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Published: September 2nd 2011
I was happy to be back in Erbil. The chance of being blown up was much less, but that was only part of its attraction. The people are friendly and the city has the feel of a place and economy on the move. The Kurds, spread over Iraq, Syrian, Turkey and Iran, have a tough time retaining their culture. Perhaps as a result, they value it greatly, and there’s an easily detected pride in their historic and more recent achievements. Erbil’s Citadel is a testament to the Kurds’ resilience.
We drove from Erbil to Suliamaniyah through beautifully rugged countryside. There were bare mountains, few trees and even fewer shrubs. That became an issue when I had to stop for a leak. It was over 40 degrees. Nothing was stirring, and there was that delightful blur of heat haze coming off the ground. There was nothing within sight to provide for any modesty, and even worse, I had a group of guys who wanted to stay close to me for fear of the paperwork if something happened to me. And so I found a tiny rise to stand behind, nonetheless well in view of the sporadic traffic on the road, and
ringed by men with automatic weapons.
In Suliamaniyah, one of the cities that bore the brunt of Saddam’s genocidal visits, one of Saddam’s prisons and place of torture had been preserved as a museum. Grisly as it unavoidably is, the Kurds have sought to redefine it by making it also a museum of Kurdish culture – a thing Saddam seemed keen to erase. In one hall, the walls are lined with 180,000 pieces of broken mirror to symbolise the people who were killed by Saddam’s army in 1991, and the ceiling has over 4.000 lights to symbolise the villages Saddam destroyed. One our blokes, a Kurd, had to leave the building, and when I saw him later he was grinning at the sight of one of his shoes on top of one of Saddam’s former tanks – both an insult to Saddam and a sign that the Kurds prevailed.
These days Suly is doing well, and the good food, nice people and pleasant buildings reminded me of Turkey.
By the time I arrived home my new apartment was ready. It is a huge improvement on the previous Big Brother household, and the down market bordelo before that.
It is large and comfortable, and it usually takes visitors a while to realise it doesn’t have windows – a slight oversight by the architect, perhaps. I Christened it with a dinner to farewell a colleague. The night went on – and on. Everyone seemed to cling to an all-too-rare a moment of normality; a sense that it could have been any dinner party back in Canberra. Comforting for some. A bit frightening for those of us who don’t aim to take Canberra overseas. Nonetheless, a pleasant and temporary side-step from a more pressing daily reality.
Even more happily an Australian company agreed to fund US$100,000 for prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs for the disabled. One of my contacts ran just the organisation to organise that. We had a great meeting on the logistics of it, but when I saw their database of people in need of this sort of assistance, it was clear we were hardly making a dent in the waiting list. Nonetheless, it is a good start, and it is great that an Australian company wanted to make such a contribution.
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