Arbil, Irbil or Erbil ?
The items I have posted over the past three days have been reports of my experiences in Iraqi Kurdistan precisely a year before these were posted. I am now up to 6th April.
I have taken to spelling Arbil with an "A", but it is also likely to appear on maps and in the literature starting with an "I" or an "E". The English version outside its airport uses the latter letter.
But "Hewler" Has Only One Spelling
In Kurdish the town is known as "Hewler" which means the "Seat of the Gods". It contains a fascinating walled citadel which lays claim to be the world's oldest continuously inhabited city, having housed Neanderthal Man, the Assyrians, the Romans and Alexander the Great.
In a fully peaceful Iraq, Hewler/Arbil would be one of numbers of Iraqi sites for streams of tourists. They would spend their money in its fine hotels, shops and bazaars. It would be used as a base to see the wonders of the near bye Zargros Mountains - which I will report upon tomorrow.
The more adventurous could check it out even now - but would need to assess what I describe below and examine the Foreign and Commonwealth advice here.
Returning To Arbil
There are many large towns in Iraq in what is a highly urbanised nation. At 7.30 a.m. we left Sulaymaniah which has a population of three-quarters of a million for Arbil where the population tops a million. We were in a small convoy of cars, covering the eight people from our delegation and our hosts from the Kurdish Workers' Federation (KWF).
Although we had travelled to Sulaymaniah on 4 April via a scenic route, we returned by an even more mountainous and breathtaking avenue. We passed isolated and security-free farming villages (the type Saddam Hussein had at one time obliterated) and stopped to have our photos taken beside huge rocks which had been beautifully painted and carried the slogan "Peace For Kurdistan" - as shown on the cover of this TUC Report.
In Arbil we were back to regular (but secure) road checks, roads full of old cars and taxis, huge protective concrete slabs around both public offices and our hotel, masses of building work and the regular sale of black market petrol in plastic containers by young men smoking cigarettes. For legitimate petrol sales are only periodic and lead to massive queues of cars.
Meeting Industrial And Agricultural Workers
Up to this point we had met a wide range of Trade Unionists. These were (a) our hosts from the KWF, (b) the Trade Unionists from the non-Kurdish areas of Iraq who had flown in to see us on 3 April including the late Najim Abd-Jasem who was recently murdered in Baghdad and (c) those we had met on a regular basis in Sulaymaniyah over the preceding two days.
But we now held two meetings with Trade Unionists whom we had not previously encountered. The first group were from fresh areas in Iraqi Kurdistan, including Soran, Mosul and Kirkuk. Unfortunately, a trip to meet Trade Unionists in the Northern Province of Dahuk was cancelled and they did not make our meeting.
These Trade Unionists covered Construction, Transport and Communications, Agriculture and Food, the Mechanics and the Oil and Gas Workers. They were part of the KWF. The Trade Unionists in Kirkuk and Mosul operating in areas targeted by terrorists.
I chaired this session and it moved into the area of what practical help their Trade Unions needed. The main result was that funding arrangements were put in place to assist the operation of a Trade Union Radio Station.
Meeting Civic Society Organisations
When this group was described to us as being made up of Civic Society Organisations, we rather expected to meet either pressure groups or civic functionaries. We soon discovered, however, that these were a distinctive group of Trade Unionists operating outside of the area of the KWF, but enjoying close links with them. They mainly catered for professional groups.
The largest organisation was represented by the President of the Kurdistan Teachers' Union who have 100,000 members. It covers everyone involved in education up and including Universities. We had already met up several times with this body, who were present when we met with the Minister of Education.
Others were from the Professional Engineers (2,000 members), Economists. Artist (15,000), Qualified Engineers, Health Professionals (9,750). Agronomists and Lawyers and Barristers (5,000).
Their major interests were (a) to have their members develop fraternal links with equivalent bodies in the rest of Iraq (although there were no equivalents in Baghdad for the Lawyers and the Qualified Engineers), (b) but not to need continually to have to function via Baghdad and be blocked in, so (c) they needed to develop links with equivalent organisations outside of Iraq. It was the latter we have attempted to facilitate.
If some of what follows sounds familiar from yesterday, it is because I included it in the wrong place at that time and I have now corrected my report for 5 April.
More Food For Thought
We ended up with a meal at the appropriately named Hewler Restaurant, hosted by the Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament whom we had met earlier.
I sat opposite a couple of MPs from the Kurdistan Regional Assembly who weren't Kurds. One was an Assyrian (he was a Christian as the bulk of Assyrians are)whose father had served under British Officers in the Iraqi Levies prior to their disbandment in 1955. The Movement's Unit I served in with the RAF at Basra when undertaking my National Service was surrounded by a camp of Iraqi Levies which was disbanded over that time and replaced by the Iraqi Army.
The other MP was a Turkoman. He and the Assyrian assured me that there was no sectarian divide involving their communities. They were particularly pleased that recent educational reforms had aided their communities by incorporating their respective languages and cultures into their local schools.
Next to these two MPs was the President of the Kurdistan Teachers Union whom we had met earlier that day. He fully concurred with the MPs comments about the new provisions in their schools. So an informative and fruitful day ended in peace and harmony. As they say "Peace for Kurdistan"