Parkour, or freerunning, has seen a recent spike in popularity amongst the Kurdish youth in Kirkuk, a city in Iraqi Kurdistan. Parkour, a sport that blends gymnastics and urban exploring, was invented by the French in the late 1980’s. Its recent popularity in Iraqi Kurdistan is due, in part, to two Kurdish youth who have started teaching parkour classes at a local government-run youth center.
Amid the Tensions of War
The parkour classes in Kirkuk are a welcome distraction from the constant stress and concern about the self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorist group. Kirkuk is on the frontlines of the war, and although the Peshmerga have repelled ISIS advances, there have been numerous bombings in Kirkuk between 2014 and 2015.
Despite the unrest, interest in parkour continues to build. The government-run youth center offers a safe environment to learn, and the classes are attracting up to 60 participants per day.
“I find the exercise joyful,” said Ahmed, a young boy from Kirkuk who has been practicing parkour inside and outside of class. “The teachers are good and the equipment is good too,” he said, adding that he has made a lot of new friends through the sport.
Mental Escape for Refugees
Ari Star, one teacher of the parkour classes, says that the parkour classes have attracted a group of children whose families fled Islamic State violence. For these children, most of whom came from Tikrit, Star hopes that parkour can play a small role in the reconstruction of their disrupted lives. “We hope that parkour can help them forget what has happened,” says Star.
The manager of the youth center says that parkour class has become more popular than other classes such as Tae Kwon Do, and that it helps keep children off the streets, and even prevents them from “handling guns.”
Ari Star, who originally started the classes because security forces wouldn’t let him practice the sport outside, hopes that parkour will be able to spread throughout both Kurdistan and the rest of the Middle East. “God willing it will grow, and in one or two years I think it will progress so much,” he said, adding that he wants to establish official competitions and clubs for the sport.
Watch the Voice of America video below to learn more about the parkour students in Kirkuk.[To learn more visit Voice of America]