|A delegation from Rania, Iraq, visited Duluth in 2010.|
“This project was built on the idea that people don’t go to war with people that they know and identify with,” said Amy Shuster, a UMD assistant professor of political science.
“The best way that can develop is through social and cultural interaction. We hope that building this relationship with Rania will not only last, but promote a positive peace, not just the absence of conflict," said Shuster.
Rania is a Kurdish city of nearly 100,000 in northeastern Iraq, set at the base of the Zagros Mountains. Shuster has been a part of the program, the Duluth-Rania Friendship Exchange, from the beginning. The program was started in 2008 by Michelle Narr-Obed and began as a cultural exchange between a group of Duluth and Rania citizens who took the idea of “citizen to citizen diplomacy” to heart.
In May 2009, a delegation of six Duluth residents traveled to Rania, where they met with city officials and local leaders. They learned about Kurdish culture, language, education, politics, and more. They toured youth centers and museums and experienced the city's music, dance, and food.
A delegation from Duluth visited Rania in 2009.
When they returned, they maintained the friendship with Rania. Last year in October, five Ranians visited Duluth. They toured the city and met with Mayor Don Ness.
The Rania delegation also toured UMD's campus and met with students and faculty over lunch. They presented Susana Pelayo-Woodward, director of UMD's Multicultural Center, with a Kurdish flag. "It was important to them that Kurdistan be represented in the community of nations in the Multicultural Center," Shuster said.
The Duluth-Rania Friendship Exchange would eventually like to offer UMD students the option to study abroad at the newly opened university near Rania. UMD students could be part of the efforts to more fully uncover the area's archaelogical remains.
Shuster believes that UMD students would "model for their new classmates the democratic values at the heart of liberal arts education, which has only recently been introduced in Iraq."
She noted that the Ranians strongly identify with the American Indian experience as their Kurdish ancestors predate the spread of Islam in the region. "UMD students could deepen their understanding of the condition of internal minorities by undertaking a comparative study of these communities," Shuster said.
The Duluth-Rania Friendship Exchange has other goals they would like to accomplish. The Ranians are particularly interested in a solution to domestic abuse Shuster noted. The Duluth Model, a domestic abuse intervention project, is a program developed to reduce domestic violence which has gained world-wide recognition. It could be adapted to the needs of the Ranians and eventually offered in that city.
This summer, the Duluth group is returning to Rania. So far, three individuals will be traveling there, where they will spend one week in the city. Over 6,000 miles separate the two cities, but the ties of friendship have shrunk that distance considerably.
For more information on the Duluth-Rania Friendship Exchange, please visit Duluth-Rania.org.
Written by Fatima Jawaid, edited by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann