Stories from Kurdistan

Journey of the First Kurdish Woman Pilot: Born to a Displaced Family

The following article was originally published in Rudaw.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Warte Ali, the first Kurdish pilot to fly a civilian plane, was born just as her family, along with hundreds of thousands of Kurds were fleeing their cities to the mountains and neighboring countries following the popular uprising of 1991.

At that time, the Iraqi army had lost the First Gulf War at the hands of the US-led coalition, coupled with an uprising at home, including the Kurdish areas. Angered abroad, and facing protests at home, the Iraqi regime directs its military might against the Kurds in the north, and the Iraqis in the south, forcing many to fight for their lives as they fled their homes.

Ali’s family left Sulaimani to Warte near the Iranian border where locals initially hosted the family as well as many others.

“The dedication of the people of Warte, especially an elderly woman who had hosted us, had attracted the attention of my parents. I was therefore named Warte,” she said.

“I like my name very much. People often ask about my name, taking it to be distinct.”

Ali, 26, had lived for 23 of her life in Denmark where her family sought refuge as they left Kurdistan in early 1990s.

She studied Civil Aviation in Denmark but began her career back in Iraq becoming the first Iraqi female pilot to fly a Boeing plane.

Her father is a Peshmerga fighter.

She says she wanted to fly an airplane since her childhood.

“I was a child when the teacher was asking what my hobbies were. ‘Piloting,’ I was saying in response. I was very interested in flying. I was always drawing the image of the sky,” she detailed.

Her family finally decided to come back to the Kurdistan Region, but Ali stayed behind in Denmark.

“My parents returned back to Kurdistan. I was alone in Denmark pursuing my studies. I then found an opportunity to study at the College of Education for Aviation in Copenhagen. I was studying to fly small, not large planes. I worked hard and held vigils to fulfill my goal,” she said.

“In Denmark, I was flying only small planes. I had aspirations to fly big planes in the skies of the cities of Baghdad, Erbil and Sulaimani. That is why I came back to Kurdistan,” she said.

Ali completed her studies two years ago at Copenhagen Airtaxi College of Airline Pilots Education Denmark. She had then looked for a job, but was unlucky to find one in Kurdistan. Therefore she sought out a position in Baghdad.

“I was very interested to find a job with an aviation company in Kurdistan. But they didn’t need anyone, nor did anyone suggest any jobs to me. I then found a job opportunity with the Iraqi Airways Company in Baghdad. It took some months for the employment paperwork to finish. It’s been a year now that I am working. I along with an Arab man called Ali was sent to Dubai in order to study a course on flying larger planes. We took classes for 50 days. We studied a lot. We returned to Baghdad with very good marks,” she said.

Ali flew her first big plane to Cairo.

“On May 11, I for the first time flew a large airplane. I was wearing blue trousers, a white shirt, a blue tie with a bit of makeup. I flew to Cairo carrying 145 passengers on the plane. Thank God, my first flight was a success, which took 3 hours and five minutes due to the weather. But my return flight lasted only two hours and five minutes,” she said.

As she was conducting the interview with Rudaw last week, she said that she was going to have her second flight to Dubai that day.

“Most Arabic channels will be at the airport,” she said making reference to the attention she gets from the media.

She made the headlines in Iraq and Kurdistan after Iraq’s ministry transportation stated earlier this month that she was the first Iraqi woman to fly a civilian plance since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“I hope women look to me and make their own efforts. Nothing is impossible,” she said.

This article was originally published in Rudaw.

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