Kurds pay respects to Middle East expert Dr. David Pollock

"David's enduring friendship with the people of Kurdistan leaves a lasting legacy."
Middle East expert Dr. David Pollock (left) passed away on Jan. 7 after a long illness (Photo: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
Middle East expert Dr. David Pollock (left) passed away on Jan. 7 after a long illness (Photo: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

ERBIL (Kurdistan24) – The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Institute’s Bernstein Fellow and longtime director of its Fikra Forum, Dr. David Pollock (73), on Tuesday passed away after battling a chronic illness. A memorial service for him will be livestreamed on Friday.

Dr. Pollock was first introduced to the history of Kurds and Kurdistan in the late 1970s as a graduate student, he told the official podcast ‘Kurdistan in America’ of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) representative office in the US in 2021.

“I have maintained that interest (in Kurds) in academics and then later in government and now (in a) think tank and I maintained that interest ever since, but my direct personal experience goes back to the 1990s, when I was involved at the State Department,” he said.

From 1996 to 2001, Dr. Pollock served in several other State Department policy advisory positions and in 2002, he was named senior advisor for the Broader Middle East at the State Department. In 2007, he took responsibility for the Washington Institute’s incipient Arabic-language program and pioneered its polling initiative.

Dr. Pollock also told the ‘Kurdistan in America’ podcast that for him Kurdistan is best summarized by the word or phrase ‘friendly’.

“I have found that this is a region and a people that appreciate whatever friends they can get and they respond in kind to that, for all of the challenges and problems that they face,” said Pollock.

“I would say maybe, actually, because of all of those challenges and problems, the Kurds that I know, whether at the official level or at the street level, are friendly, and that is something that I think most Americans value very strongly.”

Over the years, Dr. Pollock paid many visits to the Kurdistan Region and wrote several articles on the Kurds, including on the Kurdish Sept. 25 independence referendum in 2017.

Kurdish officials on the social mediaplatform X, formerly known as Twitter, therefore paid their respects to Dr. Pollock. 

“My deepest condolences go to the family, friends, and colleagues of the late Dr. David Pollock, a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute,” Safeen Dizayee, Head of the KRG Department of Foreign Relations, posted on X.

“His expert insights into Middle East history and policy, and profound dedication to promoting peace and human rights, leave an enduring legacy. RIP,” Dizayee’s post further added.

Moreover, Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) in a separate statement on Thursday said that “Dr. Pollock’s profound insights and unwavering dedication to understanding the complexities of the Kurdish issue and the broader Middle East have left an indelible mark on our community.”

“His unique approach, combining a deep understanding of the Kurdish question with a consistent consideration of human rights, made him an exceptional individual whose work was greatly appreciated by the Kurdish people.”

“Dr. Pollock’s legacy will continue to inspire generations to come, especially within the WKI, where his contributions will be remembered.

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs and Climate Change, on X also offered her condolences to Dr. Pollock’s family and friends on Thursday.

“You always knew you’d get a warm welcome and a big smile from David. He was smart, thoughtful and wanted the best for the people of Kurdistan and Iraq. Rest in peace dear David.”

The Kurdistan Region Presidency in a post on X also posted its condolences. “We’re saddened to hear about the passing of our friend, American author and policymaker, David Pollock.”

“Our condolences to his family and friends. David's enduring friendship with the people of Kurdistan leaves a lasting legacy. May he rest in peace,” the Presidency’s post concluded.

Dr. Bilal Wahab, a Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, whose work focuses on the Kurdistan Region, posted on X that “Dave was a wonderful colleague, permanently optimistic, and full of stories from decades of travel around the Middle East. “He was also a longtime friend of the Kurds. I’ll miss him.”

Wahab told Kurdistan 24 that “I think it's more than a sense of how persistently he focused on the Kurdish question where Kurdish issues and concerns were one of the pillars of his work and he stuck with it and he persisted.”

He added that  think tankers in Washington are often accused of “hopscotching from issue to issue depending on what's relevant or what's hot in the news.” However, Dr. Pollock was different to Wahab.

“The Kurdish people and the Kurdish regions were a fixed variable in his analysis of Middle East politics and US relations with the region,” Dr. Wahab said.

Moreover, he said this helped Dr Pollock build relations across the various Kurdish regions, and he had a wide ranging network of contacts with the Kurdish leadership, with political figures, and government officials.

“But given his focus on polling and public opinion, he also had an eye for the street and that just distinguished his analysis and in his research,” he added.

Pollock was also known for his optimism, humor and as a storyteller. “Oftentimes, a good story told by Dave Pollock is worth 1000 pictures and he had a great memory. It was amazing how quickly he could remember a story with some quality details, the atmospherics, the characters, the timestamp and tell stories not just for the sake of a story, but for the sake of whatever arguments he was making and that definitely sets him apart,” Dr. Wahab continued.

“I remember telling my colleagues, you know, it was difficult to be on a panel with Dave because he very easily outshone everyone else just by the power of storytelling and obviously the stories about people, the stories about leaders, his stories about his interactions with civil society and with government officials.”

Wahab also said Dr. Pollock spoke excellent Arabic, that did not only allow him to express an opinion, but the kind of Arabic that would actually be poetic.

“He was (as an American) able to go head to head toe to toe with most of the Middle Eastern or any Arabic pundits in Arabic media. So he was a darling of the Middle Eastern press. So these are all qualities that set him apart. But despite all of this, I think the other thing about him, that he was very humble. There was this confidence and this humility about him.”

Dr. David Romano, a Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University, told Kurdistan24 that "David Pollack will be sorely missed in the Middle East studies and policy community. A keen, level headed yet always humble analyst, he was always willing to listen and then offer his carefully considered views on pressing issues in the region."

Romano further noted that "Few American analysts could match is breath of knowledge, including several of the region’s languages."

Editing by Dastan Muwaffaq