Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas in Kurdistan

The holiday and festive season has come in Kurdistan!!

It was Eid and we had a break for 8 days, soon we begin the christmas and new year break for another three weeks. After that comes Newroz break, then the other historical Kurdish occasions, following that is Easter and the list goes on...

The 'Jazhn' or 'Eid' season is big here. There are many celebrations and the tradition is deeply rooted. One that I have realized I can not agree with is the killing of animals such as sheep to give to poor and so on... but it appears to be a well known custom. Of course there is the family gathering and the early morning cooking.

The spirit of the festive season is everywhere; the Christmas tree has gone up in our university cafeteria and the area around the citadel has already been decorated with some lights at dark..

Ainkawa- where it is dominated by the Christian community is absolutely beautiful during this time of year as people prepare for their religious celebrations. The atmosphere and is vibrant and lively... (I just wish it would rain more and maybe even some snow...)

To conclude, it makes me so cheerful and happy that people in the region take the time to celebrate this time of year. Whether it is shopping, going for holiday, cooking or just spending time with family and relatives… I wish no matter what people do they make the best of it, and we must never take this opportunity for granted- I doubt people in other parts of Iraq can celebrate like this.

Sazan Mandalawi


A few snap shots of my beautiful city...
Special thanks to Khanzad!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Two years on, and the story continues...

Back to my land- Kurdistan
Sazan Mandalawi

It seems like yesterday when I first landed in the Erbil International Airport, the mixed emotions and feelings of those moments are still with me today. The many times when I had doubted the decision of my permanent return and it took time to adjust back ‘home’. Two years and a half later and I do not regret one second of that decision, it has been a time of my life that can not be compared to any past experiences.

Growing up as a teenager in Perth, Western Australia, was a life resembling a dream for many people, including myself. It was a trouble and carefree lifestyle. Teenage years are always a tricky and a delicate time to individuals, however feeling like you can not fit into the society and group really affected me.

I was always bubbly and made friends easily, but I can recall there was always something inside me that had not settled, I could not fit in. I grew up in a small family that always taught me what it was to be a Kurd- the culture, religion and traditions played a major role in my life even abroad.

These aspects of my life inside the house influenced my life in the outside world. For a young child this became an internal struggle in my younger years.

After our decision of permanent return to Kurdistan, I recollect times of tears, sleepless nights and sadness that my future had been shattered. I look back today and laugh, despite the fact that I have left behind all the luxuries of a developed country, inside I am more content then I ever was in the many years I spent abroad. Why? I ask myself the same question. It maybe because I feel I am one of these people, everything I do I feel it is for the ‘greater good’ I study and I feel I am doing something for this nation, this is a feeling that I never had or thought about before.

I have learned to realize the many things one takes for granted and have come to appreciate the many things life offers. I have left behind the idea of comparing ‘here’ and ‘there’ instead, I put side by side the idea of ‘here today’ and ‘here yesterday’. Everyday there is progress in the region, a new park, a new organization, a new project, a new building and the of course the endless new malls in Erbil. This is all development and progress that we do not realize as it is gradually happening in front of our eyes everyday.

I can sit with a group of friends and debate or argue certain issues recognizing the fact they understand the background I am coming from. I have learned how it feels to say something that you truly believe in and for people to understand and relate to you. For me, it is the small things that have dramatically triggered a happier lifestyle. I can go out with the girls and know we have to return early and the place needs to be appropriate because there is something that we all share in common and agree that they are ‘morally right’.

No matter how long I lived abroad and the large extent to which my family was open minded and understanding, at the end of the day I was a Kurdish girl. To be back in Kurdistan has made me proud of this, true, one can not deny the many issues and dilemmas our society is confronted with, nonetheless, from experience nothing is comparable to living in your own society within your own people.

It is a little peculiar and comical for me to write this, but at times with the many Kurdish people I meet I sense a feeling of belonging, a strange perception that they are relatives or part of an extended family for me. This I could never have experienced abroad. The lonely feeling of walking in the local bizarre and hearing people speak Kurdish still evokes an ecstatic sensation.

When I sit and think, I myself, find it remarkable that I find so much contentment in the simple aspects of life here in Kurdistan to the indulgence of a western developed country. At the same time I feel privileged to have lived a life far from Kurdistan, as it makes me find and realize this happiness.

(A recent article of mine.. By Sazan M. Mandalawi)

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Our class trip to Halabja...
A memory to be remembered...
In Security Studies with our professor Caterina Tsoukala we went on a trip to Halabja, in the exact place where thousands died as a result of Saddam's Chemical weapons. it was over four hours drive to Halabja, as we drove through Koya and Sulaimani. We had an 'unsteady' start with the girls arriving almost 45 minutes after the set time, but the rest of the day went better than what we had hoped for. The experience was beyond words- laughter, tears, dancing, singing - we did it all. After lunch in the local restaurant (what else but Kurdish KEBABS!!) we set straight to the Halabja Cemetry, it is still under construction, yet we were all touched as the bus entered the large gates- THE SIGN SAID IT ALL:

It was tears and emotions of devastation. I learned hearing and reading is one thing, nonetheless, to listen and see is completely another. To watch the sea of graves, each with more that one person, some families of six and seven. Brothers and sisters, relatives, aunts, uncles and cousins...What caught my attention the most, was at mid-day prayer time. A local elderly man went and prayed by a group of graves... It was not difficult to guess he was a survivor of the catastrophe of March 16, 1988. This is the only place he could come and feel close to the ones he lost. Even for survivors, as we learned, the wound is deep, has not heal and never will...Two little boys with their note books were sitting near a mass grave... I asked if they knew about the catastophe. I was struck to realize these two youngsters shared deep emotions and beliefs regarding this genocide that has left everyone affected.This is a very well-known photographic picture that has been transformed into a sculpture. It is an elderly man in his traditional Kurdish clothing, who died tring to protect a baby child held tightly between his arms. We met the father of one of our students in University. He is one of the survivors living in Halabja. His eye witness account brough many of us to tears. Up to today, it was evident this elderly man is affected in every day of his life by a horrific past. He temporary blindness of his children and running into the basement for protection. He spoke of 136 members of his own relatives dying as a result of the catastrophic event. He expressed of his grief and wounds through tears as he recalled a small section of his never ending story.

As Halabja is in the process of being rebuilt, 20 years after the deadly commemoration I am hurt to see little is done for the innocent people. Whilst I am not entirely sure of any compensation but the way of life is still devasting to witness. I hope to return one day and see Halabja in better shape. It is a beautiful area, despite all its beauty during the day I spent there, you can not feel anything but gloom and sadness. The atmosphere itself is hard to live. Simply, because on those rocks that you step on, the streets you walking in, the houses you see... children died in pain, families suffered until their last breath. They were victims of an atrocious Baath political party, they were killed simply because they were Kurd. They committed no crime, they did not hurt a single person. What is the guilt of an innocent child, who knows nothing of this world, what is the guilt of a mother who lived for her children or a father who worked hard to bring food home that evening.... these people were victims of a genocide, that up to today we fail to show the world just how devasting the Halabja incident of 1988 really isOn the way back we stopped by a sculpture... the story behind this is very touching. Two young children; brother and sister. Were on the way to school in a winter's day, they were lost on the way and froze to death... Just another small story with a rich background.
Sazan Madhi Mandalawi
November 15, 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"No friends but the mountains"

I had saved a large collection of beautiful sceneries and views of Kurdistan, these are just a is breath taking natural beauty?

Please note: All pictures were taken by Shivan Sito
With much appreciation

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Univeristy Life

Above: Students of Politics & International Relations (all but Jang & Lana) with our proffesor of History of Political thought- Dr. Greaves
Having returned from such a beautiful country such as Australia, today I proudly say "I am lucky to be in Kurdistan!"
Many would consider this remark naive and to a degree foolish of me. However, living amongst people of my own background, culture and people who understand me for me is like a dream come true. I will not deny the fact that if I sit and compare 'there' with 'here' there difference is enormous, and of course, life 'there' when compared to the region can be described as more than perfect. Despite this, something inside me does not want to return to my second home- not just in another country, but another continent- Aussie Land!!

I miss it.

But my life here is more energetic, diverse and special. I lived many years as 'the foreigner'. I had wonderful friends and lived in a very friendly atmosphere. Nevertheless, I could not fit in. I was not one of them, and I could never be. No matter what I did, I was different and no matter what they did sometimes it was hard to understand me.

I was brought up in a small family where from a young age I was taught what it meant to be a Kurd, my father would spend hours telling us stories of his experiences and the past of Kurdish people. Even living far from home, we were made to watch videos our relatives sent of weddings and other special celebrations. I was taught why I was a Muslim, and how I was a Kurd. I often try to think how I have deep emotions to a nation that I have only lived in during my early childhood...

Having this tie to your roots in any country it is difficult to manage every day life. Life becomes a routine, I personally found difficulties to engage with the wider community despite my friendly nature... no matter what I did contentment sometimes just didn't come to me. Often I would speak of our culture and beliefs to the girls, even though they never said anything, deeper inside I felt my reasons did not make any sense in their minds.

When I think back now, at that delicate and sensitive age, especially teenage years, I admit I at times did now have the 'courage' to stand up and say that’s who I am.

Coming back to Kurdistan was not all sweet for me (in fact the first year of my life back here can no even be described in a nightmare… but we shall leave that for another blog!!) now, I do not regret a single second. When I sit and engage in a discussion amongst my peers the feeling is unbelievable. I can express, and even if there is no agreement they understand where I come from. I can talk and they realize what I mean, because they share my background, they know the culture; they know what I see as ‘morally’ accepted or unaccepted.

This may mean nothing, but for a young Kurdish girl who was brought up far from her own soil the feeling is much beyond description and words. Inside I often feel I had a jar and the lid was on, now it is all bursting out. It is by no means all delightful but university life in Kurdistan, for me, is indeed a learning experience like no other.

No matter how much I am open minded, flexible and tolerant of all cultures, beliefs and in many issues. I am a Kurd, I often talk with emotions and no rational or logical thought, I talk from the heart and some times give no reasonable or scientific justification. But I am proud to be just that. I am proud to have fond to these traditions to these values, some of which have been passed down from many generations before.

To end… all I can say is that no matter where I was, (on the other side of the globe & hemisphere) home is home. My home may not be perfect but the beauties it offers me is enough to keep me happy… meanwhile Dr. Greaves lesson today was rather difficult to grasp- Aristotle, My telos is living happily in my home country, hehehehehe I think I have learned something today, it really does allow for your mind to wake up and function!!
Sazan Mandalawi

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The simple life versus the race to the moon!!!

I was reading an article by Wray Herbert in Newsweek, the idea of the 'simpler past' attracted my attention. Despite the fact I am only young, but at times, I do yearn for a life that is simple.

Taking a stride through any local village in the region, the simple life of isolation from the rest of the world can, at times, be the ultimate solution to this world that we live in today. That is all about Globalization (Internationalization, liberalization, universalization, westernization and what have you). Having said this, personally, I can not imagine my life for even one day without these fascinating new ideas and inventions that develop and progress before the blink of an eye.

On the other hand, at times being far from all these developments has its own taste, it is a feeling that you are on your own- Just you and Mother Nature. To experience, to a small extent, the life our ancestors had. It brings to my mind ‘where we were and where we have come’. Often when me or my younger brother whine of something, my father begins: ‘back when I was…’ our immediate responses is: ‘ohhh… here we go again’. However it is true, we have come a long way, through my eyes much of the changes are positive to a large degree. But by no means is our life simple today.

Our world has changed in extraordinary ways. We are investing in things that the generation before us never thought of. Furthermore, we have accomplished ambitions that were beyond the dreams of those living before us.

Imagine this, a small village called Halladen, not far from Slemani. Two elderly people are sitting outside their mud house; with the background of a cow ‘mooing’, and the ‘Eeyore’ of the donkey, the pecking chicken beside the green vegetable garden are sitting with a mountain of dates. Both elders, with their shaky hands and weak eyes, breaking each freshly picked dates with a stone.

Not so much of distance outside that village, all of a sudden it is a different planet.
A world where mice are sent into space, mass destruction weapons are created with our own hands; a world where we can connect to any person at any time in any part of the globe; a word where stem cell research is being undertaken and a world where it is not too far before we have ‘human made human’. Whether we are playing God or not is another argument, the point is, if we take the time to think, today’s world is amazing in so many ways and is changing by the second- as we write, as we speak, as we think.

Despite this, some people have no clue all this is taking place. They live their simple life, they basically live to survive. Whereas us, we live to have more, we live to have a sentiment of greediness, we live to make changes, destroy and build. We live to earn and yearn, they live to survive and reproduce.

When we come back to the reality and the world we live in, we realize just how much we take things for granted, how often we do not appreciate what we have. As well as this, the many problems and issues that this positive 'progress' has brought with itself.

We live in a world today where machines and technology do everything for us- even thinking. They, however, live a life depending on their own two hands and feet.

Science, knowledge and explanations dominate today’s society. Opportunities are open and change is constantly taking place. My message is make the positive use of these advancements, do not overuse them nor should you take them for granted.

Make the time to think of ‘the simple life’, so you do not forget how some people live, don’t forget ‘where we were and where we are’ and always listen to the stories our elders tell, they always start with: ‘back in my day….’ For they teach us very important lessons.

Sazan Mandalawi October 2008. Should be studying 'Politics of Developing states' rather than this.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

So you say: "I am bored?!"

Erbil has come a long way

I remember almost two years ago when I first returned to Kurdistan there was barely any place to go out. Other than Naza Mall, Park Sami-Abdul Rahman, Minaret and New City had just been open. Today, Hawler has come a long way.

We do not notice the rapid changes because the changes are gradual infront of our eyes everyday. If you leave the region and return you realize many changes and developments have taken place.

Rheil Mall- the shops are some of my favourite in Hawler the third storey has brought the children's rides, it is a nice evening out with a little shopping, a snack to eat and a ride or two for the toddlers.

J&K Fitness Centre- This has just been open this year, it is a luxuries 'Women's Only' getaway, it has everything a women needs from a great restaurant, nice seating area, swimming pools, Sona, beauty care, salon , net cafe, etc... it is the ultimate place to go out with a group of girls. Even if just for a coffee in the cafeteria.

2B2, Bakery and more etc...- The restaurants and Cafes keep opening, there is a new one every day, 2B2 has a nice seating area upstairs

Above: Picture of the 2B2 cafe upstairs- the atmosphere is one of the rare in Erbil. Worth visiting for a coffee or ice cream

Aqua Park- Even though I have only been there for a visit, however, the long winding waterslides and pool is a real attraction and appears to be a bundle of fun. The bowling is also very new to the region and seems to be a popular new leisure activity for those who like to try something different.

Family Fun amusement park- This is the most popular new attraction, 12 rides, some too daring I could never try, even if just going to look around. Listening to people's screams and laughter can some how be amusing in its own way. I am looking forward for the opening of the mall and cinema in that area.

The rides are now open, the Alabora is one of three in the world to this grand size... try it if you dare!!

March 2009 the finish produce of the Family Fun project will look like the picture above

It is not the most radical and dramatic change, but when we think of it, this is great development considering the backward development of the rest of the country. The skeleton of buildings in the process of completion stand high; if progress continues like this Erbil will transform into a city of dreams... of course there are many other gaps that need to be filled. For now the shopping, the food and the rides is enough to keep us busy as we await to see what appears next.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pêşmerge: 'Those who face death'

Ay pêşmergey Kurd...
The Peshmarga spirit in Kurds... where is it today?

your father, your grandfather, your great great grandfather; your uncle, son, brother or relative. Almost every Kurdish family has a Peshmerga that can sit and for hours tell stories of their experience during the years they spent in the mountains. The Peshmerga that fought risking his life and literally faced death for the Kurds, the Peshmerga are those that brought Kurdistan to what it is today are unfortunately losing their spirit in the 'Modernizing' Kuridsh society.

The men who were honest, strong and faced death; who are what ever he could see, who fought in the coldest winter days through the snow and through the hottest summer days under the sizzling sun. Those who fought for no return, who fought with their hearts and blood. Just for you and I to live in a place called 'Kurdistan'. What are we, as Kurdish youth, doing today to pass our sincere gratitude for those men who fought for our future by facing death?
"This is Mir Mokhsen, a Peshmerga or Kurdish freedom fighter who has fought in hundreds of battles for Kurdish freedom for half a century. He has faced Saddam Hussein’s tanks, Russian-made helicopter gunships, chemical weapons and poison gas, the unspeakable brutality of Saddam’s soldiers countless times – and survived."
(Dr. Jack Wheeler; 28 June 2008;
It is people like Mir Mokhsen that we must appreciate and respect for today, tomorrow and always. Instead of winging and blaming people for the problems our nation faces today, youth should also consider the horrendous past the Kurds suffered. I hope today's gentlement will grow to have even a 'tiny little bit' of the peshmerga spirit that their fathers and gradfathers had... unfortunyately it is not always evident. Just talks, not true freedom fighters who are deep with emotions for their nation.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mandali, Khanaqin and Faili Kurds...!!

Living abroad any person who asked me:
"where are you from?" or "what is your nationality"
I would simple reply:
"Kurdistan! and I am a Kurd!"
Most of the time I would have to say North Iraq and give an entire lecture of what I knew about the Kurds. If however, they knew something more they would ask:
"Which province are you from?"
Here... I would mumble. "I am not from Slemani, I am not from Hawler, I am not from Duhok, I am not exactly an Iranian Kurd either. I am from Mandali, we are called in most cases Faylee Kurds." Today, I like to see myself, personally, as a Khanaqini after many visits I see so much similarity and no difference. Geographically and socially it is very much linked to Mnali.

Khanaqin is the place where I feel I belong, even though my entire life I have not lived there for more than 21 days all together, and unfortunately have never had the honor to seen Mandali by eyes yet.
I hope this blogspot will allow for all those Kurds like myself to start our little movement and share thoughts and feelings of who we are. In the end we are all Kurds, nonetheless, we must confine to our heritage and ancestors, as you will witness from posts to come the Faylee Kurds, like the victims of Halaja and Anfal suffered, and suffered greatly!!

Monday, September 8, 2008

I was born to try... My friends welcome!

Doing everything that I believe in
Going by the rules that I've been taught
More understanding of what's around me
And protected from the walls of love

All that you see is me
And all I truly believe...
That I was born to try
I've learned to love
Be understanding
And believe in life

But you've got to make choices
Be wrong or right
Sometimes you've got to sacrifice the things you like
But I was born to Try

All that you see is me
All I truly believe
All that you see is me
All I truly believe
That I was born to try...


For anyone who knows me well you would know I simply do not enjoy English music...The above, however, are words from Delta Goodrem's song- Born to Try!Accidently came on the radio in the car, the words seemed to be in my head for days after. With Google not being far I managed to type some keywords I remembered and here it is, words I truly believe in: BORN TO TRY

Not just me, but everybody and everyone is born to try. We may do mistakes more than others, this just means we learn more. We may sacrifice more than others, that just means we will go further in life. We may be hurt more than others, and that just means we learn more about life along the way!

It is the summer break here in Hawler, and coincidently the holy month of Ramadan. I must admit it is hard to enjoy the fasting season in this deadly hot weather, nonetheless, the Ramdan spirit is everywhere. As soon as you step outside your home you can feel the atmosphere of this Holy Month, something I was not used to in Australia. That is just another one of those reasons why I believe there is no place like home!! The scenery on the left is one of the many natural beauties you can witness in the region.

As the curtains of the year closed I wait the doors of 2008/2009 to open- I must admit it was a hectic year with many UPS and DOWNS. Despite all difficulties and confrontations the Politics and IR group managed to have a very enjoyable time with memories of all sorts to cherish for years to come. The most memorable in my mind is the Heran picnic.

During the cross border tensions with Turkey, as students we united together and undertook a 'peaceful' demonstration outside the university in the cold, misty morning. It definately is a day I will always be proud of. The picture is of the amazingly beautiful Avashin river, the bridge was destroyed by the Turks... the incident hurt us all. As you can see from the second picture we didn't stay silent.

In Dr. Frances's lectures it was often hard to tell who was supposed to teach with all the comments and opinions during the lecture (that was at the beginning of the year.... of course this latter changed) The last minute studies and the lectures Kak Zrar gave us the day before the exams or early morning on exam day had their own unique taste. The Picture on the right is the day before our Middle East exam the next morning. We tended to be a group who liked to leave everything to for the last minute (from assignments, catching up on lecture notes to actually STUDYING)

I must admit I miss every second. Our Politics and IR class to me was like a big family, I write with gloom that next year our family will be broken into parts, as a result of the Exam Board decision we have people going in a little different paths.

Many, including myself are a little restless and confused of how the university will continue, we all have our fingers crossed and hope things will move to the right direction. We must however remain optimistic and support one another. Even if we are not in the same class... One thing is for sure, the bond of our family and the strong frienship we share will always remain tight.

I hope you are all enjoying your break...
See you in a months time,

Happy Holidays