Posted by: h4ck@lyst | November 7, 2007

Love blooms beneath shadow of war

By Jenny Cuffe
BBC News, Iraq

{This is a story that I really liked. Am reproducing it its entirety and hoping the BBC guys will excuse me for the copyright infringements. }

As international efforts continue to prevent a Turkish military operation in the Kurdish northern region of Iraq, day to day life goes on, including the business of romance.

An Iraqi Kurdish couple

Technology allows couples to circumvent tradition

Ohmed is 28 and doing his Masters in Business Studies at the University of Kurdistan in Irbil.

Like many Kurds of his generation, he is more interested in making money than pursuing a nationalistic ideal.

So, I was surprised when he said, with some vehemence, that if Turkey invaded Iraq’s Kurdish areas he would become a soldier and go off to fight.

His friend Abdullah agreed.

“Let them step one foot on our soil,” he declared, “and I’ll be delighted to kill them.”

Love not war

It is not that these two young men feel much sympathy for the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

It is just that they do not much like their Turkish neighbours and, as sons of Peshmergas (men who for generations have fought for their independence) they also have something to prove.

Women at a Kurdish wedding

Contact with members of the opposite sex is severely controlled

But, as we drove across the honey-tinted hills towards the mountains, Ohmed’s thoughts were more often about love than war.

In the intimacy of long car journeys, he told me how his part in a bizarre and somewhat cruel practical joke had turned into a proposal of marriage to a young woman called Nasreen.

He was now waiting for her father to approve the match and growing increasingly anxious as each day passed with no news.

None of it would have been possible without the mobile phone.

Even urban professional families in Iraq’s Kurdish region expect their sons and daughters to be spotlessly pure in thought and deed. Contact between the sexes is strictly controlled.

But the phone opens up new opportunities.

Nasreen’s college friends made use of it for a bit of mischief.

They borrowed Ohmed’s mobile to ring her repeatedly and hang up before she answered.

Then they teased her about the mystery number in her call log saying there were rumours she was having an affair with a married man and here was the evidence.

The culmination of the plot was to get Ohmed, older and therefore manly enough to be convincing, to phone again, wait this time for her to answer and pretend he was her lover.

“Who are you and why do you keep ringing?” she wailed, only to be told how cruel she was to deny what was going on between them.

Mobile romance

Ohmed is a great charmer and even though she could not see his jet black hair and glittering eyes, Nasreen was obviously rather impressed by her first contact with this softly spoken stranger of the opposite sex.

She mentioned to her friends that she would not mind speaking to him again.

A daily, sometimes nightly, ritual began of long conversations, unchaperoned and unconstrained.

Like the nurse in Romeo and Juliet, the mobile was the romantic facilitator, a 21st Century substitute for the go-between, arranging assignations and delivering messages


They fell in love without seeing each other in the flesh.

Then Ohmed drove to her street at a pre-arranged time, got out of the car, and stood near her house pretending to talk on his mobile.

She made some excuse to come outside and they glanced at each other discreetly to their mutual satisfaction.

All this took place, of course, without her parents knowing.

Like the nurse in Romeo and Juliet, the mobile was the romantic facilitator, a 21st Century substitute for the go-between, arranging assignations and delivering messages.

With all this talk of romance and the breath-taking landscape, I found myself growing increasingly fond of Iraq’s Kurdish region, lulled by hospitality and sweet tea into thinking this was a world away from the horrors taking place in the rest of the country.

There were moments of disillusionment, of course, when I heard about corruption and tribal politics, about the party members awarded high marks at university regardless of merit, the jobs for people with the right name and the polling booth where ballot papers were ticked more than once.

I learned that a journalist from Radio Nawr, the region’s favourite station, had just been imprisoned for three days after reporting that a hospital in Dukan was giving its patients out-of-date medicines, and a political journalist on the independent paper Hawlati is still recovering from a severe beating by security services.

Good news

Fortunately there has been no rude awakening for Ohmed and Nasreen.

He managed to get an invitation to her home through a distant relative so they are now able to meet, though never alone.

Conversation in front of her parents is stiff and awkward but thanks to those lengthy private phone calls, they have probably got to know each other as well as many couples in more liberal societies.

I was worried I would have to leave the region before knowing whether Nasreen’s father would give them his blessing.

Ohmed was getting increasingly tense and, as the rhetoric from Turkey grew more belligerent, I imagined him exchanging T-shirt and jeans for military fatigues, a vision of disaster.

But on the romance side, at least, it is good news.

Her father has given his answer and it is yes.

The young couple will marry, perhaps as soon as a fortnight from now.

On that day, during the ceremony at least, their phones will be switched off.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday 3 November, 2007 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: