We enter “al-Shaab” Café (People’s coffee shop) in the heart of Sulaymaniyah, from a narrow alley that gradually expands, the same way ideas and debates do.
This café gathers Kurdish intellectuals and writers; it is half a century old and the photos on its walls embody the history of the city that is burdened with repression and death, and overflowing with culture and life.
When intellectuals used to meet here, the regime of the sole leader used to attack and send them to brutal prisons. This is what was happening during
the rule of the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein’s regime.
This University professor said that when the Kurdish movement emerged in 1961, intellectuals and rebels from this province used to gather in the café.
The People’s Café, which has survived numerous attacks, is the Kurdish version of Baghdad’s Brazilian café in the fifties and sixties, and the current Shahbandar café.
It covered an area that did not exceed a few square meters at first, but then it started to expand gradually until it reached its current size.
There is a joint library in the café that is full of books; they are not for sale, but they are a part of the café’s service, pretty much like the heavy Kurdish tea that is served there.
In the middle of the café, you can find photo frames displaying the pictures of all the interesting people that have been in Sulaymaniyah since ancient
times until now.
“We deal with all social singularities, we consider outlandish people as a social phenomenon; this is why intellectuals and educated people take pictures with them and bring them to the café.
The stories behind the people’s colorful characters are all available at the café with the photos,” said a customer.
This café did not only resist political oppression and the clients trailing by the authorities, before the establishment of the region, but it has also survived the economic recovery that constituted the café’s first enemy when investors rushed madly upon removing it, had it not been for the decision of the Iraqi first lady Hero Khan, the wife of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.