultural heritage. Iqbal Kadhim Aajeel conveyed news of last month’s opening of the Nasriyah Museum, which houses many precious objects from the oldest civilizations of the south. Mala Awat, Head of the Erbil Directorate of Antiquities, highlighted the unique cultural heritage of Kurdistan Region including the Erbil citadel. Hashim Hama Abdullah, head of the Sulaimani Museum, recounted how it was the first major museum to reopen after the 1991 war; the project was made possible with the support of then Prime Minister Dr. Barham Salih and former Iraqi President Mam Jalal Talabani. Finally, AUIS professor Marie Labrosse spoke about her work translating and publishing Kurdish poetry, and the importance of digitizing all forms of cultural heritage, especially manuscripts, as a way to ensure their preservation for future generations. At the present time, Iraq and the Kurdistan’s cultural heritage is under threat of annihilation from ISIS; the second session convened to discuss cultural heritage in a time of crisis. Ahmed Kamil Muhammad, Director of the Iraqi National Museum, emphasized the Iraqi Museum’s reopening was an important alternative to ISIS’s program of destruction. In questions, he emphasized how secure the new museum is, making it almost impossible to loot. Muayyad Said Damirji, the former Director of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, emphasized that we had been through war and crisis together before, and that it was the heroic actions of dedicated individuals that helped protect the museums through those times. Bilal Wahab, a professor at AUIS, described how the sale of antiquities represented ISIS’s second best source of revenue and how terror networks like ISIS often worked hand-in-hand with criminal networks to profit off of chaos. Finally, Axel Plathe, the director of UNESCO Iraq, talked about how UNESCO works together with local institutions to fund dozens of cultural initiatives across Iraq and Kurdistan Region. With the value and threats to cultural heritage identified, it was time to discuss what cultural professionals could do to protect and promote cultural heritage as part of a prosperous future for the region. Tobin Hartnell described how it was cheaper and more effective to in-source talent to universities like AUIS to train the next generation of cultural professionals. Kozad Ahmed, Head of Archaeology at the University of Sulaimani described his vision of building the capacity of Kurdistan region to manage its own cultural heritage. Simone Muhl, a professor from Ludwig-Maximilian-Universitat in Munich, described how rich the Kurdistan region is in terms of its cultural heritage, so the government urgently needs to assess which sites are in danger and excavate the most important before they are destroyed by construction. Jessica Giraud, head of the French Mission to Sulaimani Province, described how remote sensing can document hidden traces of past sites to provide a better picture of Kurdistan’s complex past. Finally, Mustafa Ahmed of the Institut Francais du Proche Orient (IFPO) in Erbil described the situation in Syria, where cultural heritage is being systematically erased as part of the civil war there. The AUIS cultural heritage symposium is unique in Sulaimani Province; it represents the best chance to bring the community together to discuss our strategies for the future protection and promotion of culture in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. As a sign of how important this issue is to the future of Iraq, the symposium was attended by several leading public figures of the region, such as Dr. Barham Salih, the founder and chairman of AUIS, Ms. Hero Ibrahim Ahmed Talabani, Mazhari Khaliqi, Jamal Baban, Izzedin Mustafa, and Ahmed Jalal. Leading figures in cultural heritage were also in the audience: Dr. Abdullah Khorsheed, Director of the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (IICAH) and Dara Al-Yaqoobi, Head of the High Commission for the Erbil Citadel. We are building on the success of this symposium to create an annual series at AUIS dealing with cultural heritage. I hope you can join us at AUIS for next year’s symposium. For more information on how to be involved, please contact Dr. Hartnell at [email protected] or Christine van den Toorn, the Director of IRIS, at [email protected] Article by Dr. Tobin Hartnell, Department of Social Sciences, American University of Iraq, Sulaimani.
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.