What are the current and future prospects for Iraqi Kurdistan? That’s what audiences at two presentations in Washington, D.C., organized by UCF’s Global Perspectives Office, came to discuss last week. The forums were a product of the partnership between UCF and Soran University, which is located in Iraqi Kurdistan. Specialists from both universities, as well as other experts, contributed to the discussions.
On Tuesday, UCF Special Assistant to the President for Global Perspectives John C. Bersia opened the first session, which was designed primarily for information-sharing and networking. The audience was largely made up of representatives from think tanks and universities – including Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, International Republican Institute, Middle East Institute, Georgetown University, National Defense University, National Democratic Institute, American Security Project, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, Hollings Center for International Dialogue, United States Institute of Peace and Atlantic Council – along with other organizations such as Global Connections Foundation, U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce and Kurdistan Regional Government-Iraq/Representation in the United States.
Dr. Kamal Y. Odisho Kolo, Dean of the Scientific Research Centre at Soran University, talked about the region’s social history and the plight of minorities. The next speaker was Dr. Gunes Murat Tezcur, the Jalal Talabani Kurdish Political Studies Endowed Chair Holder at UCF. He addressed current challenges facing Iraqi Kurdistan, drawing on his recent travels there. Finally, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, Representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government-Iraq in the United States, discussed Iraqi Kurdistan’s role in regional peace and security, including the fight against ISIS.
The second presentation took place at the U.S. House of Representatives in the conference room of the Foreign Affairs Committee, with an audience of mostly congressional staffers and various news media. Nahro Zagros, Vice President of Soran University, discussed education, economic and political obstacles facing Iraqi Kurdistan. Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, talked about U.S. interests in the region going forward. UCF’s Tezcur and Soran’s Kolo also offered perspectives.
One might wonder why UCF organized these meetings, and why the location and audience composition was so important.
Reflecting on those present at the meetings, Tezcur said, “In policy circles, there is a great interest about current political and economic circumstances in Iraqi Kurdistan that play a vital role in the international fight against the self-styled Islamic State. Our talks provided fresh and informed perspectives about ongoing armed conflict, economic crisis, relations with neighboring states and prospects for Kurdish independence.”
Bersia commented on UCF’s involvement, noting, “These presentations underscored the growing national and international importance of UCF’s resources, capabilities and connections relative to the Kurds. When the UCF Global Perspectives Office started exploring opportunities in Kurdish affairs a dozen years ago, there was relatively little attention devoted to the subject. Today, developments in the Middle East have brought more interest, but UCF remains the only U.S. university with a Kurdish Political Studies Program. As a result, UCF can deliver – through its program and partnerships such as the one with Soran University – substantive, timely updates on the Kurds to audiences at all levels that seek to broaden their insight and understanding of the issues.”