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Chapter 19: The End of a Beginning

Barzan to Zakho. April 27-28.

My last two home visits in Iraq were characterised by Peshmerga, the military of the Kurdish regional government. The first of these hosts, Alnd, was himself a soldier, stationed in the mountains. It was interesting the hear about the conflicts in the area from that perspective. It is important to note that PKK, Kurdistan's Workers' Party, is something entirely different from Peshmerga, the official military of Kurdistan region. Peshmerga operates under the autonomous region of Kurdistan, itself a part of Iraq. PKK is classified as a terrorist organisation by both EU and Nato among others, and mainly operates against the authorities and military of Türkiye. While there had been some worried voices about my journey to Zakho, I saw no trace of PKK or Turkish military and locals where I came confirmed that the fighting was up in the mountains and that the main roads were safe.

Alnd and his family normally reside in one of the mountain villages that are now evacuated because of the skirmishes between the PKK and the Turkish military. While he, like every Kurd, dreams of a united Kurdistan, he felt that the actions of PKK have caused problems and pain as it has given Turkish military reason to use violence even in Iraq. It is a deeply infected conflict, made harder by the fact that the Kurds are separated in four countries, but only recognised in one of them.

The Barzan valley

Every home and every family, anywhere in the world, have stories of depth and intrigue to be told. However, they are easier to access in some areas than others. In Iraq, federal and Kurdish alike, the rewards for the one looking for stories are particularly great. Not only is it exceptionally easy to come inside a home as you are constantly invited, the sheer amount of people will make stories plentiful and diverse - Iraqis have big families.

Take my last host, Roney. His father had nine siblings, several of which I got to meet. Once I started doing the maths and connecting the dots, I realised that Roney was older than his two youngest aunts and uncles. This, it turned out, is nothing out of the ordinary. In my mind as it was, families are separated into generations and could be visualised by a pyramid with one section for each generation. In a culture where 20+ years between siblings is common, this mental schema doesn't work as the actual families do not fit in them. The birth rates are generally coming down as living standards go up, but it was healthy for me to have my assumptions checked and my mind opened to different family structures. Also, I stand in awe of all the women who have given birth every other year for twenty years and more.

Roney's father was also a Peshmerga soldier. He was killed in the war with Daesh, the lslamic State, in 2016. It was not fought in Kurdistan region, but Peshmerga was part of the coalition forces. His youngest son, Roney's little brother, never got to meet his father. The family still receives his small salary to live on every month... except when they don't. This winter they were without payment for three consecutive months due to a political dispute that kept salaries from tens of thousands of homes.

Traveling tend to remove the moderator that is the stability and comfort of home. When visiting the unknown we are exposed to new impressions and uncertainty, alerting our senses. We are more likely to be surprised, thrilled, appalled, fully energised or completely exhausted. Iraq leaves such impressions on me, too. For the Kurds and the Arabs it is all normal, but for me the beauty and the brutality, the wonders and the weirdness leave deep impressions. For those looking for simple, convenient and predictable, Iraq is not the destination of choice. But for those hoping to be moved and overwhelmed, for those that want to feel something and think differently when they return, Iraq is truly a one-of-a-kind country in this world.

I feel it appropriate to end my month in Iraq, the first phase of my long journey, with some inspired words by a brilliant British mind. He is one of the most quotable men from the past century and his words of wisdom make for a fitting label to both my journey and to Iraq. l am of course talking about Ozzy Osbourne.

The lover of life's not a sinner

The ending is just a beginner

The closer you get to the meaning

The sooner you'll know that you're dreaming

So it's on and on and on

oh, it's on and on and on

It goes on

and on

and on

It's Heaven and Hell


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