State Department supports Erbil, Nashville sister cities partnership

The idea was first promoted by the US Counsel General in Erbil and is supported by the State Department.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Earlier this week, a delegation from Erbil, led by Governor Omed Khoshnaw, visited Nashville, Tennessee, to promote a sister city partnership.

The idea was first promoted by the US Counsel General in Erbil and is supported by the State Department.

Nashville boasts the largest number of Kurdish residents in the United States, with some 18,000 Kurds living in the city. Many of those Kurdish families came to the US in the mid-1970s, after the Shah of Iran and Iraq’s then-Vice President, Saddam Hussein, struck a deal over the riverine border between Iraq and Iran: the Shatt al-Arab. 

Until then, Iran had supported the Kurdish revolt in Iraq, while Iraq had supported Baluch rebels in Iran. Both were betrayed following the March 5, 1975, agreement. 

The Baluch rebels, at least their leadership, found sanctuary in Iraq (notably, the masterminds of the 1993 and 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center are both Baluch).

Read More: Saddam and the Baluch

Many Kurds, including their leader, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, found refuge in the US. Washington had also supported the Kurdish revolt, as had Israel. The US was supposed to act as a “guarantor” of Iranian good faith. However, when the Shah decided abruptly to end that support—without any advance notice to the US or the Kurds—Washington did little beyond taking in refugees.

Background to Visit of Erbil Delegation

The idea of establishing a sister city partnership between Nashville and Erbil was actually first raised by the US Consul General in Erbil, Rob Waller. In Sept. 2020, Waller, speaking to then-Governor of Erbil province Firsat Sofi, suggested that Erbil establish such a relationship with Nashville.

Read More: US proposes that Erbil, Nashville become sister cities

Sofi warmly welcomed the proposal, calling it “a great step in advancing friendship and consolidating relations between the Kurdistan Region and America.”

However, before he could act on that, Sofi died of COVID-19 only two months later, November 2020. He was just 42.

Kurdish Delegation’s Visit to Nashville

Nashville has nine Sister City partnerships: in Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, and Europe. If Erbil is added, it will be Nashville’s first such relationship with a city in the Middle East. 

The Nashville Chamber of Commerce hosted the Erbil delegation. Concluding the partnership agreement requires approval of the Sister Cities of Nashville Board, as well as the Mayor and the Metro Council. As part of that process, Nashville will be sending a delegation to Erbil, the city’s Vice Mayor explained.

Greg Sullivan is the State Department’s Senior Advisor for Iraq Public Diplomacy. He was in Nashville to welcome the Kurdish delegation while thanking the people of Nashville for their hospitality to the visitors.

“There is much the State Department can do” in its regular business, Sullivan told Kurdistan 24, “but really Citizen Diplomacy is where it happens.”

“It’s where American civil society and Iraqi and Kurdish civil society get together,” Sullivan explained. “It’s where contracts are made,” and “deals are negotiated,” and “lasting friendships are made.”

“We call these kinds of contacts the last three feet of American public diplomacy,” Sullivan concluded, “because it’s really where the connections are made” and “the real developmental work happens.”

Greg Sullivan interview by K24 correspondent Rahim Rashidi.