After a decade in the making, Nashville's city council voted on July 6 to make Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), its newest sister city, marking a significant milestone as Erbil becomes the first Middle Eastern city to partner with the state capital of Tennessee.
In a statement sent to Kurdistan Chronicle, Nashville Mayor John Cooper expressed his pride in the partnership with Erbil.
“This partnership presents an incredible opportunity to strengthen cultural exchange, foster economic growth, and build lasting connections between our cities. Together, we will create a brighter, more interconnected future for both our cities. I look forward to watching our cities grow and prosper together,” said Mayor John Cooper.
Internationally, Nashville is known as Music City, but among Kurds, it is called Little Kurdistan, as it is home to over 20,000 Kurds.
“Nashville owes so much of its strength and success to the Kurdish community and to its New American residents as a whole. We are lucky to have these families plant roots here and form communities that strengthen our city,” cited Mayor Cooper.
Mayor Cooper's statement revealed his personal joyfulness following his visit to Erbil as part of Nashville’s Sister City delegation a few months ago. He described the experience of immersing in Erbil's vibrant and rich culture as unforgettable.
“It was an honor to experience Erbil’s bright and rich culture; it was an experience I will never forget,” he concluded.
Erbil has been a governorate for 100 years, but its history goes back 6,000 years, making it the world's oldest continuously inhabited city. Erbil province has a population of over two million people, with one million residing in Erbil city.
Governor of Erbil Omed Khoshnaw told Kurdistan Chronicle that both Erbil and Nashville can play pivotal roles in enhancing cultural relations, municipal development, education, healthcare, the arts, sports, and various other sectors.
“The citizens of both cities stand to benefit greatly from strengthened public and cultural diplomacy, and this sisterhood will also foster improved relations between the Kurdistan Region and the United States,” said Governor Khoshnaw.
The governor fondly recalled leading a delegation from Erbil to Nashville in May 2022 with the primary objective of revitalizing the sisterhood process, which had encountered delays due to the war against ISIS and the subsequent emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. He also announced plans for another delegation from Erbil province to visit Nashville soon to formally sign a memorandum of understanding, cementing the alliance between the two cities.
A “win-win” initiative
Gregory W. Sullivan, Senior Advisor to U.S. Department of State for Iraq Public Diplomacy believes Sister City relationships between Nashville and Erbil will create educational and economic opportunities, enhance the rule of law, and strengthen Iraqi Kurdistan’s ability to meet challenges in healthcare and climate change.
Sullivan mentioned that over 25 years ago, the good people of Nashville opened their homes and their hearts to thousands of Iraqi Kurdish refugees fleeing Saddam Hussein’s brutal Anfal campaign. And now the people of the city of Nashville are opening their hearts once again through the launch of this Sister City relationship.
Meanwhile, U.S. Consul General in Erbil Irvin Hicks congratulated both Erbil and Nashville and expressed the U.S. commitment to strengthening bilateral relations between the people of the Kurdistan Region and the U.S., including through sister city programs between the region and U.S. cities.
“The Nashville-Erbil Sister City initiative provides a ‘win-win’ outcome that will benefit the citizens of the IKR and the United States,” said U.S. Consul General Hicks.
The consul general added, “The IKR provides for a variety of trade and investment opportunities for American businesses, and the Erbil-Nashville Sister City partnership provides an excellent mechanism to promote new initiatives in the areas of trade and investment and people-to-people cultural and educational exchange programs.”
“The U.S. Consulate General in Erbil is very keen on promoting economic growth and deepening trade and investment ties between the IKR and the United States. Supporting American and Kurdish entrepreneurs, small and medium businesses, and major corporations is a priority,” Consul General Hicks reaffirmed.
The Sister City program, initiated by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, has been an emblem of building bonds between diverse communities and cultures across the globe.
Nashville, since connecting with its first sister city of Edmonton, Canada, in 1991, has gone on to establish nine other sororal relationships, including with Belfast, Northern Ireland; Caen, France; Chengdu, China; Kamakura, Japan; Magdeburg, Germany; Mendoza, Argentina; Taiyuan, China; Tamworth, Australia; and now Erbil in the IKR.
Rahim Rashidi, a Washington DC-based Kurdish journalist, is widely recognized as "Mr. Kurd." He is focused on Kurdish affairs in Kurdistan and abroad.