The people of Kurdistan recently commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Halabja chemical attack where at least 5,000 innocent people died, and over 7,000 were injured – most who continue to endure prolonged mental and physical suffering today. The deep and irreparable wounds of the Anfal campaign were felt by the Kurdish diaspora abroad as well as the local population in the Kurdistan Region where up to 200,000 people lost their invaluable life, and thousands of villages were razed to dust.
However, despite perennial historical losses time and again, Kurdistan has rejuvenated and maintained its invincible spirit. This has been eloquently orated by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in his national address on the eve of Newroz (Kurdish New Year):
“The movement of the Kurdistan struggle and the Kurdistan authority has reached such a level of [sufficiency] that cannot be exterminated,” and it has developed a resilience of “revival, resistance, and rebirth, even after the most difficult losses.”
Notwithstanding, there is no reliable data which can measure the exuberance, and to be precise the “public mood” in the Region. To address that unprecedentedly, we explored “Google Trends” and tried to measure the public optimism in two major governorates in Kurdistan: Erbil and Sulaimani.
Google constitutes an indispensable part of virtual life, and categorically knows the undisclosed and disclosed parts of life. With Google Trends, the data generated through web searches can precisely and accurately measure the public mood. It can present the aggregate data on “what has been searched and trending” in the last hour to a comprehensive web search query data since 2004. Data can also be compared across different countries or regions. For our analysis, we conducted the exercise for two periods: the last 30 days and the last year for “all general queries” instead of specific categories. Though the prime focus has been on Erbil and Sulaimani, certain peculiar trends have been highlighted for Duhok as well.
Interestingly, the most searched query in the last 30 days in the capital city has been on the life of Stephen Hawking. The query sprouted on March 14 following news of Hawking’s death, achieving what Google categorizes as a “Break-out” – when the search query grows at an exponential speed, and its growth becomes impossible to track. After six days of continuous interest, the search query reached its lowest level on March 20 as it was derived by the exogenous factors, de facto it reveals the inquisitiveness among the folks.
Other than Hawking, the query which had incessantly trended was “March.” Exploring deeper to identify the reasons, we predominantly discern two causes: First, March is the beginning of Kurdish New Year and a period of long vacation. Therefore, the curiosity was not only limited to know the exact dates in the almanac. Additionally, searches were made about nearby attractive and favorite destinations such as Istanbul and Dubai. There was also a Break-out search regarding the status of Erbil International Airport. The second reason “March” was a significant search was International Women’s Day on March 8. Interestingly, while the central government in Baghdad introduced a bill to reduce the legal age of marriage for a girl to 9, and in bordering Iran, women boisterously protested to remove headscarves, the Kurdistan Region celebrated “Women’s Day” and continues to empower its female population which is visible through their participation in educational institutions and the work-force.
The most prefered websites to read the latest developments in the Region and abroad were “Varzesh3,” “Kurdistan 24,” “Rudaw,” and “Xendan.” Most of the traffic for “Verzesh3” was generated from Soran City.
In the entertainment category, “Fortnite,” and “PlayStation 4” were exorbitantly popular. Additionally, a top professional Spanish football league, La Liga Santander, generated an evinced interest and achieved a Break-out. Moreover, citizens in Erbil were interested in betting, and it was evident through their use of “Kurdbet365.”
Other popular search queries in Erbil were videos about “Samsung Galaxy S4 & S5,” words such as “wife, husband, and marriage,” and the Kurdish comedy soap opera “Bazmi Bazm.”
Those seeking imaginary sensual pleasure accessed the pornographic website “xHamster,” a web service based in Limassol, Cyprus. Interestingly, in the last 12 months, the web service had very limited occasions where it scored less than 50 points.
The points reveal the “search interest” relative to the highest point which is 100 – the peak popularity for a search query. xHamster’s score of over 50 points illuminates an undiscussed, though significantly relevant part of the society.
The mood during the New Year festival was ebullient, and “Newroz” or “Newroz Greetings” had also been searched a lot, although the search query did not reach a Break-out.
Meanwhile, in Sulaimani, despite political differences, folks’ optimism, tastes, and preferences are converged with the capital city. However, the governorate finds its solace in its heritage, and the population has staunch sentiments for Halabja. Halabja was the most popular search query in the last 30 days and achieved a Break-out status.
Recently, the city has found its interest in the microblogging cum social networking website, “Tumblr,” which facilitates multimedia content. Quaintly, in the last year, the city has inquisitively generated umpteen search queries about “India,” ipso facto search queries for “Mumbai,” and the “Pharmaceutical Industry in India” achieved a Break-out. A brief search query list in the last 30 days and 12 months in the city is presented in the table below.
Historically, the city of Duhok is closer to Erbil, but there are certain characteristics which created underlining differences in tastes and preferences. Contrary to the other two governorates, Duhok took a great interest in Iraqi Singer Hussam Al-Rassam, and the Iraqi City “Aqrah.” On the lighter side, the city created a Break-out for searches about American-Lebanese webcam model Mia Khalifa.
Unflinching and unrestrained optimism is in the air in the Kurdistan Region. A good push will bring Kurdistan’s economy back to normalcy. As is beautifully articulated by the legendary Helen Keller: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
Devendra Kumar is visiting LFU, Erbil on an academic assignment, and in his previous stints he served in Afghanistan, and Ethiopia. His area of expertise is Development Economics, and he has contributed articles in several leading newspapers, and journals.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany