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PostKurdistan in Coronavirus Times (Marga Jann, -UK, 04/23/20 2:13 pm)
John has asked me to send a couple of paragraphs on the COVID-19 situation here and my university in Duhok, Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Kurdish situation at present. It is my honor and privilege to write.
I came to Iraqi Kurdistan from the Caribbean, where in 2017-18 I served as a Senior Fulbright Scholar to Haiti with supporting stints in Barbados, Jamaica, Martinique, Curacao and Guadeloupe--as an architect and professor of architecture. I joined the Dept of Architectural Engineering at the American University of Kurdistan (AUK) as chair and professor in August 2018, in tandem with ongoing research at Cambridge.
The American University of Kurdistan, Duhok was founded in 2014 by Masrour Barzani with the aim of providing American higher educational experience, as Prime Minister Barzani had known at the American University in Washington DC where he had been a student, to the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. Immediately the institution was challenged by the war with ISIS.
Further challenges have involved ingrained, regional cultural and educational systems characterized by rote memorization curbing creativity and critical thinking--it has been fun while testing introducing creative "out of the box" and "off the radar screen" thinking and activities to my students. Much solid education is being delivered and students have largely been thriving despite the history with ISIS, other political threats, and more recently, COVID-19 (we started teaching online April 1, which has been of substantial heuristic value for all concerned).
On the subject of COVID-19, Duhok has been a great place to be--I jokingly tell my students it is the only place to be right now, as the number of confirmed cases and deaths in the region is extremely low--no doubt due to timely school closures (we closed March 1), the fact that we are off the "beaten track," and the fact that we are all taking "stay-at-home" rules etc. very seriously. With the many refugee and IDP camps in the region, a major outbreak of CV19 would be terrible for us--the local authorities have been wonderful in the protective measures they have taken and implemented.
With regard to my university campus here, the campus buildings (two have been completed to date--a main building and a women's dormitory) are modeled on those of the American U in DC and feature marble floors, crystal chandeliers and upmarket furnishings, mostly imported from Turkey. The architects were Indian; corridors unusually wrap the building's periphery. The palatial "neo-classical" main building I work in has a delightful cafeteria and library, and classrooms are well fitted with the latest technology. We are due to have a "Fab Lab" in the coming year. There are lovely gardens surrounding the buildings where I often take my "Freehand Architectural Drawing" students to draw.
Colleagues come from all over the world--a real plus. While we offer an American liberal arts education, there is an international crowd including students from the United States (quite a few dual-nationals), Iranian Kurdistan, Russia and Iraq--coming from Christian, Muslim, Yazedi and other religious backgrounds. All religions are respected and tolerated, much as in the USA. Some of my students are children of martyred Peshmerga or former political prisoners under Saddam Hussein, and, I believe, don't give themselves much allowance for PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder).
Kurds are a lovely people--gracious, hospitable, and kind. Nobody wants to "return" to Iraq, and in reality Iraqi Kurdistan, a "semi-autonomous" region, is really a "hidden country" with its own borders, visas, passport controls etc.--and an unfortunately too well kept secret. From my experience in the region (and I have lived and worked in N/S Cyprus and Saudi Arabia as well), I have to agree with them on the subject of sovereignty--as mentioned, religious diversity prevails, the region is peaceful and secure, and archaeological and (historic) architectural treasure abounds. Iraqi Kurdistan is a light in a dark region brimming with "bad neighbors." Progress towards independence is slow but in my view, official nationhood is inevitable. Remaining to be seen is the fate of the Kurds in Iran, Turkey and Syria.
JE comments: Marga, it's heartening to receive good news from such a troubled region. Thank you for checking in. I found this image of AUK's main academic building, and it's indeed palatial. Marga, why did AUK decide to go "neo-classical" instead of modern and businesslike--and at significantly greater expense?
See below. It's hard to believe this monumental construction is brand new.
American University of Duhok-Kurdistan