By Michael Rubin – 1. Nov. 2012 – Kurdish achievements over the past two decades have been incredible. Kurds have risen from being victims of attempted genocide to become models of recovery. Iraqi Kurdistan has its problems, but the region is nevertheless a shining example to unrepresented peoples everywhere.
The issue for pride is not Kurdistan’s money and it certainly is not its corrupt and increasingly repressive government, but rather the Kurdish embrace of culture. Iran and Turkey still repress Kurdish cultural expression, but Kurdish literature, music, dance, and even theater are once again thriving in Iraqi Kurdistan. No longer do Kurds need to travel to Stockholm, Copenhagen, or Nashville to attend Kurdish concerts or peruse Kurdish bookstores.
Decades of repression have taken their toll on society, however. While some Kurds have returned to Erbil, Duhok, and Sulaymani from their European or American self-exile, most who fled repression and deprivation decades ago have not. They may be Kurdish nationalists, but they are also pragmatic: Iraqi Kurdistan does not have adequate schools and medical care, and it is hard to uproot families when spouses may not be Kurdish, and when children do not speak Kurdish. Few in the Diaspora would equate a decision to remain abroad with a desire to turn their back to Kurdish culture.
It is here that Kurdish authorities could play a role. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) controls vast tracks of land outside the cities. Perhaps some of that land might be put aside for a series of summer and wilderness camps. Across the globe, camps serve many purposes. Overnight camps provide an important opportunity to develop life-long friendships, develop personal independence and responsibility, while learning to swim, competing in athletics, and learning about nature and crafts. Many religious and ethnic communities sponsor camps for children to socialize with others of similar backgrounds.
For Kurds living in Kurdistan and those living abroad, such camps could be invaluable. Even if the KRG chooses not to use some of the Kurdish peoples’ oil revenue to subsidize attendance, Kurdish families might pay to send their children during school holidays to Kurdistan, where they could interact with other Kurds and, if they come from the Diaspora, also learn Kurdish. The education about heritage and culture could be invaluable: Older peshmerga who participated in the fight against Baathist rule might take older campers on mountain hikes and into villages to describe their experience; there could be no better understanding bestowed upon the younger generation. Such camps might also provide a valuable resource for Kurds growing up in Diyarbakir, Qamishli, or Mahabad, where national governments might not otherwise provide outlets for children to learn about their identities or interact with Kurds across borders.
Not only national borders could be broken down. A series of camps in Duhok and Sulaymani might also provide opportunities for much needed social exchanges within Kurdistan. Fifteen years after the end of the Kurdish civil war, geography and politics still segregate children across Iraqi Kurdistan. Summer camps should not be party affairs; the political indoctrination that already occurs in schools is inappropriate, reminiscent of Baathism, and not something about which Kurds should be proud. Still, if unity remains an impediment to the realization of Kurdish aspiration, there can be no better reparation than allowing the youngest generation to spend weeks every summer together with children from other regions of Iraqi Kurdistan whom they might otherwise never meet.KRG authorities focus on investment, but rapid development will not repair the wounds of the past. Nor should affluence mean that a new generation associates Kurdish culture only with cars and consumption. Traditions matter. It is time for Kurds to ponder how to repair the wounds inside Kurdistan and at the same time insure that future generations of Diapsora Kurds appreciate not only the history but also the experience of Kurdistan. Not all investment in the future should be about oil.