Friday, December 24, 2010

The story of the Malls in Erbil

My dear (most loyal) reader*, I have great news for all the Kurdish men out there! Are you ready?

Foreign businessmen were quick to realize the weakness of women in this country and for all your delight, the creation of malls has been (and continues to be) high on the agenda.

Here is the story in Erbil. We (the women, of course!) had Naza Mall and we thought we were really lucky. Then came Rhein Mall, and for us girls that was equivalent to paradise. Not too long later it was followed by Hawler Mall and, let's be honest, our expectations with the quality of the goods were not met. Soon came Maxi Mall, and that compensated for the previous disappointment.

Above: Majidi Mall, known for the Big Clock and its large parking area (By the way, Mango is here too!)

Then there was the big bomb, Majidi Mall--that's when we thought we had it all. But little did we know there were other surprises up the sleeves of businessmen. Sofy Mall was next--the daughter of Majidi--but still we liked the former just a little bit more. Businessmen realized that we became harder to please, then came Family Mall. With no sarcasm, it really did exceed all expectations and set the bar sky high.

Above: Picture of the new Family Mall, right next to Erbil's largest theme park- Family Fun!

Above: This is a picture taken from high up one of the new builings, cross the road is Sofy Mall (See the red sign?) Dear me, all the places I go just for the sake of this blog :)

The story continues--Ankawa Mall, Tatlisias Mall and Banu Mall are all currently in the making—and I won't be surprised if on this early Friday morning there are people sitting on round tables planning for the next big Mall in Erbil.

Above: If you don't believe me, here it is Ankawa Mall - in the making!

Above: Banu Mall, under construction today, but be sure to drop by in your next visit to wil be open.

You see, every new mall is one step above the previous. If you followed the above story closely you will realize we have progressed far up the ladder in the shopping world. Today in Kurdistan's capital shopping is not about just buying the necessities to live life, today it is about fashion, quality, enjoyment oh and how can I forget – designer brands!

Don't be surprised if you hear these conversations:

Friend A: "Haven't seen you in a while, I miss you"

Friend B: "Well let's catch up!"

Friend A: "Why not, we'll meet up for coffee,"

Friend B: "Great! Where?"

And here it is, the big 'where?' I remember four years back there really was nowhere, (other than the few places that were overcrowded and you just didn't feel comfortable to go without a father, brother or a male cousin). Today, it's a different world.

When I see these things taking place, it makes me happy. I know it is not a life that all classes of our society can indulge in, but it’s fulfilling to know that we have the facilities and services that other people in other corners of the world are enjoying.

Having said all this I still think we shouldn't miss out on having sweet Kurdish tea at the Chaykhana (tea house) and don't be too carried away with all the malls, because believe me there is no better shopping (cultural) experience than Erbil's very own Qaysary Bazaar.

The negative side of this is that almost everything is made in Turkey, Syria, China, and every other place in the world, but nothing, absolutely NOTHING, is made in Kurdistan! This frustrates me!

* AKA: My shopping partner, Mum!

My "Memoirs" column in the Kurdish Globe this week looks into this issue of the new malls more in details, see:
All pictures were taken by me! EXCLUSIVELY and SPECIALLY for this blog. Loyal blogger to loyal readers!

Friday, December 17, 2010

My history through their pictures

There she was, a simple French woman showing me my history, picture after picture; page after page, she was teaching me things that our young girls and boys should be learning at school. She was showing me what it really means to be a Kurd, rather weird considering she was French, and I was a Kurd.

She opened the first pages, there was some writing in French that I couldn't understand, and she posed the question, what looked like the first line to the thick, colourful book. "What does it mean to be a Kurd?" She asked pointing at the writing bolded at the top of the page. This is a question that is now embossed in my mind. As I wrote well into the night after my meeting with them, I kept asking myself the same question. "What does it mean to be a Kurd?"

Could being a Kurd mean we speak Kurdish, then again there are some Kurds in Turkey who have lost the Kurdish language but remain to be Kurds, maybe their sentiments of the Kurdish identity is deeper than yours and mine. Could it be about the religion or a religious sect? Again no. I know Yezidis who have strong Kurdish sentiments, I also know Shiite Muslims who feel just as much Kurdish as a Sunni Kurd. I have Christian friends who hold strong Kurdish values.

A simple question of our identity took my imagination past the height of our mountains and beyond the limitless sky.

Let's get to the point, my dear reader (yes- I am referring to YOU -Mum!!!! ) throughout my life (young life I should say) I have always considered myself as lucky to have had the honour to come across great people, amazing personalities and inspiring individuals. They each have taught me a lesson in life, and I have taken from the experience of every person I have met – people who change the world in the smallest deeds that they do – these are the people who I look up to.

This time I met a wonderful French couple (Mr. and Mrs. Kutschera)*. My knowledge of Kurdology (I don't know if the word actually exists, but I am going to be using it from now on!) comes from the books and articles I have read and the childhood stories I've listened to on my father's lap. This type of learning experience was different.

Mrs. Kutschera patiently took me through every single page of section 1 of the book they have put together, with her husband commentating on certain historic information when necessary.

Sometimes when they spoke my arms began to shiver and my eyes filled with tears – I still don't know if they were tears of happiness or sadness. But what I do know is that I was inspired more than ever before by my own people.

Above: Mrs. Kutschera shows a picture of a Peshmerga she has taken back in the 1970s.

You know what? I saw pictures of Kurds in the mountains learning and studying outside. The black board was probably no bigger than some of our television screen at home; it was held high by two large tree branches cut off. I saw pictures of the Peshmerga and their families – living in a cave. I saw a picture of a biologist, sitting on a mountain top with a small microscope. There was a picture of students doing an exam under a tree outside, sitting on the ground.

Everyone in the pictures look equal. No one is better than the other. From their faces I could tell how transparent their hearts are. Mr. Kutschera tells me that he went to the houses of villagers where he was greeted warmly, even at the absence of the husband. I felt so honoured as they described the way Kurds treated foreigners, even in the most difficult days in their history.

Mrs. Kutschera restores some of the old pictures people have to add to the online photo library of Kurdish history.* You can see some of the pictures that are now online at although the ones in the book are exclusive and indeed, each picture tells a thousand words. The book (which is in three sections, beginning from the first photograph taken by the Kutscheras in 1971 to 2011) will be published in four different languages.

I discussed with Mrs. Kutschera of her willingness to visit schools (young children in particular) once her book is out so that she can explain to them the history of the Kurds through pictures she had taken over a four decade period (to speak of her first hand experience; her encounters while living with the Peshmerga, sitting and talking with Kurdish leaders). I don't see why we can't have the elderly ex-Peshmergas go to schools and speak to students about their past experiences (now that's an idea!).

We have a rich history and there are so many stories that need to be told before it's too late. The other day, I wished I had hundreds of primary school students with me, listening to the stories given by the Kutschera couple!

Above: Mrs. Kutschera shows me the online photo library of Kurdish personalities and history, by January she promised to have thousands of pictures loaded on. Take a look-

As the Kutschera couple spoke, I somehow wished to have lived through those moments. I sensed how it felt to be there. I looked at the Peshmerga smiling – while living in the worse possible conditions – I saw a picture of a shop, but the shelves were empty, the man had almost nothing to sell. Mr. Kutschera points at a picture, he tells me 'this is the last picture of peace in Kurdistan' I look at the caption, only to realize it was written "1973". I immediately recall an interview I did not too long ago with Bayan Abdul- Rahman, she spoke of prosperity and development in Kurdistan. One of the key points she emphasized repeatedly is having solid, uninterrupted peace. She said with "continuous peace" we can prosper not just with infrastructural development but also economically, socially and politically.

I really do hope that this solid peace that is now apparent continuous in our part of the world, so that we can build more. There is a lot we need to do. There are villages that need services, there are people out there with spectacular talents that need to be recognized so that they can develop. There are thousands of young people who would love an opportunity to continue their studies, there are hospitals that need to be renovated, there are issues that need to be addressed through awareness and there are is a future for this nation waiting. I believe it is a sensitive time for us, but I can't be more optimistic about the future of this Kurdish country (yes, I use the word country, why shouldn't I?)

As for the Kutscheras, 40 years ago they took pictures of the Kurds in the mountains with film-strip cameras, writing the information on paper with pens. Now they bring their laptop to a luxuries hotel lobby area, connected to the wireless internet in Erbil. They are publishing their book in the region's own capital city and taking pictures of shopping malls with digital cameras.

The times have changed, and so have we. But I have one wish. The way Mr. and Mrs. Kutschera described the Kurdish people was beyond what I can write in words. Their eyes said it all. I hope we remain to be such noble, loving and warm hearted people. We have been hurt enough to know that it is not okay to hurt others!

*Kurdology – Coming from the word 'ology' meaning: A combining form, "the science or study of" and 'Kurd' – a member of the largest stateless nation in the world, but will someday have a country of their own!

*Mr. and Mrs. Kutschera have the same first name (Chris) so to avoid confusion I refer to Mrs. Chris Kutschera as Mrs. K and to Mr. Chris Kutschera as Mr. K.

*If you happen to have pictures that date back for some years, please do let me know so I can forward your details to Mrs. Kutschera.

-Pictures in this entry were taken by me! Sazan M.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December in Erbil

New Year is around the corner – I really find it hard to believe that another year has gone already – but people in Erbil are already in the spirit. My cousin came back with a Christmas tree (I will answer your question, don't worry, YUP she's also a Muslim!!). So it seems like in some people this time of year is a celebration for all and not for the Christian community only. Ainkawa (area in Erbil with the majority of residents being Christians) will soon shine in colours, lights and decorations. Most houses have Christmas trees and are in the Christmas spirit*.

Soon there will be tickets for New Year parties. Some will sell for hundreds of dollars and others at affordable prices. Phone companies will make millions. Simply because we are nation who like to greet each other in special occasions- friends, family; far, near and even the uncle's next door neighbour!

We are a Muslim society, and to a degree maybe a conservative society too, but the acceptance of different cultures and religious really makes me proud to be living in Erbil. The pictures here are of Majidi Mall in Erbil- decorations, candles, gift wrapping, ribbons, stockings, Santa and the big Christmas tree too!! It's all there for people's enjoyment.

I must point out that businessman are not letting the Christmas season pass without empting some pockets. The picture below is of a new candy shop (from Turkey this one) you have the chance to fill a bag of goodies (for a sweet tooth like me, it is OH SO GOOD!) with your own choice for about $14 for half a kilogram. I think this is the first of its kind in Kurdistan, the price is a little hefty but I am thinking it's only because the whole is new, soon when more of them are around the city prices will decrease (or will it?!). Anything new is welcome here. That's the sense that I am feeling right now.

From a distance it catches the eye...

A little closer and it catches the heart...

A little more closer and it is irresistable...

And when you smell it... who said lollies were bad for you?!

*During this special time of year, my condolences are with the families who lost loved ones in an attack against Christian communities in Baghdad.