Saturday, 28 October 2006, 11:24 GMT
Kurdistan diary: Day Three


There is much discussion about a referendum on Kurdistan's future. Press photo

By Alastair Leithead
BBC

Sulaymaniyah is in the heart of Kurdistan, where people have a grasp of history that betrays their patriotism for the Kurdish nation. On the third day of his trip into northern Iraq, Alastair Leithead explores what makes the Kurds so different.

It took the dancers two hours to get ready, the men strapping their feet and twisting the belts around their baggy trousers, the women wrapping the golden material around their waists.


There is much discussion about a referendum on Kurdistan's future
The music system was a bit dodgy, and the music kept cutting out, but they performed their traditional Kurdish dance with passion and precision.

In fact their director and teacher pointed out it was a dance with steps only performed in Sulaymaniyah, as each Kurdish area has its own specific style.

The performance was at the city's youth centre and while the four men and three women practiced their dance moves, others in jeans whizzed around the courtyard on their roller blades, not quite confident enough to use them outdoors.

Culture is hugely important to Kurdish people, especially in Sulaymaniyah, but there is a strong pull to the west - the modernisation and consumerism - driven perhaps by the satellite televisions they have had access to since they started running their own affairs.

Make-up and heels

A McDonalds restaurant has not yet opened, but "MaDonal", complete with golden arches does brisk business.

And at the university, students mill around the campus, chattering with each other and doing some last minute cramming for their exams. Remarkably in this part of Iraq, the war only stopped lectures for a few weeks.
There are probably more women than men and they are happy to air their views to anyone who asks.

They are dressed in bright and fashionable colours and jeans, make up and heels - a truly different picture to the rest of Iraq.

In the main square where the old men in their traditional Kurdish costume sit in the afternoon sun, beads in hand, putting the world to rights, the statues and murals of famous historical Kurds keep an ever watchful eye on them.

Ask anyone in the street for a potted history of the first Kurdish king, the original extent of Kurdistan and the importance of Kurdish culture and you soon discover a patriotism which runs deep.

Hot topic

People are proud, and after decades of abuse, maltreatment and victimisation, the last 10 years of freedom has given back to Iraq's Kurds the dignity which was taken from them by Saddam Hussein.

They were killed - some by chemical weapons - and dumped in mass graves, ordered from their homes and their land and banished into the mountains. Now they have their own region, working for them and working well - they are not going back.


Culture - both old and new - is important to the Kurds
At the local TV station I managed to grab an interview with the editor and presenter of a show that is popular in Kurdistan.

Every week an hour long programme paves the way for a referendum on the future of Kurdistan. Academics and politicians make their points in the studio and the people call in - it is a hot topic of discussion.

"Maybe 90% of the people want independence," he says. "But the politicians talk about a federation - that's the least we can have, but we want the Americans, the British, the UN, anybody to give us our referendum and let us decide our own future."

And anyone who knows their history, knows the Kurds have been let down before.



Culture - both old and new - is important to the Kurds. Press photo