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Kurdistan's Golden Age
As I look down at the magnificent mountains which are covered by fresh spring grass and tall flourishing trees, through the window of the plane, I realise I have seen the landscape before, and as the plane touches down I feel a great sensation of comfort; the feeling of finally arriving home.
Six short years ago I left a country that suffered from civil war, terrorism and even genocide. When I left, the country was on the brink of apocalypse. Operation Iraqi Freedom was underway, and while people were celebrating graciously on the streets knowing Saddam’s reign was doomed, underneath that there were still substantial fears that the US troops would pull out of Iraq too soon, and abandon us to face the Arabs’ wrath for helping to cripple Iraq’s murderous regime, like they had done before.
Now I was in Iraqi Kurdistan. I had dreamt of this day dozens of times and thought of hundreds of scenarios of what my trip would be like. As soon as me and my father stepped into the state-of-the-art airport in Erbil, I became aware of how much Kurdistan had actually changed. An airport in Erbil, who would have known? When I left, Erbil was an ugly city full of dust and smoke. There were literally no sewers and it was struck by a deadly epidemic of Malaria. Now it is identical to a metropolis in the UK and gleaming with hope. It is brimming with skyscrapers, shopping malls and luxury hotels.
As I walked through the brand-new streets and city centre of Erbil I saw Bangladeshi migrants and Chinese workers speaking Kurdish. I also noticed Americans; not American soldiers, but civilians. Some of them said they were living in Kurdistan permanently with their families and some others were just visiting the spectacular mountains, lakes, rivers, forests and, of course, the Citadel in Erbil.
The Citadel is more than eight thousand years old and is the oldest continuously inhabited town in the world!
It is visited by thousands of tourists per month and rapidly increasing as people around the world are being introduced to this mysterious wonder. Now it is being upgraded by foreign companies working under the rules of the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) which is made up of the two largest factions in Kurdistan the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party).
These two parties use to be bitter rival enemies for a long time, especially at the start of the 1990’s when the KDP asked the Iraqi army (who committed genocide against us) for assistance and the PUK responded by requesting assistance from the Iranian army; even Turkey joined the war. However after a few weeks of bloody civil war that took the lives of thousands of young men (including my stepmother’s brother) the CIA stepped in and made both factions sign a peace treaty. Thankfully both parties have now joined forces together in parliament and are called “Listi Kurdistani” which is the winning party in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Revolution that had occurred in the six years I was away had instantaneously put Kurdistan into a Golden Age. In just serveral years it experienced an Economic boom, a new westernised culture and very tight security; not a single coalition soldier has been killed, nor a single foreigner kidnapped in any part of Kurdistan in recent years!
However, I have to be honest, it isn’t all sunshine and roses in Kurdistan, it still has its own problems. For example, there are internal problems like corrupt officials stealing millions of dollars of public money and only placing family members in high status places in the government. There are also international problems: countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran waiting to eliminate everything we have achieved in the past six years. For example there is a new Kurdish Channel called “Payam” which spreads propaganda, hoping to turn Kurdistan into an Islamic state. Most Kurds and Kurdish officials believe it is funded by Iran trying desperately to stop Kurdistan becoming westernised and forming an ally with Israel, which is the exact opposite of what most Kurds, and especially my dad, desire.
After staying in Erbil for a few days me and my dad, decided to head to Silêmanî, the city I spent most of my childhood in and where most of my family live. My parents had divorced when I was eight months old and so when my dad left to go to the UK, he left me with my uncle. My uncle’s son Ramyar was the same age as me, and so he became my best friend. We lived together for a couple of years like brothers until my dad came back and took me. I remember those six years ago we both cried a lot as we said goodbye to each other; you couldn’t imagine how painful it was. So he was the first person I wanted to meet when I went back to Silêmanî.
It was an emotional moment seeing him again for the first time. When my aunt saw me, she cried and hugged me saying “thank god, I didn’t die before seeing you. I thought you weren’t coming back!” Just like one of her kids she raised me when my dad left, and cared a lot about me. I saw her as my mother, as my real one wasn’t there.
You could imagine how much the country’s economy had increased just by comparing what life for my uncle, my aunt and Ramyar was like six years ago with now. When I was living with them several years ago, they shared a house with another family and they didn’t have a car, washing machine or a computer. In fact my uncle had to take up two jobs just to provide food for the family, and now they had their own car, their own two bedroom house and plenty of money in the bank. Life had become so good that Ramyar was thinking of going to the “The American University of Iraq-Silêmanî” a new university that had been built a few years after the fall of the Ba’ath party (Saddam’s regime). Six years ago it was almost impossible to get into a university as there were only a few in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Towards the end of my stay I got to visit a theme park in Silêmanî called “Azadi Park” which nearly proved to be fatal as I almost fell off one of the rides in the park because of the over the shoulder restraint which was not locked in properly.
It proved to me that Kurdistan still had an element of danger left in it. But still, it was nothing compared to being blown up by a terrorist or caught up in a ruthless civil war.
My trip to Kurdistan opened my eyes about my country, my people, my background and my identity. I now know what my goal in life is, it is to take a stand and to make sure Kurdistan will never again suffer all the terrible bloodshed and genocide it has endured and to make sure it walks proudly towards a prosperous future and become a wonderful country with its own culture, language and, most importantly, Land!
Kurdistan has achieved a lot in such a little time, but it could achieve a lot more. Kurdistan’s future is uncertain; it could become one of the world’s superpowers or could collapse once again and be forgotten by history.
After a couple of weeks, once again I had to say goodbye to my cousin as the summer holidays came to an end, but this time we weren’t crying and were happy knowing we would see each other again as the chance of an attack on Kurdistan from the Iraqi army was highly unlikely to happen ever again, as Kurdistan now has much more money and resources to defend itself; thanks to the oil underneath it.
Once more I look down at the mountains through the window of the plane. This time I am going back to the UK and hoping that I can return in another six years. By then I hope I can tell you how Kurdistan has finally become a successful and thriving nation, which I can point to on a world map and say “That is my country!”