DUHOK—Growing up in Kurdistan, Zhiyan Abdul Rahman wanted to be an architect like her older brother. Then a new set of friends put her on a different path. “They were all people who are active in our area and talked about what we want for the future,” she said. “I always thought our community is never going to change … but they made me more open-minded.”
Instead of architecture, the 21-year-old enrolled at the department of peace and human rights studies at the University of Duhok, in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. As Rahman browsed through the program, the lectures in multiculturalism, conflict resolution and human rights sounded exciting.
“It’s a path to change our communities,” she said. “For now I can volunteer; then when I graduate, I can work with major organizations and make an impact.”
Rahman’s four-year undergraduate course in peace and conflict-resolution studies is the only degree program in Iraq that teaches students about the emerging theory and practice of peace-building. Established in 2016, the department is the first of its kind in the region, setting a precedent for studies in this subject at the undergraduate level. (See a related article, “Peace Engineering, a Budding New Discipline, May Spread to the Middle East.”)
Next year, the first cohort of graduates of the new program at Duhok will go out into society, providing insights into the impact of providing peace-studies education to university students in Kurdistan.
Already, other universities from across Iraq have expressed interest in launching peace studies programs, including the University of Mosul and the University of Baghdad.
“Iraq has had many problems, from its formation to the present day,” said Vaheel Jabbar, coordinator of the program at Duhok. “It’s important for people in our society to know how to deal with conflict.”
Heavy Demand for Peace Studies
The course has proved popular, attracting almost three times the anticipated number of students in the first year and increasing steadily since. At present, there are 242 students in the department, Jabbar said, but he hopes new spaces can be created to meet mounting demand.
The department is squeezed onto the first floor of the College of Humanities, and between lectures, the corridors throng with students.