The Sidara

Many will say that King Faisal I of Iraq was not a strong and instrumental leader, placed by pressure on behalf of the British, in a country that he himself did not want to rule. Indeed, King Faisal I was not Iraqi and was not accustomed to Iraqi culture and society. But many are also quick to overlook the fact that he died due to tiredness and fatigue by trying to bring Iraqis together under one unified country and one great kingdom to rule them. One of King Faisal I’s innovative efforts for a new Iraqi society was the implementation of a national headdress that could represent the character of the modern Iraqi after the rule of the Ottomans.

King Faisal I devised a plan and had one of his advisors oversee the project for this national headdress, Rustam Haider. They wanted this headdress to signify that one is educated and loyal to the kingdom. They first called it Al Faisaleyah after the King’s own name to get a lot of people to wear it. At first, Al Faisaleyah was designed and made in England, but then small factories established in Baghdad as well. The headdress took the form of a pointy long hat, having its centre between two folds. The colour of the hat was usually black, but many other colours were created later on to support different suit styles.

When the hat became famous, those who wore it on their heads were called Affandis. When one was called by this title, they were regarded as literate and educated. Soon, the whole of Baghdad started wearing the hat and this became a great symbol and pride for Baghdadis as well as other people from other cities in Iraq as the hat became famous in the Northern Region of Kurdistan. At some point, the name was changed to Al Sidara and the exact reasons for this are unknown.

The Sidara has faced negative thoughts about it as well, by those who wished to break Iraq apart into something it wasn’t, by those who opposed the headdress and called it a thing of the British. During the 1936 coup when Bakr Sidqi was overthrown, attempts were made to abolish the hat. A law came into motion by the leader of the coup government, Hikmat Suleiman, banning the hat. They tried creating their own hat, but they failed and soon after their period, the Sidara returned as the sole national headdress of Iraqis.

After the 1958 coup by Abdulkarim Qassem, the Sidara hat and its importance slowly faded away and it started becoming a tradition of the past. As Iraq became a republic, people found it harder to live the old ways of the now forgotten kingdom. This loss was strong at first, but the hat found itself back into Iraqi society decades later through each government that took the reigns in Baghdad. This means that the hat was and still is an integral part of Iraqis and their culture. It reflects highly on our forwardness, education, and thinking. I myself am proud to wear the Sidara in this day and age. I find that many people are interested to know about the hat and its history and this is why I wrote this article. The Sidara was the invention of a king that wanted Iraqis to be educated and now it’s a legendary part of our history.b4173ef4-8a23-11e3-8829-00144feab7de

The Most Important Kurdish Painting

When I began Salam Art Foundation in 2017, one of the key goals was to acquire and preserve works of Kurdish art. I knew it was going to be a challenging task considering the fact that there was no regulated scene for such a genre. Nonetheless, I started talking to many of the people I knew in my city and I got to meet a whole bunch of collectors, dealers, and artists. After so many connections, I felt optimistic about the whole thing and everyday new opportunities came forward to collect the works I wanted to collect. This brings me to the subject of the article…the most important Kurdish painting. Does such a work exist? Can there ever be one important work that represents the whole of Kurdistan and the Kurdish people? Wouldn’t it be outrageous to deem such a painting the “most important”? These are all valid questions that I asked myself. What follows is the story behind such a painting and my answers to those questions.

The story begins sometime in the middle of 2017 when I was invited over to a family member’s home. I was having dinner and when I finished, I got up to wash my hands and I walked past a room with a very significant painting in it…mainly because it was the only painting in the room, even in the house. I got back to the table and asked the homeowner about the artwork and he was very happy when I did. There was a certain proudness in him when he heard me asking about it and this was very intriguing to me. He said the work was painted on a very unfortunate night that he will never forget. The artist, Omar Darwesh, turned out to be a close friend of his who was with him that night.

May 25th, 1987 was the date that the small village of Balisan in Northern Iraq or Kurdistan was chemically bombarded by the Baath Regime of Saddam Hussien. The homeowner, Mr. Nawzad, and Omar Darwesh were together when the destruction of the village took place. They had ran away to another city that night in fear of more bombardment around the area. When they had gotten to a safe haven, Omar Darwesh become very emotional about the events that took place and this was when his inner artist came into being and he sat down to express the anger and frustration of it all into one single painting. An interesting note to take is that this would go on to form most of Darwesh’s style, he would always paint to a certain event and he would use the painting to express the emotions he felt as well signifying the hope to be seen within that event.

Darwesh wanted to paint about the horrible event that took place that day, but he also wanted to capture another struggle. He wanted to give the event some sort of deep meaning. If you look at the painting, it is basically detailing the destruction of the Balisan village. If we look amidst all this chaos, we see an elderly man taking seat and looking at something. Is he looking at the destruction of his village? Do you think this elderly man is worried about the destruction of the village…it looks as if he is almost careless about the whole thing. Here’s where the genius of the painting shows itself.

The elderly man is looking at something far greater. In front of him, lies a broken tree with one single green leaf on it. The green leaf represents hope, hence the title. We can easily sense the apocalyptic tones in the painting, but this single green leaf delivers the real message: that even though the village is destroyed and burning with vicious flames, the elderly man looks to hope in the green leaf. To put it in another way, this painting captures the greater struggle of the Kurds and their unquestionable eye for hope.

This year, the work turns 31 years old. Due to a lack of good materials, Darwesh painted the work on fibre wood with oil colors. After I heard the story behind the painting, I knew I had to get this work for my collection. A year long pursuit took place until I finally convinced Mr. Nawzad about obtaining the work. I had told him works like this are very special, almost priceless to exist until now. I explained to him the cultural value it contained and why just not Kurds, but foreigners had to see this work to really understand the history of the Kurdish people. I told him if he gave me the work, it would be my mission to put this work into a museum where it belongs. It was upon these words that he trusted me with the painting. He was very happy to know of a young Kurdish boy documenting and collecting art for the purposes of education and peace. I can proudly state that this work will be the ultimate face of my collection, it will be my very own treasure story to tell people about.

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A New Region

Slemani has always been known as the city of rebellion and the capital of culture. It was and still is a crucial place for Kurdish nationalism and thought. It prides itself of how strong and capable its youth are and what they can achieve. Although a relaxed city in terms of culture and societal richness, it has been the centre of opposition towards the Kurdistan Regional Government. When the KRG decided to stop civil workers’ salaries and make itself less transparent, it ended up becoming one of the most corrupted institutions in the region. They stop providing common folk with basic necessities of life and rule of law. The province of Slemani in general was heavily affected by these irreversible actions and this initiated many protests among civilians.

With current developments, the disunity between the Erbil and Slemani is at an all time high. While many stress for one total administration to run things, it is evident that such program never took place. Political parties like Gorran have not been able to execute all its rights and projects, instead were blocked from doing anything that they vowed to do. A call for a separate region headed by a joint government of majority voted parties in Slemani, Gorran and PUK, will prove to be a very beneficial move. For one reason, these parties can go about their own governing without the corrupt hand of KRG interfering in their politics. This new region would also play a much better and recognised role in democratic talks with Baghdad. It could also work towards more economic plans that could help its situation become better. None of these things can be reached with Erbil holding all the power and not sharing it amongst other cities.

Many are against this move, fearing the Kurdish dream of statehood will die with it. I will be one of the first people to stand behind this move, as I can firmly understand this is actually a new road towards independence. With the current failed government, not Baghdad and not any other country are serious about talks for independence. Baghdad is not even willing to implement Article 140, because they fear the government will practice racist ideology and break apart Kirkuk’s diverse community. Economically speaking, if such region were to emerge, it would be a marvel. Rich in minerals, historically the main producer for wheat in all of Iraq, it could regain its status as a powerful province. A new region would also prevent another civil war amongst Kurds, as then it would be two totally different administrations dealing more naturally with one another. It is high time a move like this becomes a reality, so we can determine a better path for our people who have been suffering for long. The current government has been ailing since 2003, it is time for a reorganisation and a new approach to governance.

Participation over Opposition

Over the past few years in the Kurdistan Region, certain political parties and organisations have established themselves as voices of opposition and their politics have been based around one point: to unite a mass of people in opposing today’s non-transperent and highly corrupt government. This is a noble approach to reforms, very democratic in itself, and could have made some real changes up until now. But here’s my question, why not unite a people in participation rather than opposition? Why not have them united in being informed rather than being told a different version of the story?

The government has already exercised its fair share in programs of youth and elderly alienation, having them think politics and nation-building is something very difficult and can be done by only a few…but they are wrong. The construction of a nation and its systems requires an all out effort from each of its citizens or in this case, workers. Why haven’t any of these new political organisations focused on the participation of citizens and not their opposition? Why focus on their disgust and hate?

Imagine if these new parties invested all their might on establishing youth and elderly councils who would work together and collectively to set out plans, initiatives, and projects. They would be having a revolutionary change in motion with all citizens being able to perform their own share of civic duty.

This move would regain public trust, as well as public interest. A people united in participation for the betterment of their nation means only positivity and forwardness. It is definitely the time to break party barriers and determine a new path, one that includes all genders, ages, and thinking to help build a better place.

The Art of Collecting Art

Art is a beautiful thing, a very human thing as well, something that brings us together. It rids us of our egos and misconceptions, tears our philosophies down one by one. It amazes us, relaxes us, and even instills a quality of smartness one wouldn’t normally get otherwise. It is truly the centre of all our doing, our expressing, and our lives. It is through art that we acquire a sense of societal importance.

A few days ago I turned my own little interest in art into a long-term hobby. I decided to set up my own personal collection in where I obtain art that I liked. Now, there’s buying art and there’s collecting art, two very different things. The latter requires great intelligence, patience, and enjoyment. Why collect art? What is it good for? Can’t you just look at some art and find joy in it without owning it? Yes, you can and you would if you didn’t think about the endless opportunities it gives you and the millions of doors it opens.

By collecting art, you are establishing an image for yourself. An image that is filled with love for culture, education, and art itself. You are letting yourself become part of a lost tradition. You get to meet all sorts of people who you can learn from. You learn from the art that you collect. Thus, we understand that collecting art is a tool to become smarter and more cultured, it is a tool to be more social, and last but not least, it is a happy escape from a depressing world. Overtime, your collection becomes a visual representation of you and your values. It becomes you. It will show itself in the level of sophistication you want.

My aim right now is to obtain as much artwork as I can, of course art that I like and that expresses my values. And in the future it is then a goal to open up exhibitions throughout Iraq and the UAE to let others be part of my joy and for others to get inspired by the collection. So, you see, collecting art is in itself an art to master.

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Dinner at Sultan’s

On Tuesday, the 5th of December, I was invited over to Sultan Al Qassimi’s house for dinner…the rest is history.

I had gotten the invitation only when I personally reached out to him through Instagram and asked for advice on a project I was starting. The project had to do with collecting art and knowing of Sultan’s background, he is quite the art enthusiast. He replied back quickly and asked where I was based and that there was a dinner happening soon at his home and he’d invite me over to talk about the works he had collected as well as chat about my project. Being an avid reader of his articles and a follower of his organisation, Barjeel Art Foundation, I knew this was an opportunity that I couldn’t miss.

It is then Tuesday, where I had readied myself for the evening and went on my way. On the car ride, I had all sorts of thoughts about what I was potentially walking into. Being a film student, I had imagined more than ten ways how my meeting with him would work out. Scenario after scenario, at last, I had reached his home. Being escorted in, I was told Sultan was upstairs sitting down with another guest. As I was walking up the stairs, an intrigued voice gently shouted, “Who is it?” and I hadn’t prepared myself for a premature greeting on the stairs, so I said “It’s Shad. It’s me. The guy from Instagram”. When I finished my rather long walk up the stairs, there I saw Sultan and his guest, Abdalla Al Ustath, and greeted them both in Arabic. I had worried about the formalities continuing in Arabic, because my speaking is quite elementary and I didn’t want to get into the whole “I’m a Kurd, but I’m Iraqi too, I was just raised in the North” situation. I found out that Abdalla and I were the youngest to attend the dinner of 40, yes 40 people.

We later on went down to what I presume was the guest room and we saw the coming guests. Sultan was in a very cheery mood and his guests were all happy to see him…again. I had realised I was probably going to be the only newcomer that night, when I saw many of the guests were already well informed of the situation, the dinner. But something happened and I owe this all to the host himself, I put a stop to my overthinking as I was introduced to the others by Sultan. It was almost as if I was invited to a great party and I was afraid of going inside, but the host would be like, “Nonsense!”.

The variety and diversity of the people there, it was surely a hint at how culturally rich the night was going to be. I noticed as well, the immense collection of art hanging on the walls of the house, from artists I adored and took joy in. As introductions were over, everybody stood up to talk more with each other and I fell in conversation with many, all inspiring people from different backgrounds that opened doors, gates, and windows…you name it.

When dinner was being served, I was quite eager to get done and roam around the house looking at more art. Sultan guided a few of us to a small tour of what he thought were the most important art pieces he had collected. I was quite happy when I found out most of them were from Iraqi artists and the way he was explaining them, it was as if he was with each artist while they were doing their art. He was truly fond of his acquisitions and didn’t think to miss a single detail out, even if it didn’t mean anything. This was the same kind of commitment I wanted for my art collection.

As the night was coming to an end, I was once again playing scenarios in my head. This time, I was visioning how the night was going to be after I had actually went there. It was a combination of every great thing I had read, seen, or heard. It was the accumulation of all the things I loved and respected and the surprising element of mystery. I met some of the most fabulous people in Dubai, I enjoyed great food, and I was a young student among a rather large group of teachers…but that was the joy of it all. Age and nationality didn’t collide, instead they were elevated. It was my first attendance of a cultural saloon and probably the best one.