photo: Eddy van Wessel


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Stay safe

Mosul, Kirkuk and even Tikrit are next door from where I live in Iraqi Kurdistan, and people abroad have a hard time understanding that the crisis going on there is not directly effecting me.

I know how it must look to the outside world. Radical Muslims take over the second largest city in Iraq, with the Iraqi army fleeing in disarray. Thousands fleeing their homes for fear of the extremists. How can people that live no more than eighty kilometers away, still feel safe?

Our sense of safety here in Kurdistan is a different one from that of those living in parts of the West that have not seen violence or war for decades. They do not know how to react, when it gets so near. I expect they would have taken a plane out, if they were in our shoes.

Yet foreigners who have lived in Kurdistan for a bit, have adapted to the safety climate here, and do not get out. They occupy themselves with day to day things, new phones and cars, and spending the night out in a nice restaurant. Most have decided to sit it out, somehow convinced by the Kurdish authorities past record of keeping out major threats.

I even have a foreign friend who is outside at the moment, and eager to come back to be
in these difficult moments with the Kurds whom she has come to accept and love.

On the other hand, I am now almost sure that I will no longer be able to attract many tourists to visit Kurdistan for the rest of the year. Whatever we say, however much we vouch that Kurdistan is safe, they look how near Mosul is, and stay away. Saying: better be safe than sorry. Can we blame them?

At the same time, I find it hard to get across what exactly is happening out there. Some of the media I work for, tell me to keep it simple, as many Westerners do not understand the difference between Shiite and Sunni – which is the main part of the story. 

When foreigners look at what is happening in the region, they simply see the radical Islam taking over part of Iraq. They do not care that the story might be quite a lot less simple, that the radicals were already here, that some of them have been functioning inside their societies for quite some time.

If it is too dangerous, I should not do a stand-up for TV on the roof, I am told. I should be careful.

But it is safe, I keep saying. At the same time, every time outsiders warn me, I stop myself and allow the doubt. To conclude, again, yes it is still safe enough. Please let’s keep it that way.

This blog was first published in Kurdish in the daily Kurdistani Nwe

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