Friday, January 22, 2010

Dutch students investigate democracy in Kurdistan


By Mariwan Faydullah Salihi

Erbil – A delegation of two universities from the Netherlands arrived in Iraq's Kurdistan Region capital, Erbil, on Sunday January 17 for a one-week research trip about the area's democratization process.

Called 'Dictatorship and Democracy in the Middle East,' the seven days field-trip is based on a research project about the democratization process in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The delegation of ten, including a political sciences teacher (Paul Aarts), a coordinator, four male students and four female students, come from the Political Sciences and International Relations Department of the prestigious Free University of Amsterdam and the Amsterdam University.

"We already started our research in the Netherlands… but our trip to Iraqi Kurdistan is to complete the research about the democratization process here, were we meet politicians, other high-officials, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO's) and university students in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah," informed 20-years-old Alma Ibrahimovic, political sciences student at University of Amsterdam.

Kurdistan has some signs of democracy

According to the students Kurdistan Region is not a 'fully democratic entity,' but it has 'some signs of a democracy.'

"We concluded, we can safely say, that Iraqi Kurdistan is certainly not a dictatorship, but not a fully grown democracy, as well... it's a young democracy. The democratic process is still developing here," noted Marleen Verhagen, 19, Political Sciences student from University of Amsterdam.

"Kurdistan is a democracy in development, but far from a real democratic country or region," commented another student.

Opposition is a positive step

The students found that the domination of the two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), in Iraq's Kurdistan Region is a negative aspect of democracy, but the existence of opposition parties is seen as a positive step towards more transparency in the government.

"It's encouraging to see opposition parties here, such as the Gorran (Change) Movement," commented both Ibrahimovic and Verhagen.

But according to both students Gorran still has to improve itself before it can be called 'a true opposition power.'

During their fact-find trip to the region, the university students were also delighted with the large representation of women in the Kurdish Parliament. There are more than 37 female MPS, based on a law that sets a 30 percent quota in the Kurdistan Parliament.

Furthermore, they were positive about security and other developments witnessed in Kurdistan Region.

"Kurdistan is a safe region"

"This is not the Iraq we expected; we like to be here, because we had the chance to see the other, developing and unique part of Iraq," told Verhagen. She said that when they go back to the Netherlands, they will talk about their experiences in one part of Iraq. According to her, the students will tell everyone that Kurdistan is a safe and modern region, unlike what the media says regarding Iraq.

Escorting the students is post-graduate International Relations student, Kris Ruigrok. For him, it is the second visit to Iraqi Kurdistan. The 22-years-old hoped that next year there will be an exchange program, were Kurdish students also get the opportunity to visit the Netherlands.

"We talked to the University of Kurdistan-Hawler (UKH) and we hope that next year (2011) they can also visit our universities in Amsterdam," said Ruigrok.

During their Kurdistan trip, the Dutch students also met Kurdish students at Erbil's Salahaddin University and UKH. On Thursday the delegation headed to the city of Sulaimaniyah, were they met other officials, political sciences students and a Netherlands-backed NGO, Independent Media Center in Kurdistan (IMCK), which organizes media training for local journalists and media outlets.

The students depart Erbil International Airport on Sunday, January 24, flying back to Amsterdam, to conclude their research and tell their experiences to other people regarding Iraqi Kurdistan (Photo: Rudaw, by Mariwan Salihi).

© Rudaw