Bashiqa, Part One: Baghdad, Erbil, and a Small Village in the Middle

Last summer I worked on a 19th century farm, where I slaved over a wood-burning stove while wearing eight layers of petticoat glory. It was the coolest job. Ever. However, I recognize that not many people would find that enjoyable, much less cool. But as someone who will talk about historical events long after others get that glazed over look in their eyes, I enjoyed getting paid for it.

My interest in international relations stems from my love of history, as I have always been fascinated with regional relations and conflict, both past and present. A modern example of a regional conflict is the dispute over the sovereignty of Iraqi Kurdistan. Under Saddam Hussein’s regime the Kurds in Iraq were treated as third-class citizens. Nowadays, though the Kurdish bid for statehood will most likely not be answered anytime soon, the region is arguably the most stable and autonomous area of Iraq.

Due to its ambiguous borders, Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the more interesting regional disputes in recent history. Many other current struggles for autonomy (Scotland vs. Great Britain or Quebec vs. Canada, for example) are regions that have clear borders in stable countries. With Kurdistan, not only is the Kurdish culture spread across several countries, but the border of the nation is not completely verified. In Iraq, for example, there is contestation between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, over the land near the “official” border of Iraqi Kurdistan. This area includes a small village called Bashiqa.

Author and EPIC partner Christine van den Toorn

Christine van den Toorn, a professor at American University in Sulaymaniyah (in Iraqi Kurdistan), was a vital part of our Iraqi Youth Hike. She recently published an article in which she discussed how, for years, Sunnis, Christians, and Yazidis (followers of a primarily Kurdish religion that predates Christianity) have lived together in a peaceful, calm, and vibrant Bashiqa. The town is so diverse that it has earned the nickname “Little Iraq.”

Below is a brief description of present-day Bashiqa from Christine’s article:

During the 2003-US led invasion, [the Americans] authorized the deployment of Iraqi Kurdistan’s own Peshmerga, a military force, in Bashiqa. Now, [up to] 30 percent of people in Bashiqa are employed by one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s two major political parties. Many other residents of Bashiqa work in Iraqi Kurdistan itself, in the cities of Dohuk, Sulaymaniyah or Erbil.

These issues have certainly shifted people’s loyalties from Iraq to Iraqi Kurdistan. “I will vote for whoever gives me a job,” many locals state plainly. But with jobs have come both subtle and obvious attempts to “Kurdicize” Bashiqa. Teachers employed by the Iraqi Kurdish in Bashiqa must teach a certain number of courses in Kurdish and are encouraged to send their own children to Kurdish speaking schools and universities in Iraqi Kurdistan. Some residents have been asked to change signs from Arabic to Kurdish script.

Unfortunately, as with many other regional disputes, even the most peaceful of places like Bashiqa can succumb to violence. Last fall two car bombs exploded, killing three and injuring many more. To this day, nobody has claimed responsibility.

Many suggest that these recent bombings will push people toward [Iraqi Kurdistan] because, when the going gets rough, the people in Bashiqa trust the Peshmerga to protect them. On the other hand, residents worry that if Bashiqa moves too far to the Kurdish side, they will draw the anger and attention of extremist groups in Iraq seeking to maintain the state and support the al-Maliki regime. In fact, some have suggested that Bashiqa may have already gone too far east and that these bombs could be a punishment, or a reminder that they are still part of Iraq.

How will the residents of Bashiqa, and the rest of Iraq, respond once Iraqi Kurdistan takes more steps towards full statehood? Only time will tell, but we here at EPIC will be watching, analyzing, and reporting every step along the way. I hope you join us!

To read Christine’s full article, click Here.

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