“Bor­ingly Safe” in Kur­dis­tani Iraq!

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - By Alina L'Ami Part II

In part one of her re­port to Kur­dis­tani Iraq, Alina l>Ami gave us a beau­ti­ful im­pres­sion of the city of Er­bil, a thriv­ing zone full of kind peo­ple. In this sec­ond and fi­nal half she fo­cuses on the events sur­round­ing the tour­na­ment it­self, which was even­tu­ally won by Dutch GM Sergey Tivi­akov, while of course bring­ing us a big pic­to­rial re­port of a high pub­li­cized event.

I am a bit wor­ried that things might change in the fu­ture though. Kur­dis­tan is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an amaz­ing eco­nomic and cul­tural boom, greatly due to petrol. To get a pic­ture, one litre of gaso­line costs... 35 Euro cents! Any­way, new build­ings, (ho­tels, shops, malls, univer­si­ties) are pop­ping up con­tin­u­ously like mush­rooms af­ter rain. The place is likely to be­come an eco­nom­i­cal par­adise and this would prob­a­bly awake the in­ter­est of visi­tors with... let’s call it “less hon­or­able in­ten­tions”.

And yet, I am full of hope that this kind of ad­ven­tur­ers will be rapidly as­sim­i­lated by the kind­ness and gen­eros­ity reign­ing all over the streets. More likely, the Ro­ma­nian proverb ac­cord­ing to which one rot­ten ap­ple is enough to ruin the whole bas­ket would not ap­ply here; on the con­trary, the uni­ver­sal lan­guage of well­do­ing should pre­vail.

This brings us to an­other amaz­ing theme: the char­ac­ter of the peo­ple. The warmth of the lo­cals made me feel like as if step­ping into one of the most beau­ti­ful of the 1001 night tales...

As a rel­a­tively ‘ex­pe­ri­enced’ pho­tog­ra­pher, I have no­ticed that in many places peo­ple dis­play cer­tain re­luc­tance to be­ing “im­mor­tal­ized” by my cam­era. Much to my re­lief, this was not the case in Kur­dis­tan. There were many ways in which peo­ple showed them­selves happy to be pho­tographed by me or... to­gether with me! They would re­ward my cam­era’s in­sa­tiable cu­rios­ity with smiles, hand-wav­ing, or even…a cup of tea!

And if I took a pic­ture of some­one, peo­ple around were not shy to ex­press their dis­sat­is­fac­tion or even of­fence, that they are left out­side the view an­gle! Most prob­a­bly, these feel­ings are only pre­tended, in the spirit of some sort of lo­cal hu­mor, but since I couldn’t be sure and it didn’t cost me money any­way, I gladly pho­tographed them, too, just to be greeted with the broad­est smiles...

In­deed, smiles all over... This is a com­mon pat­tern in my pho­tos from this ar­ti­cle. And as you can no­tice, smiling is con­ta­gious: jut have a look at this bunch of par­tic­i­pants to the chess fes­ti­val!

And there were good rea­sons for the play­ers’ smiles. Although most of the or­ga­niz­ers had their nor­mal jobs, they wouldn’t spare any effort or minute to make us live like in a dream. Ho­tel, food, play­ing con­di­tions, and clos­ing cer­e­mony were all at the five star level. But this was only part of the story. I more than once felt that we were spoiled not only by the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties but also by the whole lo­cal pop­u­la­tion, as a per­fect prove that – “Gens Una Su­mus”. My big­gest thanks to the or­ga­niz­ers (Cen­tral Union of Chess of Kur­dis­tan, Khan­zad Chess Club and Ca­pablanka In­sti­tute) for this mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence!

All over we were told: Er­bil is your home, en­joy, please do ask for any­thing you need, you are one of us. This gave me the clear feel­ing that chess made us all, hosts and visi­tors, a big happy fam­ily! (I have never had so many group shots in any tour­na­ment so far :)

Such an am­bi­tious state­ment surely re­quires some con­crete ex­am­ples, but let me as­sure you that I am not short of them.

One of the play­ers missed the of­fi­cial bus and found him­self on his own look­ing for a way to get to the game. A com­plete stranger pass­ing by no­ticed there was some prob­lem and lit­er­ally took him by the hand to the play­ing hall.

I had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence to­gether with Jo­han Zwanepol, the old­est par­tic­i­pant in the tour­na­ment and renowned or­ga­nizer from Gronin­gen, while look­ing for a way of reach­ing the bazaar. We de­cided to be one with the place and took the…pub­lic trans­porta­tion. We hap­pened to run into my first round op­po­nent, who in­stantly be­came our per­sonal (and rather skilled) guide! Not be­fore smiling and jok­ing a lot and...invit­ing us to a cup of tea, of course!

And if we spoke about lo­cal op­po­nents... one of them felt obliged to apol­o­gize im­me­di­ately af­ter blun­der­ing, feel­ing sorry about hav­ing spoiled the game! I took this as a highly un­usual mix­ture of love for chess, gen­tle­men be­hav­ior and kind­ness.

But the top of it came only dur­ing the last round. Be­fore the clos­ing cer­e­mony I sud­denly felt sorry that I didn’t have any tra­di­tional Kur­dish cloths at my dis­posal... How could I have been so care­less as not to have got some dur­ing the tour­na­ment? It would have been such a nice way to show my thank­ful­ness for the or­ga­niz­ers and the whole coun­try...

I was “saved” by a mir­a­cle. A com­pletely unknown woman, who didn’t speak any bit of English, un­der­stood the sit­u­a­tion from my ges­tures. De­spite the lin­guis­tic bar­rier, we un­der­stood each other per­fectly. She promised to bring me some cloth­ing af­ter the round... And here I am!

As a fi­nal thought...I felt that all the par­tic­i­pants emerged as true win­ners. And I don’t re­fer to re­turn­ing alive from Iraq; it wouldn’t be con­se­quent af­ter ex­plain­ing how safe the place was. What I meant is that we all had a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence, made pos­si­ble by break­ing the bar­rier of pre­con­ceived opin­ions and ven­tur­ing to dream that the 1001 Nights at­mos­phere may come true...

Will you ‘dare’ to take the chal­lenge and par­tic­i­pate in the 3rd Kur­dis­tan Chess Fes­ti­val next year?! I am al­ready on the list!

Alina l'Ami dur­ing the Kur­dish flag's day.

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