By Chris Bowers, British Consul General in Erbil. This article was originally published by Rudaw, and is re-published with permission by Iraq Business News.
We are approaching the time in the diplomatic calendar when British embassies around the world celebrate the Queen’s Birthday with, what else, but a party. We are no exception in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Fortunately, we are not expected to compete with the Royal Wedding! But it does give us an opportunity to reflect on the state of relations between the UK and its various hosts around the world.
This year will be special as we will celebrate the official opening of the Consulate General in Erbil: a great day and honour for us.
The struggle of the Kurdish people has been long and determined from before Mahabad and beyond but the UK was there at the modern birth of the KRG in 1991. It was former PM Sir John Major’s initiative to say no to Saddam’s tyranny and to establish the No Fly Zones that gave Kurdistan the space and chance to establish itself; an opportunity the Kurdish people grasped with both hands; as they did again when Saddam was finally toppled in 2003 with US and UK troops at the forefront with peshmerga.
That action sprung from a conviction within the UK that Iraqis and Kurds deserved better. That is a belief that does not go away from one day to the next. There is an unmistakeable warmth and commonality to UK-KRG relations that has been brewed over the years that gives a depth, respect and openness to meetings.
UK has been a partner for this part of the world for decades. Some of our shared history is open to interpretation. But I was reminded of the strength of people to people contacts during a visit to Suleymaniya Museum this week and saw for myself some of the stunning ancient artefacts – stone axes from 100,000 BC, painted pottery from 6,500 BC, legal contracts and the most exquisite cylindrical seals from 2,500 BC – that speak to the extraordinary depth of civilisation in this region. I was delighted to see the role that British archaeologists had played throughout the last hundred years in excavating at Shanidar, Fayda, Shamsara and equally pleased to hear of the role the British Museum hopes to play in the future.
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