Education has a crucial role for sustainable peace in Iraq

Sunrise in Duhok, August 2014. The city is the capital of the Duhok Governorate, one of the governorates in the Kurdistan Region. Photo: Gregg Brekke/WCC

In a series of workshops in Iraq, the role of education in promoting social cohesion and sustainable peace was discussed by education experts, representatives of government and of different ethnic groups, as well as Iraqi religious and community leaders.

Organized in December by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in collaboration with the Norwegian non-governmental organization NCA funded by Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), four workshops were held in the north of Iraq and its capital Baghdad.

The first of the workshops took place on 3-4 December in Erbil, Kurdistan, gathering various civil society actors, and was followed by a workshop in Baghdad on 7-8 December, bringing together 35 participants including representatives of ethnic groups, religious leaders, as well as members of parliament and an advisor to the prime minister. Two additional workshops in Erbil (13-14 December and 17-18 December) gathered education experts as well as heads of churches and ethnic group representatives.

Workshop participants sit around table.
Workshop participants gathered around the table. Photo: Carla Khijoyan/WCC

“The aim of these workshops is related to the fact that existing educational curricula in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region do not fully reflect the different components of the Iraqi social fabric, their contributions to society historically and currently, nor encourage recognition and appreciation of the value of ethnic and religious diversity,” says Carla Khijoyan, WCC programme executive for the Middle East, coordinating the project.

This contributes to tensions and divisions and creates a foundation for exclusion, marginalization and discrimination. “Peace does not only mean the absence of war and conflict, peace means the establishment of just and inclusive communities where each individual feels fully recognized, and has access to equal citizenship, rights and responsibilities, safety, security, and life in dignity, promoted by education and guaranteed by the constitution,” adds Khijoyan.

During the ongoing dialogues, participants in the workshops emphasized the necessity of eliminating everything that leads to discrimination, incitement to racism and hatred in education curricula, to promote a cohesive societal fabric at the national level in Iraq.

Despite all the current difficulties and challenges in the region, the participants expressed considerable optimism in coming up with practical recommendations and proposals for solutions for meeting the urgent need of citizens in the region, improving the education process for the next generations, and promoting just and inclusive societies.

Within a context made fragile by the impacts of the pandemic, tough economic realities, and political and security risks, participants from Jewish, Yezidi, Sabean-Mandean, Zoroastrian, Shabak, Muslim and Christian backgrounds, came together in a spirit of fellowship and unity, to celebrate a “fragile hope” illuminated by the light of the different religious festivities that are coinciding these days in the Middle East region.