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Prime Minister Barzani’s speech at the Catholic University of Erbil graduation

First and foremost a very warm welcome to all of you who have gathered tonight to celebrate the commencement ceremony of the Class of 2023 of the Catholic University of Erbil.

The ground we are standing on today is sacred in more ways than one. Not only is it the property of a Church and a campus that has provided a first rate education for youth from around our region.

It was also built on land that served as a sanctuary during some of the darkest times of our modern history. As Nineveh and Sinjar were embattled during the rampage of the Isis terror group, construction on this campus continued.

Christians, Yezidis, Kurds and Muslims flocked to this area, and all were received with grace and dignity. Erbil became a sanctuary for the dispossessed. Anyone who came here during those terrible years had a chance to start again.

The institution that stands before us now is a testament to resilience, yours and ours. Good prevailed over evil in this land, and today we are witnessing the results; a graduating class that can enter a workforce equipped and motivated to give back a place that has offered hope and opportunity.

I believe in the society that has been created here; a model of coexistence, where people of different faiths can prosper alongside each other. There are few other places in our region where this model has been so successful; where ancient faiths and customs flourish as an example to us all.

My government, and the previous administration offered bedrock security guarantees that have encouraged the best and brightest and their families to stay and seek lives here. I look at the audience in front of me with pride.

For all of you who are graduating, I congratulate you. To the families here to witness this occasion, I thank you for the support you have offered to your sons and daughters. University education is a team effort, and the roles that families play, the sacrifices they make is often overlooked. It isn’t today.

I also want to thank faculty and lecturers for putting your education above their personal needs. At times, I’m sure, their own lives, and families, will have taken a backseat in the pursuit of your advancement.
The sacrifices you have all made to get this graduation class to this day are all worth it.

There is no substitute for the accomplishments that stem from hard work. We are at our most fulfilled when we achieve a task that we commit ourselves to doing. Each of you now has the chance to fulfill paths that you committed yourselves to when you enrolled in this institution. The Catholic University of Erbil is the only university named as Catholic from Malaysia to Morocco.

Since 2015 it has served as a light on the hill for graduates that have given back to their communities. As well as serving as a centre of learning, it has been a place of regeneration and of certainty for the cradle of civilisation – the ancient plains of Nineveh, on which barbarians attempted to erase thousands of years of tradition and history.

They failed. You are part of a graduating year that will help consolidate the recovery.

My government will always prioritise education. As I told other graduating students this month, I am committed to empowering you with all the tools necessary to realise your full potential. In the past I have spoken about the Kurdistan Region becoming a knowledge nation. You are within your right to ask what that means for you graduates. I have been clear that our human capital is the greatest national asset we have, and in particular our youth.

I know you all have a voice; I know you are ambitious and see your peers from the region and beyond and believe you deserve a life of security and prosperity that is at least equal to them. Our mission is to ensure that happens. My priority is to bridge your aspirations with the tools and opportunities to do so. We have made important progress here, but this cannot happen through the government alone.

Each of you has a role to play too. You will have to prepare yourselves to engage in global questions. It is easy to be complacent; to feel that these issues do not affect you. But questions like climate change, water and food scarcity and poverty do not recognise borders; they touch everybody. And they affect you too. In Kurdistan’s near future you will have a voice in these debates, and you will be expected to present alternatives – to bring forth ideas, for example, in ways to safeguard the environment.

You will also be encouraged to play a role in investing in early education through technology and partnerships with research centres and the private sector.

Some of you here will no doubt go on to continue your education. Some of you will probably go on to start your own businesses and take on the next big ideas. Whatever you do, we will be here to back you, celebrate your success and advance your ideas. There are big expectations for your generation.

I encourage you to go beyond your forebears; the more that Kurdistan integrates regionally and connects to the global economy, as is our firm goal, the more we as a nation will need to compete. Your ideas, products and inventions will need to cater to the needs of people and businesses beyond Kurdistan. We will support you in these endeavours.

To the Class of 2023 you will go forth into the world with new friends and new understandings. I’m sure that everyone of you has learned from your peers about their traditions and cultures.

I am equally sure that you will leave this institution with respect for each other and a commitment to not let the mistakes of history repeat. Co-existence is not only possible, but vital. As Kurds, we have long held belief as central to the way that we live. My government is committed to offering protections to groups who do not have the means to protect themselves.

We will always be especially well disposed to communities who give back. Your contribution as part of our society will always be welcomed. I encourage you to embrace a broader community. Together we stand united, and this is a lesson that I would like you to leave with tonight. Your years of education have not only equipped you with skills for the workforce, but an understanding of how society can and should be organised.

Take these lessons forward with you. Each and everyone one of you now has the chance to make a contribution to the betterment of humanity.
Go forth and prosper. I am very proud of you all.

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