At the end of 2012, the parliament in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan voted that the city of Sulaymaniyah should be designated their “cultural capital”. It was one of the only things that almost all the MPs in Iraqi Kurdistan could actually agree upon and when the decision was made, local media gave Sulaymaniyah’s new status a lot of attention – even international style magazine Monocle wrote about the city’s scene. However six months later, locals say that nothing much has changed in any concrete way.
The law that was passed said that the Ministry of Culture would allocate a special budget to the city’s culture.
But as local writer and one of the heads of the Sardam Printing and Publishing Foundation, Raouf Beka Rad, told NIQASH: “there hasn’t been any change in the artistic and cultural situation in Sulaymaniyah. There were supposed to be a lot of artistic and cultural events held after the decision was made but that hasn’t happened. It feels like Sulaymaniyah is only a cultural capital on paper.”
The Sardam Printing and Publishing Foundation is a prolific publisher of local authors and is headed by prominent Kurdish poet and activist Sherko Bekas.
“Sulaymaniyah has many characteristics that qualify it as our cultural capital,” Beka Rad says. “In this city there is poetry, literature, publishing and many other cultural events - and they do prosper. But that’s been going on for a long time and it’s had nothing to do with any political decision. But now that this designation has been made, we need it to become more of a reality,” Beka Rad insists.
“The steps being taken are too slow,” says Sulaymaniyah sculptor, Thahir Sadeep. “We need the officials who want this to go ahead to start working on some of the larger projects. The decision makers here don’t seem to understand the significance of calling Sulaymaniyah their cultural capital – it’s important but it needs a well thought out plan to go with it. And I don’t think they are up to creating this plan.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly Iraqi Kurdistan’s Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for making the cultural capital a reality, denies that it’s all happening too slowly. The region’s Minister for Culture and Youth, Kawa Mahmoud, says they’ve already done a lot to implement projects and plans.
In fact Mahmoud said he was on the way to a ceremony honouring a local poet. “We are working hard and we’ve made big strides,” Mahmoud told NIQASH. “The Ministry of Culture has allocated IQD20 billion [around US$17 million] to related projects.”
Asked as to whether critics from among the ranks of artists and intellectuals had a point, Mahmoud said simply that: “people have the right to be critical,” but that the Ministry was proceeding slowly and cautiously, building strong foundations and planning a number of new theatres and cinemas.