by Teacher Traveler Dude
I had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time in Kurdistan, Iraq while I was in the military. Most Americans have a view of the Middle East (and Iraq in particular) as a hot, unending desert that is devoid of beauty. Images come to mind of a harsh sand-colored land plagued by dust storms. Like most things in life, there is so much more to this story. My experiences in Kurdistan brought this truth to light for me and I will share some of my recollections with you. Some pictures will highlight these facts.
I had the opportunity to travel to Kurdistan in 2004. I had been in Mosul until that point. Someone asked me to go to Kurdistan to work with the Peshmerga. While working, I had the chance to travel to Irbil, Dohuk, Sulaymaniyah, and the surrounding countryside. Having not been in Iraq long, I really did not know what to expect. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I had spent a couple of years in the Middle East beforehand, so I had grown considerably in my ability to adapt, communicate and connect with others from the Middle East. I had never worked with or been around Kurds, so I knew I had some learning to do.
I initially arrived in Sulaymaniyah. Here, I was to meet with the Peshmerga I would be working with. As I’d already spent time in Central Iraq and Mosul, I felt shocked by how different it seemed and how different the people acted. The Kurds were extremely welcoming to me. Bear in mind, that the Kurds have suffered as a people for a long time and are still suffering as a culture.
Their hospitality, kindness, and respect that they displayed is something I will always remember. Their dignity as a people, especially in light of all that they have gone through, speaks to their resolution. They welcomed me, fed me, and quickly helped me settle in. They wanted me to see what Sulaymaniyah was, and I had the chance to go into town and see it with my own eyes. I felt like I stepped into another world compared to Central Iraq or Mosul. The Kurds had largely kept the conflict away and so the experience was akin to being in Aman or Beirut.
After Sulaymaniyah, we made our way to Irbil for some additional meetings and training. During our journey to Irbil and Dohuk, I had the chance to see the countryside of Kurdistan. I felt like I was in Switzerland at times: there were rolling hills covered in grain, grazing sheep, mountains, and beautiful lakes. To say that I did not expect this is an understatement. I felt like I was a million miles from the war. I had the chance to let my guard down and relax because the next turn or next day did not feel dangerous. This was such a luxury at the time for me. Having the chance to live side-by-side with the Peshmerga and hear their stories gave me the chance to hear their perspectives on Kurdistan and Iraq.
These conversations were certainly eye-opening for me and taught me so much. We, as Americans, like to simplify things so we can understand them quickly. In the case of the Kurds, Kurdistan, and the Middle East in general, this has not served us well. Unfortunately, this was true 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and is still true today. We, as Americans, need to understand that it is wrong to lump people together based on national borders, as the truth about people is very different. Rather than national borders, it comes down to a sense of place and identity.
Canyon in North East Kurdistan, Iraq