Kirkuk... The city of fire

Interviews 11:31 AM - 2021-11-16

Kristiina Koivunen, writer of the book 'Kirkuk.. The city of fire', at the Writers Association talking about her book, PUKmedia/ Julia Zimmermann

Kristiina Koivunen presented her latest book ‘Kirkuk – The city of fire’ in an open discussion last Wednesday at the Kurd’s Writers Union at the Jamal Erfan book shop in Slemani. 

The Finnish writer, journalist and sociologist Kristiina Koivunen attended in person, despite of Covid-19, to introduce her 11th book about the Kurds and the 3rd about Kirkuk, written in Finnish and in the English language. For over 13 years she has travelled in Kurdistan and has lived 3 of them permanently in the South of Kurdistan. Her books about the Kurdish genocides such as Anfal in Halabja or her doctoral dissertation about the Invisible war in the North of Kurdistan include historical research and also personal experiences. Because of the fact that she is a foreigner who speaks about these sensitive topics she can adopt a wider perspective on the Kurdish history than local writers who have been too close to the events that have happened. 

Dr. Kristiina Koivunen is a Finnish Non-fiction writer, independent scholar, social worker. 
She has Master of Arts (Journalism) University of Tampere, Doctor of Social Sciences (Social policy) University of Helsinki, 2002, and PhD Thesis: The Invisible War in North Kurdistan. 
She previously worked as a lecturer at the Slemani University, College of Education in Kalar, as well as Slemani University, College of Humanities, Department of Sociology in Slemani.

Right before her seminar about her latest book about Kirkuk she answered PUKmedia some questions:

Tell us about your latest book ‘Kirkuk – The city of fire’?

I went for the first time to Kirkuk in 2008. A Kurdish teacher took me there and I felt immediately that it is something really important, but at that time I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know anything about the history of this city. When I went back to Finland I started to research but I couldn’t find much information about it. So, I thought : If no one has written about that, so I must do it. Then the 16 of October 2017 when the Arabs took Kirkuk from the Peshmergas and I saw how it affected the Kurdish people, that’s when I decided that now I must tell my own experiences from Kirkuk and everything what I have seen there. 

When I wrote my first book, which was my doc toral dissertation I didn’t plan to write forever about the Kurds, but these things are really interesting and feel that I am now in the center of the most interesting news in the Middle East. 

What made you interested in the Kurd’s cause?

Finland is a northern European country, Russia is our neighbor and we have more than 1,000 km land border with Russia. Finland has been part of Sweden, then it became part of Russia and then 100 years ago Finland became independent. Finnish people feel lots of sympathy about the Kurds, because your history and our history between the strong, big and dangerous neighbors. It has a lot of similarities. 

Why are the Kurds in a constant conflict?

Some people say that the biggest enemy of the Kurds is other Kurds.  The main point is that the Kurds are not united. About 100 years ago when the collapse of the Ottoman Empire reached its final stage the Kurds did not have a strong national identity like Arabs and Turks for example have. So they were divided to 3 different countries: Iraq, Turkey and Syria and the Kurds started fighting for their rights against 3 different enemies. All this process of national identity development, it stopped because of these 3 enemies.

In your book you write about a teacher named Shadia. When she says that she didn’t talk to anyone about the bombing and about the problems here because people are laughing at you and saying: ‘This is Iraq’. Do you think that people have accepted the situation? Or what is your response to those people who have lived something like this?

They have a collective trauma here and somehow their culture is such that they are not used to talk about traumatic experiences. I think that’s causing a lot of tension here because most people here have been affected by those cruel things that happened here or they are children of people who have experienced horrible things. It is not common to speak about this, it’s like a taboo here.

Have you ever felt in danger during your visits in Kurdistan?

I have been visiting only Kirkuk more than 30 times and I know people who know the situation. I trust these Kurdish people who are Peshmergas or police who have good contacts. I trust that they don’t take me to a place that would be dangerous. Here inside the Kurdish autonomous area it is very safe, I have been going to almost all cities by myself.   

What is the situation in Kirkuk?

I think the oil is not the main point. The problem is between the political leaders. The problem is not in between the people in Kirkuk. It has a multicultural and multiethnic history, so the people on the crossroad level don’t have a problem with each other. There have been mixed marriages and there are also many companies in Kirkuk. There are mixed companies, there are different ethnic people that make together a company. 

In your own personal opinion, what would be the solution? 

If the Kurds learn how to make cooperation with each other, this country would have a great future. But unfortunately I don’t see any sign between the leaders to learn to make cooperation with each other.

Actually, now it’s been 4 years that the Kurds lost Kirkuk to Arabs, so even now they are just speaking with each other about “whose fault it was that we Kurds lost Kirkuk”. I feel that one should find a way to get over the wrongs of the past, discuss it for once and then look at the future and try to find some way to male cooperation because now it’s only the enemies of the Kurds who are benefiting of this situation. 

Reported by Julia Zimmermann

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