Beyond the BREXIT Brawl: A Stronger UK @ A United Europe

Today, in London, the Guardian Newspaper will hold an important event entitled “BREXIT: What would happen if Britain left the EU”? Coming on the heels of the EU Referendum bill and the controversy over Prime Minister David Cameron’s demand that all his ministers fall in line behind the Government’s position, this initial public debate on the UK’s role in the EU takes on particular importance. Cutting through the rhetoric that will inevitably engulf us from all sides requires us to come to terms with three critical points that must inform our vote on this crucial matter for all our futures.
First, the United Kingdom cannot, in practice, “leave” the European Union. Although the ideas of “sovereignty” and “independence” still remain the mantras of many UK lawyers and politicians, in reality, these concepts have lost their former meanings. Connexity is now the new game in town. Europe – and North America – have prospered over the past seven decades because they have developed, together, a new way to govern themselves, where different political tasks are performed at different levels of governance – where they can be dealt with most effectively and efficiently. Defense has no longer been national since 1948 and the creation of NATO; it is now part of a trans-Atlantic level of governance that will soon include the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement that is currently negotiated between NAFTA and the EU. Major economic and social decisions are coordinated at the European level – starting with the 1947 Marshall Plan and continuing with the 1957 Treaty of Rome that gave birth to the EEC, and then today’s EU. Meanwhile, cultural and national issues are increasingly addressed at lower levels than that of the traditional nation-state, as the UK itself has had to acknowledge with its regional devolution of powers to its four constituent nations. ‘Independence’ now means little more than isolation and irrelevance. What counts is having knowledge, access and presence at each of these levels of governance: local, national, regional, European, trans-Atlantic, and of course global. If the UK abandoned its seat at the EU decision-making table, it would remain just as much part of this emerging system of multi-level governance – but would lose its ‘voice’- power and influence – in shaping this system’s nature, structure, and future. As Kenneth Clarke himself acknowledged today, it would also embolden Scotland to sever its remaining constitutional ties with the UK in favor of re-joining the EU, as one among many medium-sized nations with a full seat and voice in all EU and trans-Atlantic decision-making forums the UK would have chosen to abandon. An isolated, weakened, diminished UK that would remain part of Europe but would no longer be a critical actor in shaping its future – this is what would happen if we would vote “Yes” to the referendum question on whether the UK should leave the EU.
Second, Europe’s system of government is no longer working for the benefit and with the consent of its citizens. Neither the European Council, nor the European Commission, nor even the European Parliament can confer to it the democratic legitimacy it desperately needs for the creation of a truly pan-European public sphere, spanning but not subsuming all national ones. The reason for these decision-making and democracy gaps are very simple: the refusal of national politicians to allow power and responsibility to flow both upwards and downwards within this developing multi-level governance system, and their desperate attempts to keep it concentrated in their own hands, in order to preserve their national-based positions of privilege, their perks, and their powers. The same politicians who argued no long ago that a Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom would render its citizens more prosperous and secure, now argue that the UK would be better off leaving the UK in order to preserve its 800-year old freedoms enshrined in the Magna Carta. The incoherence of this argument is painfully obvious for all those who wish to examine it more closely: the BREXIT proponents refuse to envisage any significant reforms of the way we govern ourselves in the 21st century, as opposed to the 13th, if this means redistributing power and privileges both upwards towards supranational, and downwards towards national and local levels of government. Preserving a monopoly of power in their own hands is the BREXIT supporters’ key aim – not freedom, prosperity, and participation for the citizens they represent.
Third, a vote to remain in the EU cannot, must not mean a vote to remain in this EU. The European Project needs drastic reform: it must become more open, more democratic, and more responsive to its citizens’ needs. In other words, it must become the exact opposite of what David Cameron wants it to be -a meeting club for the current leaders of its existing Member States, where they can make decisions by trading and haggling behind closed doors, with no accountability to or participation by the citizens they claim to represent. True to form, Cameron wants to go back to the Magna Carta system of weak feudal monarchs and powerful local barons, and transmute it to the European level of governance. We, his “subjects”, will have little voice, influence and power in such a system. This is the Europe of the past. Is it not the Europe of the future.
Stronger United: A Stronger UK @ A United Europe proposes a different path to reform – leading to an empowered, dynamic, prosperous, peaceful continent belonging to all its citizens, and not just to its entrenched national elites. It argues in favor of a multi-level system of governance where each decision-making level is legitimated democratically – by free and fair elections; where each nation can preserve and celebrate it history and culture; where all citizens feel they share a common destiny and are animated by a common solidarity and vision for the future; and where prosperity and equality of opportunity is a birth right for all, rather than just a privilege for some. The BREXIT debate being initiated today by The Guardian is the ideal place to start this critical discussion about our common future – moving away from the cheap rhetoric of both the easy “Yes” and “No” slogans, and sharply focused on those stark realities and clear choices of the 21st Century that we cannot escape or outrun - but can master and direct, to create a future worth living in for us all.

Back to Kurdistan….

This isolated military checkpoint, flying high the colors of Kurdistan on the front between the Peshmerga troops and the ISIS mercenaries, is a symbol of today's Iraq: under siege, divided, but still proudly standing tall. A lot has changed since I last saw the walls of the Ebil Citadel, two years ago. Old borders are fading away, even older identities are re-emerging, and new ones are slowly being created in this crucible of war between the forces of freedom and dignity and those of hate and intolerance.

The Conference organised by the University of Kurdistan at Hewler on May 27-28, aptly entitled "Iraqi Kurdistan and the Reshaping of the Middle East" will explore these themes, and many others. I am very excited to be a participant and present a paper outlining a possible future for the Middle East based on the values of peace, prosperity, and participation. This seems to be a rather unrealistic view given the events that have shaped the region in general, and Iraq in particular, in recent times. But sometimes, it is from the depth of the greatest crises that the greatest opportunities emerge. It is up to the people of the Middle East, Iraq, and Kurdistan, to recognise them and seize the moment to transform their futures.

It would not be the first time such  an unlikley transformation took place. As France lay defeated, divided and occupied in 1943, an obscure French politician stood in front of the French National Liberation Committee and made what seemed to all an utterly unrealistic proposal for that time and place: “There will be no peace in Europe if the States rebuild themselves on the basis of national sovereignty, with its implications of prestige politics and economic protection…. The countries of Europe are not strong enough individually to be able to guarantee prosperity and social development for their peoples. The States of Europe must therefore form a federation or a European entity that would make them into a common economic unit”. Seventy years later, Jean Monnet’s vision has come true beyond his wildest expectations, despite still difficult challenges ahead. The European Union has brought together a continent devastated by war, then divided for half a century into two bitterly opposed camps, and allowed democracy, prosperity, and diversity to make remarkable progress across the borders of its now 27 Member States.

The Middle East, of course, has its own history, cultures, and traditions. It cannot and should not attempt to copy the European model. But it must identify its own, internal resources capable of allowing it to transcend  the old borders drawn by former colonial powers and re-imagine its own system of governance based on authentic legal and political principles based on the fundamental value of respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. This is the challenge facing today the peoples of the Middle East. I hope this conference will represent a small step forward on the long road ahead leading in this direction. 

Trasformational change starts from the margins of great civilisations. The Kurdistan region of Iraq, located at the edges of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and joining the Arabic, Turkic, and Persian peoples, is the embodiment of such a hybrid, fertile zone capable of giving birth to creative, new ideas about how we can better govern ourselves in the critical years ahead. Perhaps, just perhaps, the road to a peaceful, prosperous, participative Twenty-First century passes through that Kurdish checkpoint that keeps resisting the onslaught of terrorist forces against human empathy, decency, and caring for the 'Other'. I certainly hope so...  

Finally, two years later, I'm on my way back to Kurdistan....

Obama’s “Jefferson Gambit” in the Syria Crisis (Part 1)

 

As China and Iran seem to fall in line with the emerging Kerry-Lavrov agreement on the modality and timetable of destroying Syria’s recently acknowledged arsenal of chemical weapons, most US foreign policy analysts, covering a wide spectrum of opinions, from centrists like Fareed Zakharia to neo-conservatives like Charles Krauthammer and political adversaries like John McCain, criticize the President’s handling of this latest crisis as a show of “provocative weakness”. The picture that emerges from their comments is that of a naïve and amateurish politician, uncomfortable as Commander-in-Chief and out of his depth as President, who failed to show American leadership on the global stage and abandoned the initiative to the “auld enemy”, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who not only masterfully outmaneuvered him and his blunder-prone Secretary of State over the past week, but managed to re-vitalize Russian power and influence at the UN and around the world.  Even such gurus of American diplomacy as Henry Kissinger and Zbiginiew Brezinksi, appearing this morning on Zakaria’s GPS Sunday program, agreed that the President’s actions “were misconceived – badly calculated”, and resulted in diminishing America’s hegemony in the Middle East whilst allowing Russia to become a significant player in the region. “What would the Founding Fathers say” may they all well think, “to see a President who so emasculates the powers of his office as to ask Congress to vote on the use of force in a matter he claims is of high national interest, then beg it to delay such a vote based on the promises of two dictators who didn’t hesitate, under the cover of the sovereign non-interference principle enshrined in the UN Charter, to massacre their own citizens in order to consolidate their hold on power?”

 

Whilst theirs may be a rhetorical question, the President’s supporters should not hesitate to dust up the history books and answer their query in detail.  Thomas Jefferson, revered author of the US Declaration of Independence, as well the young Republic’s first Secretary of State, second Vice-President and third President, found himself in a similar predicament almost exactly 200 years ago, when, on 22 June 1807, the USS Chesapeake was captured by the HMS The Leopard and four of its crew were removed as deserters under the British impressment laws – and one subsequently hung. Jefferson was so affected by the public uproar to this British act of war and by the ensuing clamor to declare war against the UK as to state that “[n]ever since the battle of Lexington have I seen this country in such a state of exasperation as at present…” Jefferson acted immediately and banned armed British ships from US waters, then asked the individual states to proceed with mobilization of their militiamen and ordered the purchase of arms, ammunitions and supplies. Only after the fact did he seek Congress’ approval, who ratified his actions and confirmed his authority to act unilaterally in times of crisis.

 

The question still remained whether “War, Embargo or Nothing shall be the course” the US would take in this matter. The President was well aware both of the threat to the young Republic that a large military establishment might cause, and of the impossibility of building a fleet that could, in the short term, challenge the British on the high seas; yet he was also stung by his opponents’ comments that “procrastination includes the whole compass of Mr. Jefferson’s policy”. However, by the time Congress reconvened, in November 1807, the war fever had passed and Jefferson was aware that the majority of the legislators were “extremely disposed for peace”; so he asked them to proclaim an embargo against both imports and exports from Britain, rather than go to war, although he knew that this might well hurt the US economy much more than affect British trade. He believed time was on the side of the US and that peace in Europe would remove all causes of the conflict between America and its former colonial master. Congress quickly proceeded to ratify the Embargo Act on 22 December 1807 – “a breathtaking bill, a projection of governmental power than surpassed even the hated Alien and Sedition Acts” Jefferson had so passionately opposed during his first successful Presidential campaign, in 1800.

 

The results of the Embargo Act were threefold: institutional, economic, and political. As John Meacham writes in his recent work Thomas Jefferson – The Art of Power, “[t]he embargo turned American politics upside down. Jefferson became the explicit advocate of strong central power. Republicans who favored less government became the most meddlesome of regulators”. At the same time, it also affected US commerce to the extent that it soon was respected more in the breach than observance by both US and foreign merchants, and ultimately became a financial disaster for America. Finally, although it managed to delay armed conflict with the UK, war still eventually broke out, in 1812, four years after Jefferson’s departure from the White House. The annals of history mark the 1807 Embargo as the low point of Jefferson’s Presidency and one of the biggest Presidential foreign policy blunders in the country’s three centuries of existence. In the last days of his Presidency, on 1 March 1809, Jefferson finally repealed the ill-fated Embargo Act 1807, in an atmosphere of popular division and distrust exemplified by one of the many letters he received shortly thereafter: “You have brought the government to the jaws of destruction… I do not undertake to day whether by supineness, timidity, or enthusiasm. The effect is certain. On the cause I cannot pronounce.”

 

We can safely assume that Barak Obama, a keen student of history and former constitutional law lecturer, was fully aware of this dark chapter of US diplomacy when he virtually single-handedly decided, last week, to consult Congress rather than order a missile strike attack on Syria, and then asked for such a vote to be delayed in order to give the Russian peace initiative the chance to play out and remove entirely the US need to intervene militarily. He may well have said, like his illustrious predecessor, some two hundred years ago, that “[w]hat is good in this case cannot be effected… we have, therefore, only to find out what is least bad”. He also most likely believed, like him, that time was on the US side and would help him both in avoiding a full-scale military intervention in Syria he did not want, as well as a limited missile strike he did not truly think would be effective in actually curbing the atrocities perpetrated by both the Assad Regime and its radical Islamist opposition during the past two years of civil war. Yet he also knew that morally, in the wake of Assad’s chemical attack which resulted in over 1,400 deaths and countless graphic photos and videos illustrating the shocking atrocities committed by Assad against his own people, the US could ill afford to just “turn back to the world” and “do nothing” in response.

 

To truly understand President Obama’s actions we need to come to grips with his long-term strategy- not the compressed “long term” of US politics that looks no further than, at most, the next Presidential election, but Braudel’s “longue durée” defined as a long arc of history, measured in centuries, and characterized by radically different political and institutional arrangements from those which preceded it, at both domestic and international levels of governance.  This long-term strategy can best be gleaned from two key sources: the President’s 2009 Nobel Lecture, given at the beginning of his first mandate, and a unique initiative undertaken by Thomas Jefferson in 1786, during his years as US Ambassador to France, before the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars had set the then newly-emerging “longue durée” matrix of international relations as one of conflictual, zero-sum power struggles between ideologically-opposed nation-states –the one in which we still live to this day.

The Erbil Diary: Friday 2 – Saturday 3 November 2012

10:30 am: drinking my favourite coffee at Second Cup before going to spend the day at work, to prepare for tomorrow – the start of the first course of the diploma program! A bit nervous about that, especially since I’ve had no time at all to prepare until now – but I’m sure ill be ok once it starts.

Yesterday I took the day off and did household stuff. In the morning I went shopping at Carrefour, got supplies for about 2 weeks and most importantly, a pressure cooker! I used it as soon as I got home and cooked, in less than 1 hour, a lamb, pear, potatoes and vegetables stew that left my Irish house mate liking the plate…. This also gave me 4 ready meals for next week, which I froze in plastic containers. After the late lunch I crashed for a few hours, then did laundry and finally went out for a couple of hours.

I went back to the Noble Hotel, in Ainkawa, and checked out the Mamounia Sky Bar , on its 7th and last floor. The large, well-aired, clean, modern bar had both a patio and outside terrace giving a splendid views of the lights of Erbil by night. The prices are reasonable: a double Scotch is $10, a chicken dinner $20, a steak 25-30, a desert $10. I had a drink, sat for about an hour on the terrace observing the mostly expat-crowd sitting at the tables around me or at the bar, then went back home. We had dinner around 11 – a delicious chicken, home fries and beans serving, then read a bit and crashed.  I needed a good night sleep: it had been a long 10 days, and I planned to spend the entire next day at the office.

Erbil Diary: Thursday 1 November: Life in Erbil

I really enjoyed meeting the land removal NGO manager. I learned a lot about what has been happening on the ground here, in Erbil, over the past few years. First, whilst present here in substantial numbers, the US donated a lot of money to developmental NGOs and infrastructure projects such as schools, clinics, roads etc. As they left, this stream of money stopped flowing; most NGOs left and building projects remained unfinished. For the few NGOs now left, the focus is on building up the local population’s soft skills – including English language and basic management skills.


Second, Erbil is experiencing a huge real estate bubble built on the back of a non- existent financial lending market. Most constructions here – including private houses and large real estate development projects were built on land sold at token prices by the Kurdish government, on condition that at least 50% of the project must be completed by a certain date. The projects were financed with private income, a lot derived from oil sales revenues, as well as a nascent gas export industry which, unlike the oil industry, is locally controlled by the Kurds. Few if any commercial loans were applied for or extended. The result is that the current supply of residential and office space vastly exceeds demand, yet the prices remain very high – unaffordable for the local resident earning on average $400-$600 per month. Yet the prices are not falling anywhere since owners and developers are under no pressure to repay loans and interests and therefore are waiting for demand to pick up. At the same time, many projects remain unfinished, after having just passed the 50% mark – the threshold set by authorities.

The result is this exploding metropolis which has experienced a tremendous concentric expansion outwards from its historical centre, with brand new apartment buildings and residential complexes, a lot of them unfinished and, if completed, half unoccupied. Consequently, Erbil looks like a vast building site with huge suburbs, where one can see little building activity and few actual residents compared with the vastness of the built-up residential areas.

These issues however must be kept in perspective compared with the problems faced by southern Iraq, where things which are now taken for granted here – good, safe roads, continuously available clean water, almost uninterrupted electrical power, a secure and peaceful city where most residents se to have some type of employment – usually more than 1 job at a time, can only be dreamed of in Baghdad, Basrah and other Arab areas of the country. In fact, the Kurdish zone and Erbil in particular have experienced huge flows of internal migration by people displaced in other areas of Iraq, or simply looking for a better life. Christians in particular have moved here in large numbers,,thus doubling the size and population of Ainkawa, Erbil’s traditional Christian quarter, in only a few years. Once a will age well outside Erbil, now both have expanded so that Ainkawa is part and parcel of Erbils suburbs and the centre of its nightlife.

In the afternoon I met with the HR manager of the local GM operation, who confirmed a lot of what I had learned earlier in the day – especially the need to build up the soft skills of the local population and the vast divide in living standards, development and security between Iraq’s Kurdish province and the rest of the country.

By the end of the day I was really tired so I left office relatively early, around 5:30, and went home to crash – on an empty stomach, since the chicken Sean wanted to cook for dinner was still frozen stiff…

Erbil Diary: Tuesday 30 October to Thursday 1 November 2012

Sitting in a coffee shop called Baristas, Austrian ownership, dominated by red, black and creamy white decor and furniture. Deserts are best I’ve seen since Faubourg in Vancouver… Waiting for a contact from a land mine removal NGO to discuss potential training opportunities. This afternoon I’m meeting with an HR manager from a GM-associated company – same reason.

Getting here was a bit iffy – my Kurdish driver spoke no English so he got lost in Ainkawa; thankfully he had the presence of spirit to stop and asked an older man who knew someone who spoke English and knew where I was going. Five minutes later we were here… in exactly the opposite direction we were going…

The two previous days were relatively uneventful: had my morning coffee at Second Cup, then up to the office till around 7 pm. Met with potential students on both days; it seems my initial class of 3 students will increase to 6 or 8. We decided to have classes at night, from 6 to 10 pm, to accommodate those who have a full- time job. We may also offer corporate training, 4 hours on either Friday or Saturday – all still in the works. This would give me an unorthodox teaching schedule, but I don’t mind. As long as we get this operation off the ground and moving in the right direction I’ll be happy.

On Tuesday Sean got home before me and cooked a delicious chicken, mashed potatoes and veggie dinner; Wednesday I did pan-fried salmon in Teriaki sauce on a bed of onion and pepper-rice. I cooked the salmon medium-rare- nicely done on the outside and just warm in the middle. In was very render and tasty – Sean loved it and said I am the fish cook from now on… Maybe I should give up teaching and open a restaurant instead: La Gura Calului ( At the Horses Mouth – if you’re Romanian, you’ll get half the joke; if you’re my Mother you’ll fully appreciate the innuendo…).

On both days I was so tired that I crashed right after dinner – and woke up  at 4:30 am on Wednesday and 2:30 am on Thursday – to take the dog out. Got dressed, then realized there was no dog (sniff, sniff) so called Val instead to at least get news about Darius ( and Rafa too, of course). Given the 10 hour difference with Vancouver, my early mornings are a good time to call home.

Almost 10 am; I’m still the only customer sitting here, in Baristas, observed by three young male servers and totally ignored by the inevitable Thai kitchen assistant and cleaning woman… Look forward to find out more about this land mine removal NGO and hopefully get its manager interested in what CIE has to offer (Me! Lol).

Erbil Diary: Monday 29 October: T-Bar!

Spent a quiet evening at home. Cooked a beef, mixed peppers, onions and mushroom stir-dry in a Thai sauce, served on basmati rice . Food was ready just in time for Sean’s return from Ankawa, and he enjoyed the dinner.

Went to sleep early and woke up at 4 am- shaved, showered, and got ready to go to College. Sean wanted to go around 10, so I crashed for a few more hours, then went on my own around 11:00 am. The cab ride takes 5 minutes and costs about $ 4.00 CDN. Dr. Eman was going to meet me at 11;30 and give me the office keys and a cell phone. I went to the Second Cup below the College and had a really good large hazelnut latte ($7.00). Feels just like being in Canada (“Second Cup – Uniquely Canadian – Share Special Moments” says a glass plan right next to me).

Ten minutes left. I’m hyped, yet calm. I hope I can make this work – and have fun doing it. Like Shakira says , blasting in my iPod: “Mejor asi!” Vamos…

The College is situated on the first floor of a brand new 8 story building destined to be the HQ of a Muddle Eastern telephone company. It also houses a hotel and the Second Cup I was just in, The entrance and reception areas are nice, spacious, professional. Canadian, Iraqi and Kurdish flags are on display, as well as the CIE logo and its Canadian partners. Three classrooms, two quite large, with big windows, and an instructors’ kitchen areas take up most of the space. Sean and I share a very large corner office with great views, next to Dr. Emans office.

I won’t get into details about what I did until 7 pm that evening; suffice it to say that there is more than enough to do and it all needs to be done yesterday… By the end of the day I was really tired and couldn’t wait to get home and eat.

Dinner was finally served at 10 pm – but made up for it by being quite good. Right after dinner I put my suit back on and went out to check out Erbil’ “nightlife” – concentrated mainly in Ainkawa, the city’s Christian Quarter, where traditional Islamic restrictions on alcohol don’t apply. I first went to The Noble Hotel, whose bar was supposed to be frequented by the expat community. I walked into the hotel – and found the reception bar entirely empty. I went up to the first floor, where music could be heard, and found a gathering of local men in front of a big double door which opened from time to time and allowed glimpses of a large dining hall with some kind of live music. Just next door, “Thai massage” was being offered.

I gave up on the hotel and asked a cabbie to take me to the T-bar, another famed expat hangout. We drove through narrow, dusty, dark side-roads and alleys with big garish posters of women’s faces advertising all sorts of wares, and closed side-walk stores with metallic drawdown doors in place until we reached a slightly wider street at the end of which was located the T-Bar. After the obligatory body check-up at the entrance I went in- and stepped on the set of a 1960s French “film policier”: a dated, dark, smoky, almost-seedy local frequented mainly by Arab men, served by exclusively Thai waitresses. I now understood why I had seen so many young Yhai women at the family mall: they constitute one of Erbils main “imports”: they do pretty much everything that is “haram” (forbidden) to local women: bar waitresses, massage parlour attendants, and other similar occupations.

This does not mean that local women are invisible. I saw quite a few Kurdish and Arab women working as security guards, cashiers, and saleswomen at Family Mall, as well as professionally dressed women going in and out of office building. However, the jobs deemed to be if “low repute” seem to be all taken up by their Thai counterparts.

I sat down on an uncomfortable plastic stool at the bar, next to one of the many screens showing some kind of European soccer match, ordered a Hack Daniels on the rocks and looked from the corner of my eye at a group of four women, obviously expats, crowding around a table where a couple- also expat- was seated. I caught glimpses of English with an American accent just before the group of four took their leave of the couple and walked out.

My interest in striking a conversation with any if the smoking local men surrounding me being on the low-side, I got up, took my Hack Daniels and went up along a winding staircase by the far wall of the bar. To what I was told was a “casino”. I bumped into a posse of a dozen young men, mostly Kurds, gathered around the male only restroom, smoking and arguing loudly about -well my Kyrdish is weak so I have no idea what they were saying. Another stairway leading to the upper floor was marked by a paper sign with an arrow saying “Roulette”, but barred by a low wooden gate with another paper sign, marked VIP.

Reckoning I was not -yet?- a local VIP, I decided to follow the crowd of young men who had finished smoking and disappeared through a door at the end if the corridor. I stepped into a long, narrow, scarlet room coveted on three sides with impossibly old, Russian and European slit machines, where my posse was gathered, I’m silence, around 3 or 4 locals actually trying out their luck. I say down again at the bar, on a similarly uncomfortable stool, drank a few sips of my whiskey and took in the sights of this casino….

Five minutes later I walked by the crowd and went back downstairs and sat on a couch with low table, next to a RV screen, and slowly finished my drink. It was past midnight and Last Call was announced. That was a good a sign as any for me to leave, however reluctantly, this truly unique hang-out.

The cab ride back to my hotel was quick and in eventful. By 1 am  I was fast asleep, on my mattress, A/C on. Bliss!

Erbil Diary: Sunday, 28 October 2012 – Setting up house…

Yesterday afternoon I put on tie, jacket, new pants and new shoes and went to see the college. Although the building is less than 10 minutes walk from my apartment it is very difficult to cross the very wide street between them. So we took a cab which have to drive half a mile away from the building and then turn around and drop us in front of it .

The building itself is modern and new. On the ground floor it had a Second Cup coffee shop with an open air terrace. The school itself is located on the first floor of the building.

One enters through a large, spacious, beautifully set up reception. Sean, the ESK instructor and I will share a spacious and beautifully arranged corner office with a white leather sofa and an two working spaces. There are three main classrooms – 2 of them quite big with windows having a great view on the street. Front the windows one can see directly the apartment where we live.

Dr. Eman came at 5 o’clock and we spent the next two hours planning how we’re going to run the college and develop its various streams all teaching. Around 7 o’clock we went downstairs to the Second Cup and spend an hour under the stars and lights of the street having a coffee and discussing our plans.

We got home around 9 o’clock in the evening and Sean had to go and get a gas refill for the stove. This means we ate our dinner finally around 10 o’clock. I was truly starving since I had nothing to eat since breakfast.

I finally went to bed around 2 in the morning and slept straight to about 8:30.

When I woke up it looked like it was going to be another sunny hot day. I cooked breakfast: a mushroom and green pepper and cheese omelette with tomato salad and fresh bread with Philadelphia cheese spread which Sean really liked. Around 10:30 I called my German-speaking taxi driver Azad and arranged with him to meet at 12:13 front of the gate of our apartment complex.

I still had to change my Canadian dollars so Azad took me first to the city center at a large bank; however the bank did not accept Canadian dollars, so we then went to the old city where Azad introduced me to a street money exchanger, who did. He gave me his price I gave him mine and he excepted it -so finally I exchanged my Canadian dollars for dinars. On our way back I was very excited to catch a glimpse of the walls of the old citadel – the oldest continuously inhabited walled city in the world. Dr. Eman promised me that the Dean of the School, Dr. Bukhari who is also a member of the Kurdish Parliament, will take me to visit the old citadel, which will give us access to places regular tourists can’t go to.

Azad is really my first Iraqi Kurdish friend. We understand each other well because 10 years ago he returned to Iraq after having spent eight years in Germany around Stuttgart working in a hotel and restaurant there. I like him a lot because he is very dependable and punctual – something he told me he learned in Germany. He returned back to Erbil not only because all his family here but also because he felt uncomfortable in Germany as a foreigner.

Azad is a man in his early 40s, stocky, about 5′ 6″, dark brown hair, day-old beard but always with a friendly smile on his face. He owns his own cab works seven days a week to make money for his family. He has three children -two boys and a girl. His wife works as a kindergarten teacher and also makes a decent salary; this allows them to have their own apartment and according to Azad they’re very happy.

I asked Azad whether he was Sunni or Shia. He said he was Sunni like most Kurds. However he said that unlike futher south, like Baghdad, this did not matter here in Erbil, where Christian, Sunni, and Shiite Kurds lived together in peace and worked hard to build their country.

After exchanging money in the old city Azad dropped me at the Family Mall and promised to come back to pick me up some two hours later.

I first went inside the mall to do some banking. Again what strikes me most is the sheer variety of dress codes men and women wear here: From the traditional black robes covering head and body worn by older women, to the bright colored, beautifully decorated ankle-long skirts, jackets and scarves worn by younger women, To the sandals jeans and tight tops worn by most teens and girls in their 20s. A similar variety of dress can also be seen with men. It is truly encouraging to see such a diverse, tolerant city where each person is free to follow his or her beliefs and traditions without looking askance at others who follow theirs.

I then went back to Carrefour and shopped for a few household things I noticed we needed: pots, pans, Tupperware, carving knives, cups, ice trays, washing-up liquid and so on. I also bought some toiletries: soap, shampoo, toothpaste, shaving gel. All in all I spent another $100 on these necessities.

Azad came punctually to pick me up and drove me back home where I arrived around 3 o’clock. Tonight I plan to arrange my room and put everything in order, take out the broken bed and get ready for my first day of work tomorrow. Sean is going to visit a market in the Christian quarter, Ankawa, and I will cook dinner for both of us: beef and vegetablestir-fry on basmati rice. I’m sure it’ll taste very good!

Erbil Diary: Saturday, October 27, 2012

3:00 pm: finally back in my room with A/C on! All stretched out on my mattress (bed collapsed after first night!), breathing again…

Slept yesterday afternoon from 4 to 7, then Sean served a nice pasta with ground beef and tomato sauce. We staid up till 7 am talking, then he served breakfast (scrambled eggs, humus, cheese, olives, bread, juice).

He staid up to wait for gas canister delivery; I crashed till about 11:30 . Got up- another nice, sunny day, mid-20s C. Got a cab to Family Market; changed some money, then did a tour of the mall. Felt like I was back in Metrotown- including food court and cinema.

Went to Carrefour; found two nice, big towels $13.00 CDN each. Them shopped for basics – spent about $115.00 CDN. Got chicken, beef, salmon, fresh and frozen veggies, rice, condiments, cooking sauces, eggs, bread, flour, milk, corn flakes, oil, bread, cheese, tea, rice – and NO lamb testicles!! Prices seem reasonable; overall I think same items would have been more expensive in Vancouver.

Got a cab back – driver spoke pretty much no English. He understood the general area I was going to but not exactly; impressed myself by being able to give him directions where to turn to get to my place- although it was not that hard since I could see the tall apartment buildings in my area.

Now I get 45 mins to rest, then Sean and I are off to meet Dr. Eman at the Institute. Yey! I feel soo tired- but a good tired. I think I’m very glad to be here…

Erbil Diary: Friday, 26 October 2012


Got up at 9 am. Sunny, warm, mid-20s. Left around 9 45. First taxi didn’t speak any English. 2 nd taxi spoke German – Azan. 15 minute drive to Family Mall.

Big Holiday – Eid. Lots of people in Sunday dress, mostly males, but also some women with families. Arranged to be picked up by same taxi at 1:30.

Mall only opens at 1:00… But food shop Carrefour (French) open already. Just like save on foods plus lots of security personnel everywhere. Air conditioning… Great!

Big wide roads… New buildings everywhere… Looks like this place mushroomed overnight out of an old, dusty, ochre-coloured cocoon… People are nice, speak Kurdish and some Arabic. I know Hello and Thank you… Need to learn Arabic ASAP!

Big tall men in traditional Kurdish dress: boots, brown/green pants and shirt, traditional Kurdish felt belt… Others in jeans, shorts, flip-flops… Most kids young men in some sort of suit/ nice shirts, shiny shoes.. Others in jeans and sneakers.

All look like they just want a normal life with their families / friends.

Western Union right in front of Carrefour. Perfect! Will come here often. Taxi ride here: 7000 IQD – $6 CDN. This will probably be my main shopping and finance destination…

Thought I found boneless chicken thighs… Almost ended up with lamb testicles!

Just learned first words in Arabic: Family Mall: A’ailya Souk!

Big mistake: forgot to change my $CDN in $US. No Western Union wanted to change  them, and all other places closed today because of major Eid holiday… Will have to try again tomorrow.

My taxi driver, Azad, was super punctual – he lived in Germany for a while and told me he learned there to keep appointments and be on time. Very nice guy- I will use him again. Who knew German would come in so handy in Iraq!

Sunny and quite warm outside, but not humid. Back in my room now with the A/C on. Need to sort out my luggage, then rest a bit. No plans for the evening – yet…

Coalition for the Re-formation of the Euro-American Democratic Order