By Michael Aron, Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Iraq. This article was originally published by Rudaw, and is re-published with permission by Iraq Business News.
Rather than the usual one or two day visit to Erbil, I have just spent a week in Kurdistan Region travelling to Suleymaniya, Dohuk, Soran and Shanidar. What a country; a land blessed with breathtaking mountain views, hydrocarbons, fertile plains, fast-flowing rivers, a deep and remarkable history and, more important than all of that, a resourceful, determined and tolerant people thirsting for international exchanges. All around me as I travelled and spoke to people I heard about change, progress and optimism for the future.
Iraq over the last few decades has been broadly inward looking; Kurdistan which has had more than its fair share of isolation is now determinedly outward looking. That is the mark of a confident society and body politic and surely in this globalised world a necessary ingredient for sustainable growth. It was good to see Iraq generally more confident and outward looking following the successful Arab League Summit in Baghdad.
I heard this confidence in a series of discussions Chris, our Consul General in Erbil and I had with students in Suleymaniya, Dohuk and Soran. Judging by the students we met, Kurdistan Region will have a vibrant and dynamic future. And so, I am thrilled that UK seems to be Kurds’ partner of choice for higher education. I was able to open the new centre for language and academic development in Soran. The centre is jointly run with University College, Plymouth. Soran and Plymouth had their first discussions in June 2011. Only ten months later the centre was opened. That shows the ambition and energy of Soran and the responsiveness of UK higher education.
It looks as if Bristol University’s groundbreaking collaboration with Suleymaniya on researching and reducing gender based violence will continue for another three years. Kurdish society is at its best and bravest when it tackles head-on such difficult issues.