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November 7, 2011

Modernizing Kurdistan; A Bhutanese Approach 

Kurdishaspect.com - By Helene A. Sairany

Architecture in Bhutan is in harmony with its culture 

Imagine a country where happiness is the guiding principal of government. Imagine a people who see all life as sacred and the source of their happiness, a place with an abundance of clean and renewable energy, a nation committed to preserving its culture. Imagine a Kingdom where the King lives in a simple wooden cottage and judges his progress by the country’s “Gross National Happiness.” 

The idea for today’s blog came after a Friday get together with a group of friends who keen so much love for Kurdistan.  We had a wonderful lunch and then we decided to watch a documentary on the little Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.  As I was watching the documentary and learning about their philosophy of happiness, ideas started flourishing; we could possibly consider parts of the Bhutanese approach in modernizing Kurdistan to meet our people’s needs.

In the United States and in many other industrialized countries, happiness is often equated with money. Around the world, a growing number of economists, social scientists, corporate leaders and bureaucrats are trying to develop measurements that take into account not just the flow of money but also access to health care, free time with family, conservation of natural resources and other non-economic factors.

But to the Bhutanese, happiness lies in the middle path.  Neither overindulging in the world’s pleasures nor rejecting the world’s goodness can lead to enlightenment.  Happiness can only be found by taking the middle path – the path that balances the needs of mankind with the powerful spirits of nature.

Economists in the industrialized societies rely heavily on gross domestic product, or G.D.P as a predictor of the well-being of a nation.  But the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has been trying out a different idea. In 1972, concerned about the problems afflicting other developing countries that focused only on economic growth, Bhutan's newly crowned leader, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided to make his nation's priority not its G.D.P. but its G.N.H., or gross national happiness.

Their four pillars of GNH focuses on having a good governance responsive to the people’s needs, a balanced economic development, preserving the environment and promoting the Bhutanian culture.

Most Bhutanese regard nature as a living, breathing entity and hold it precious and sacred. Damaging nature, therefore, has its consequences.  Because of their belief system, they have a very high regard and respect for the land and their environment. With loans from the government of India, Bhutan has built several mammoth underground hydroelectric plant.  The Bhutanese pay less for electricity than any other nation in the world and produce so much power that most of  this energy  is exported to India financing the bulk of the government’s budget and providing free health care and education to every Bhutanese.  All this achieved with run of the river hydro plants, sustainable energy without massive dams and displacement of people. The country now demands that at least 60 percent of its lands remain forested. “We have to look after the environment, environment should be conserved. We feel that the natural environment is an integral part of life in Bhutan”, said Bhutan's home minister. "Material well-being is only one component. That doesn't ensure that you're at peace with your environment and in harmony with each other", he continues.

Bhutan is also known internationally for one thing: high visa fees, which reduce the influx of tourists.  The high visa cost goes hand in hand with the GNH philosophy: more tourists might boost the economy, but they would damage Bhutan's environment and culture, and so reduce happiness in the long run.

To enhance happiness is to look after their culture. Bhutan is located between two humongous nation rich in culture; India and china. To survive, the Bhutanian felt a must in having a distinctive identity.  To feel and smell identity, you look at the art, the cloths, the way the architecture is set up, the language and the music.  When you look around, you automatically get the sense of the distinctive Bhutanese culture.  Looking at the new architecture set ups in Kurdistan makes one wonder if the set up is in harmony with the Kurdish culture. Where do all the ideas for the construction that is currently taking place in Kurdistan come from?  All from the west.  How about our art skills, our video clips and music programs. We take them all, as they are, from the West. This is how I feel we live; we live off of other people’s thought process.  Other’s invite and we simply consume

It only bothers me to see American and English names on shops and restaurants as I walk or drive in Hawler.  Where is the pride in the Kurdish language?  Modernization does not translate into westernization.  Westernization both creates and destroys values.  The values destroyed are typically traditional and indigenous while the new values are more materialistic that fuels consumerism and civilization. 

Now here is the question, can we modernize Kurdistan while preserving the Kurdish culture and its beautiful nature? Can we make happiness and the well being of our citizens the number one priority in implementing any system toward a good governance?  

The beauty of nature in Bhutan is impossible to miss. Its therefore of no surprise that Bhutan is one of the countries that I am targeting to explore next  

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