A Kurdish idealist returns to Iraq to 'change attitudes'
Taha Barwari came back to northern Iraqi from Sweden with a mission to inspire young Kurds disaffected by decades of war.
Nestled amid Iraq's highest mountains between the Iranian and Turkish borders, lies a town of farmers and traders, smugglers and truckers.Skip to next paragraph
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Choman is a place of dramatic beauty with snowcapped peaks and lush valleys. But even though Baghdad seems like a world away, the residents here, and in many other towns in Kurdish Iraq, still struggle to overcome the impact of war.
This turmoil has given rise to a generation that knows little more than war and has little hope in the new Iraq.
"We need a creative, educated, democratic, stimulated, employed, equal, and active youth population," says Mr. Barwari, minister of sports and youth for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Since returning to his native northern Iraq two years ago, Barwari has been leading a quiet revolution with the backing of KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, to do nothing less than alter the outlook of young Kurds.
With the help of his like-minded assistant, Asos Shafeek, who is also a recent returnee from Sweden, the minister has established 33 recreational centers around the region especially in deprived communities.
Barwari calls the centers "factories for attitude change."
His ministry is also involved in a project to publish 60 books in the Kurdish language distilling the concepts and ideas of world thinkers. He has pushed for the creation of a special committee made up of representatives of key ministries just to deal with the needs of the youth. His ministry sponsored the first coed summer camp in 2007.
Barwari estimates that about 65 percent of Iraqi Kurdistan's population of about 4.5 million is made up of people between the ages of 14 and 30, while 75 percent of his government's budget is spent on public sector salaries.
His initiatives are primarily aimed at promoting the virtues of volunteerism, critical thinking, independence, and entrepreneurship among the young people in a society overwhelmingly bound by a near-blind allegiance to the two main ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).