The Kurdish Project had the opportunity to speak with Sara Bajalan, the Director of Communications at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS). Sara is also the woman who established AUIS’s podcast series, which features guest lecturers speaking at AUIS. Read Sara’s story below, and scroll down to listen to the AUIS podcast, which is hosted on Soundcloud.
Q&A With Sara Bajalan
The Kurdish Project: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Can you tell our community a bit about your background?
Sara Bajalan: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me! The Bajalans are a Kurdish tribe living in the border regions of Iraq and Iran. While I share their name, I am not Kurdish by nationality. When asked where I am from, I answer that I was born in the states to an American mother and an Iranian father, and have lived in both countries.
I received my primary and secondary education in Iran, and my undergraduate degree in history and politics from the University of West Florida in the United States. I hold an M.Phil in Modern Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Oxford in the U.K., which is where I met my husband, who is of Kurdish-British descent.
TKP: Where do you live, and what do you do for a living?
SB: Since December 2014, I have been living in Sulaimani, in the Kurdish region of Iraq, working as the Director of Communications at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS).
Since graduation, my academic pursuits include the translation of the Sharafname [The Book of Honor], written by Sharaf Khan Bitlisi in the 16th century. I have also guest-edited a special issue of Iranian Studies on the history of the Kurds and will be working on editing another special issue forthcoming in 2017 on the Kurds in Iran.
TKP: Tell us about the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani.
The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani sits atop a hill overlooking the city of Sulaimani in the Kurdish region of Iraq. The city is surrounded by mountain ranges and hills, and was founded in the late 18th century as the capital of a powerful Kurdish principality. Since then, the city has come to be known as the capital of culture and has been home to many great poets, authors, historians and scholars.
AUIS, as the University is known, was established with the aim of reforming higher education in Iraq, and in Iraqi Kurdistan in particular. Since its inception in 2007, it has been dedicated to offering a comprehensive liberal arts education to its students.
TKP: How did the guest lectures and the AUIS podcast begin?
SB: After assuming the position of director of communications in December 2014, I was asked to promote the University’s mission to re-invigorate the higher education system in Iraq. It was with this in mind that my team and I began recording some of the guest lectures being held at AUIS.
Over the last few years, members of the AUIS faculty and staff have been proactive in pursuing opportunities to improve the educational and social experiences of our students. To that end, AUIS has been extremely lucky to have received a number of high-profile guests, including academics, activists and political figures.
AUIS has hosted numerous guest lectures by academics such as Professor Gilles Kepel of Sciences Politique in Paris; Dr. Nazand Begikhani, a senior research fellow at the University of Bristol; Professor Holly Pittman of the University of Pennsylvania and Professor Elizabeth Carter of UCLA, to name a few. Although the first talks that were given to our students and faculty went unrecorded, we have captured many great lectures since the inception of the podcast.
The model we draw upon is that of the London School of Economics, which publishes all its major public lectures as podcasts. In recording the talks held at our university, we hope to facilitate the diffusion of knowledge not only in the Kurdistan Regional Government and in Iraq, but also in the world.