The French are winning Kurdistan's 'hearts
Inside the Other Iraq: Exclusive
Columns by Mariwan Salihi
In recent years, a good number of foreign consulates
and embassy offices have opened up in Kurdistan
Region, mainly because of the Kurdistan Regional
Government's (KRG) good diplomacy, and the excellent
economic opportunities that exist in this stable
part of the Federal Republic of Iraq (and I use this
term for the first time).
Erbil, the regional capital, hosts the consulate
general of the United Kingdom (UK), France, Germany,
the Russian Federation, Turkey, Egypt and the
Islamic Republic of Iran. Countries, including
Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have also
plans to open their consulates in the city.
Furthermore, Qatar, Lebanon and Kuwait have also
showed their interest in the past, so do Romania,
Bulgaria, Croatia and a couple of other friendly
nations. The Republic of Korea maintains an embassy
office, while Austria, the Czech Republic, Greece,
and Italy hold economic or trade offices.
Japan, Denmark, the Netherlands,
Spain, and Sweden have appointed honorary consuls in
Kurdistan Region. The United States is represented
by its Regional Reconstruction Team (RRT), but
thanks to the passing of a Congressional Resolution
last year a US consulate is scheduled to open in
Kurdistan in the near future.
Of all these foreign representations, unfortunately,
none is as active as the French consulate, and its
detached French Cultural Center. Since their
establishment in Erbil, both have widely opened
their doors for the average local citizen, and
residents from all around Iraq that have made Erbil
their new home. The consul, Frederic Tissot, and the
director of the French Cultural Center, Amelie
Banzet, have already won the 'hearts and minds' of
many Kurdish citizens. Believe it or not, but at
times I think they are easier approachable than an
average Kurdish official!
While most foreign representations are here for
obvious economic reasons (or perhaps for their own
political interests), the French are increasingly
more involved in cultural and educational fields.
They act as a floating bridge between Kurdistan
Region and France, and besides their spread of the
French language and culture, they also manage to
help preserve the Kurdish language and culture, and
"The French Cultural Center (Institut Français) has
four classrooms, a library and a hall and offers a
continuous stream of events and workshops. Cultural
enlightenment is one of the center's primary goals,"
said a recent report from a Kurdish newspaper.
To add to this, the center offers educational and
cultural programs, including lectures, workshops,
classes, art exhibitions, dance performances, music
recitals and cultural exchanges. So far, I have
successfully participated in some of their programs
a recent workshop with two well-known French
photographers (Vincent Ohl and Quentin Caffier). It
was a huge success, and all the other young, local
participants benefitted as mush as I did. The
workshop was concluded with an exhibition at the
Minara Park in Erbil (which I, sadly, couldn't
attend for personal reasons).
The Institut Français also hosts the French Language
Learning Program, which provides students the
opportunity to learn French. Nearly 100 students are
currently enrolled. Furthermore, as one of only a
few places in Kurdistan Region, the French consulate
also provides citizens with the Schengen visa. That
said, it's not that easy for the average Iraqi
passport holder to obtain that service, but most
applications have so far been processed
The main purpose of this lengthy column is to shed
some light on a very important issue: foreign
consulates have to do more in Kurdistan Region! In
fact, most of them should learn a good lesson from
the French. To them, I say: please, open your doors
to the Kurdish people and show interest in the local
culture (by providing the same programs as the
French), because the people of Kurdistan are also
interested in your country, language and culture. To
have a long-term relationship with the Region and
its people, you should build the same 'bridge'
between your countries and here and not just build
ties based solely on economical gains.
I can't wait one day to learn from a Russian
photographer, a British journalist, or improve my
Turkish or Farsi.
Merci France, for giving me and tens of others, the
chance to enlighten ourselves more. I will certainly
knock on your doors more often!
F. Salihi, is a Netherlands
national, a freelance journalist covering Iraqi
and other Middle Eastern issues, and
regular eKurd.net contributing writer. You may reach the author via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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