Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pre-Kurdistan 1

On December 10, I'll be on a plane, beginning a journey with lots of stops and transfers, culminating in a 3-hour ground journey from Erbil to Duhok on the 12th, to begin a week of lecturing and coaching debate at the Iraq Debate Academy and Mesopotamia Debating Tournament.

This incredible opportunity results from my fortune of knowing three people, all of whom will be in Duhok with me during this important week: Muhammad A. Ahmad, who was in a lab I co-directed at the 2007 Asian Debate Institute in Seoul; Jason Jarvis, director of that institute and a longtime academic colleague, and Alfred Snider III, one of the great debate coaches and a significant force in the internationalization of academic debate. After returning to Kurdistan from his education in Korea, Muhammad formed Iraq Debate, whose mission, in their own words, is the following:
1. Iraq Debate’s mission is to promote debate culture among Iraqis, especially Students across the universities and schools, to provide them with the modern concepts of analysis and communication skills so that they can meet the challenges which face Iraq. Iraq's challenges and diversity means that it can and should be a leader in Debate Education and Research.
2. Promoting the value of Education.
3. Showing Iraq's unique cultures and civilization to the world.
4. Promoting a sense of community.
5. Promoting Peace through dialogue and understanding.
The organization has already begun international travel and has received favorable media coverage--although (all my friends in the media take note) it needs plenty more.

I am indescribably excited about this teaching and learning opportunity, particularly as it occurs on the tail-end of my career in academia and academic debate. I'm excited to visit Kurdistan because the Kurdish people are heroes who have been through a lot. More importantly, the peoples of Iraq, regardless of how we in the west feel about the means by which they were liberated from Saddam Hussein, deserve engagement by non-governmental organizations devoted to critical thinking and pluralism. It may fall short of many of my absolutist notions of social justice, but communication, even in a context soiled by occupation and geopolitical games, is better than killing. And I happen to think Jurgen Habermas is right in believing that the conditions of genuine argumentation are the conditions of solidarity (my words, not Jurgen's, but I know he'd agree).

Kurdistan is an autonomous region of Iraq, although it is much more than simply that.
Iraqi Kurdistan or Kurdistan Region is an autonomous, federally recognized region of Iraq. It borders Iran to the east, Turkey to the north, Syria to the west and the rest of Iraq to the south. Its capital is the city of Erbil, known in Kurdish as Hewlêr. The establishment of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq dates back to the March 1970 autonomy agreement between the Kurdish opposition and the Iraqi government after years of heavy fighting. Kurdistan is a parliamentary democracy with a national assembly that consists of 111 seats. The current president is Massoud Barzani who was elected during the Iraqi Kurdistan 2005 elections that are held every four years. The three governorates of Duhok, Arbil and Sulaymania accumulate a territory of around 40,000 square kilometers and a population between 4 and 6.5 million. Disputes remain between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdish government about predominantly Kurdish territories outside the current borders of Iraqi Kurdistan, e.g. Kirkuk.
I hope to learn a great deal more about both Kurdistan and Iraq in the coming weeks.

I am overwhelmed by the thought of jumping into the cradle of civilization. The last flying leg of my journey will be Amman, Jordan to Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan. Erbil's Citadel is 8,000 years old, and is one of the longest (if not the longest) continuously inhabited structures in the world.

The mound has been formed by successive layers of settlements: Assyrian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Persian and Greek. In 331 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persian King Darius the Great in a battle which was fought thirty kilometres north of Arbil. The area of the Citadel is over ten hectares; the population is about 5400, only a fifth of whom are descendents of original families.
The new international airport terminal where we'll land, in Erbil, has been long-anticipated. We'll see what it's like.

Joe's Trippin' gave two pieces of financial advice concerning Kurdistan:
Iraqis (at least the Kurds) are shockingly honest about pricing. There isn't much need to bargain. There is only one ATM in Arbil that works only half the time. Brings cash! [sic]
And I found some more good advice about transportation, given that I'll need to take a few (incredibly inexpensive) taxi rides...
Taxis seem to only travel on roads controlled by Kurdish forces. There are LOTS of security checkpoints, probably 10 or more on a 3 hour journey, usually before and after towns. You have nothing to fear at these checkpoints, in fact you should be grateful for them keeping Iraqi Kurdistan safe from terrorists. At some the soldier will just wave the taxi through, but at most ID will be checked. Have your passport ready. At some checkpoints, they'll want to check on foreigners more carefully, and you may end up being questioned by the head official. Just be honest and open and you should be fine. But, if they're suspicious of you, it helps to have a local Kurdish contact who can vouch for you. ... Dohuk - Erbil: 20,000 dinar ($16) per person. 80,000 dinar per car. Approx 3 hours. The road goes close to Mosul, but doesn't actually pass through. Apparently the road is controlled by Kurdish forces, but a few soldiers I saw had Iraqi flags on their shoulders...
Wow, overwhelmed and excited to be going here...I will be blogging, recording spots for the Shared Sacrifice podcast, and communicating using any and all means I have access to during this groundbreaking trip. Speech is universal, argument is universal, talking is building, and peace. Dear readers, I hope you will follow my journey wherever you are.


Anonymous said...

Very happy for you Matt. This sounds like a great opportunity and a worthy endeavor. Wish you well and say hello for me to our mutual acquaintances.

Having left Wyoming, what is your next endeavor?


matt said...

Hi comrade! I will definitely pass on greetings to the relevant parties. Andrea and I plan on staying in Laramie for now. I will attend law school at UW, and she will continue at her job. Writing will become a full-time endeavor for me at that point. Leaving academic debate will free up a little intellectual labor time (which I am told won't be wholly consumed by law school) to see if some ideas can bear fruit.

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