As TEDxBaghdad’s main annual event was orchestrated on the grounds of the green zone in Baghdad, Martin Kobler, who currently serves as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Iraq and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), took the stage as the event’s 1st and foremost speaker.
To the vast majority of the event’s audience, Kobler is renowned and highly esteemed for his work in the Middle East region and Iraq in particular, he’s been involved in numerous endeavors that attempted to induce improvement in Iraq and tackled the challenges which both the Iraqi people and their government had faced during the past decade.
It’s equivocal whether it was TEDxBaghdad’s team that approached Kobler and successfully managed to persuade him to become a speaker at the event or whether it was Kobler that made the initiative and suggested himself as a speaker to the organization, of course, there’s always the 3rd possibility that the suggestion was made by a 3rd party that saw Kobler as suitable man for the job, however, it is contended that both of the 1st two parties aforementioned hold feelings of utmost regard and fondness toward one another, TEDxBaghdad being an enormous corroborator of Kobler’s work and Kobler, being a proponent of theirs and therefore, it’s not out of the ordinary to see the latter exceedingly content to be affiliated with the former and having his humbling feelings of gratitude returned.
Kobler’s TEDxBaghdad talk revolved around asking the people of Iraq about their dreams for their country in the future, he started off by posing the question “What are your dreams for Iraq?” to TEDxBaghdad’s attendees.
“When a United Nation’s official speaks to you, you expect, certainly, things like the millennium development goals, something on resolutions, something on implementation goals and road maps but, let’s not do it today, let me speak to you, today on a personal level, let me talk to you today about my hopes, my dreams and also your hopes, dreams and vision for Iraq.”, said Kobler.
After he’s spent the last 3 years of his life taking residence in the aforementioned country, a residence that was imposed on him by the scrupulous nature of his job, he’s become very well acquainted with Iraqis, their culture and history and also, with their sorrows and difficult recent history, through which, they had witnessed 3 wars and over a decade of sanctions.
He’d asked his question to numerous Iraqi friends and interlocutors back in 2006 and 2007 when he was serving as the German Ambassador to Iraq. It had been one of the most difficult times in Iraq’s contemporaneous history because, the country was undergoing a sectarian civil war. Kobler said that the answers to his question had all ended up being collectively assembled in a paper called “Iraq horizons 2015”, and now that it’s 2012, some of the things mentioned in the paper have been realized, while, others are still the exact same as they had been back in 2006.
Kobler said that it was time to pose the question he’d posed 6 years ago again, this time, asking the people of Iraq about their hopes and dreams for Iraq in 2013 and after he’d posed the question once again, he started listing his hopes and dreams for the country’s future (in 2013):
“1st of all, Iraq is educated, young boys and girls go to school.”, said Kobler while remarking on the fact that 50% of Iraq’s population is below the age of eighteen and highlighting their importance as the future human resources which the country will harness.
“Education is the primary concern of this country because the young people of today are the adults of tomorrow.”, he said.
He narrated the details of his recent trip to Arbil, a huge tourists’ attraction located in Kurdistan, he’d ran, along with 5000 participants, through the streets of the city during the 2nd International Arbil Marathon.
“I, being an elderly man, wasn’t able to run 43 Kilometers, I was, however, able to run 10, and I cannot tell you how heart warming it was for me to run along with 5000 men and women. This was symbol for the future of Iraq, this possible in Iraq during 2012 despite the violence we have here in Baghdad, it is also an example of what all of Iraq can be like in 2013.”, said Kobler.
Then, Kobler went on to elaborate his hopes for Iraq’s economic condition in 2013, “Iraq is prosperous.”, He said while emphasizing the fact that Iraq, today, is the 3rd largest oil exporting country in the world and that in 2013, there will be 8 million barrels of oil exported per day, as a result, 8 hundred million dollars will be pouring into the country and hopefully, will be used to benefit the people and serve their best interest.
“Iraq is a rich country, not only with human resources, also with natural ones.”, said Kobler.
Kobler also chose to comment on the cons of having such a tremendous amount of oil by saying that oil can sometimes rather be more of a curse than a gift, and he hopes that the blessings of the wealth which it endows will be put to benefit the Iraqi people.
Later, Kobler went on to state another goal which he’s hoping Iraq will achieve in 2013:
“Iraq in 2013 is green, this is something which is often neglected, do not forget it! The future generations will inherit this country so, make it green!”
When he had been in Iraq back in 2006, the number of sand storms was half of what it is now. Five years from now, the number of the storms that will do a perilous impact on the people’s health and the economy will be double the number of sandstorms now.
“This has to be taken care of now, this is my hope, my dream and my vision for Iraq.”, he said.
He entered the political part of Iraq’s future by stating “Iraq of 2013 is democratic.”, while mentioning that his life and career has, so far, revolved around politics.
“When I close my eyes, I see a parliament in 2013 which contains rich and poor, men and women, young and old. If I close my eyes, I see a Cabinet in 2013 which doesn’t contain 40 ministers, but which contains, maybe, 20 ministers , now, I know very well that this doesn’t come overnight, it needs time, therefore it is important that one starts working on it today in 2012.”, he said
Kobler directed his following words to the young population of Iraq saying that it is important that they, themselves, take the fate of Iraq into their own hands and shape their future.
“I don’t want to see you in 2013 hoping for a time machine to take you back to 2012 because you want things to be different.”, said Kobler.
He went on to discuss the methods through which those hopes and dreams can be achieved by the Iraqi population.
Kobler, a native of Germany, had grown up during the early 50s, a time period that followed the termination of the 2nd world war, he said that the war had left Germany and the whole of Europe in shambles and had caused the deaths of 60 million people.
“This was to us, the young generations of the 50 and 60, a challenge, the older generations, our parents and grand parents justified it but we didn’t understand and we went on confrontations with our parents, we requested denazification, to take those who were responsible for the disaster out of the legal system, on the other side, we said yes to democracy, yes to the rule of law, yes to human rights, yes to the participation of the young population in the ruling process.”, he said
He continued by saying that the European Union, which had been founded after the conclusion of the war, is what he believes to be the biggest peace project of all mankind and is the winner of 2012′s Nobel Peace Prize because, it managed to join, in unity, countries that had been rivals and arch enemies once before, consolidate their goals and made them work hand in hand to serve their common interests, thereby, preserving the peace of the continent’s people till this very day. He remarked that the Union had been chiefly formed by the young people of Europe back then, despite the fact that they were not numerous as are the young Iraqi people now.
“What values do we need to preserve peace, to promote peace and put an end to violence?” Kobler asked the audience, and then he stated that he’d highlight only two of them, the 1st one being tolerance while the 2nd, being dialogue.
“Tolerance hurts for the very definition of it would be acceptance despite disagreement.”, he said, he demonstrated exactly how one can be tolerant by making an example of a story from his personal life. He displayed a photo of his son on the screen behind him, a teenager at the time when the picture had been taken, his hair had been dyed green.
“There are many fathers and mothers here in the auditorium today, what would you say if your son had suddenly dyed his hair green and had this kind of, provoking and boring expression on his face? Would you tolerate his actions or not? It hurts, and as a father, I didn’t know how to react, however, I decided to be tolerant.”, said Kobler.
He revealed that his son, a boy back then, has become a young man today, had his hair dyed back to it’s original color and is currently studying to become an engineer in Germany.
“My message to you, the young people, coming from this experience, take your own way! And my message to the fathers and mothers that are listening is to tolerate.”, he said.
He also remarked that tolerance has an end, “Tolerance ends where violence starts.”, he’d read in the paper the day before the event that a man shot a 12 year old girl because she wanted to go to school, which was unacceptable to him, the article he’d read had also referred to political violence, a term, the use of which, he doesn’t applaud, because he believes that violence is unjustifiable by any means and that terrorism is unacceptable. He mentioned that numerous people had woken up the night before to the frightful sounds of thunder, thinking they were caused by an explosion, rather than a thunderstorm.
“This reminded me, once again, that there are many young people in Iraq today that are traumatized, this has to end, violence should not be tolerated.”, said Kobler.
He concluded his talk with a personal note, he said that throughout his conversations with the young Iraqi people, he very often heard the term “Hopeless”, a term which he said that he cannot accept because, throughout his career, he’d dealt with people in “Hopeless” situations, people in Cambodia, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Palestine, and in many of those “Hopeless” situations, progress had been realized. He assured the audience that in 2013, Iraq will also have progressed.
“We in the UN work together with you, and we have made the world better after those so called ‘hopeless’ situations took place.”, he said.
“I’m a foreigner here, I’ll leave this country sometime in the future, my dreams for it are my own, forget everything I’ve said during the last 15 minutes, it’s now up to you to develop your own dreams, to determine what your dreams are, to build up your future yourselves, particularly the young people, particularly the younger 50% of the population and with all due respect to the representatives of the Iraqi government, in 2013, the present government will be gone, you, the young population of Iraq, are the future, take your chance, shape your future and above all, make it a good one.”, he added.
Finally, he thanked the audience for their attention and stepped down the platform.
Such enthusiasm and motivation is really needed in Iraq, especially in those times, when our community needs support by such inspirational people, and Kobler’s talk was an amazing addition and a wonderful push for the audience of TEDxBaghdad everywhere.