By Iain Robson
Having looked back to the Republic of Texas, then forward and upward to the melting ice of Greenland, this article will focus on a land where a traditional dish is made out of a sheep's stomach, and where, on the way home from work, you might buy a few cans of Carlsberg - or a bottle of Ayrshire or Speyside whisky - from a shop run by a member of a religious minority.
And then you might have a biryani that, although well-known and loved in the immediate locality, isn't quite like the dish of the same name that a native of the Indian sub-continent would recognise.
Since my way of writing introductions is predictable, you'll already know I'm describing Iraqi Kurdistan.
So, given the barely recognisable nature of this distant land, I asked Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman - the UK High Representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government - what on earth Iraqi Kurdistan has to do with Scotland.
“There are many links between Scotland and Kurdistan. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is involved in a £300,000 project to conserve plants and animals in Iraq but, actually, most of their work will be in Kurdistan - in partnership with an Iraqi NGO called Nature Iraq.
"They're focusing on an area of Suleimaniyah Province where they're going to produce guides to plants and wildlife.
“There is a sizeable Kurdish community in Scotland, especially in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Our Minister for Natural Resources - Dr Ashti Hawrami - worked as an engineer in Scotland’s North Sea for the British National Oil Company from 1975 to 1982.
"These are just a few examples of links that spring to mind.
"We're very interested in Scotland currently, but also places like Catalonia, Quebec and Flanders. There is a lot of interest among ordinary Kurds in all of those examples - 'What is their relationship with their federal government?' and 'How do they share revenues?' and 'What are the issues they discuss?'.
"The SNP is pushing for total independence if not 'Devo Max', and maybe 'Devo Max' is what we have already. In some aspects in Kurdistan we probably have more powers for the region than Scotland does currently.”
At a time when Scots were looking South and seeing Margaret Thatcher in Westminster, Iraqi Kurds facing the same way could see Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. When Scots think of independence and war, they might open their history books at the pages covering the 13th or 14th centuries.
Iraqi Kurds need only refer to living memory.
I provided MsRahman with a copy of the SNP's "Scotland Forward" handbook. What, I wondered, might she make of it? Do Scots and Iraqi Kurds have much in common?
“Reading the first two paragraphs of what the First Minister writes in the introduction, he says, 'Scotland is a fortunate country. We're blessed with natural resources, a landscape of diverse stunning beauty, unique cultural heritage...'.
"If you replace the word 'Scotland' with 'Kurdistan', he could be talking about us.
"While we're respectful of the cultural heritage of the Arabs and other nations in Iraq, the Kurds are a different people and this is true of the Scots and the English as well.
"In both Scotland and Kurdistan there is a real attachment to the flag. If you go to Kurdistan, you'll see the flag flying everywhere - and you might see that perhaps also in Scotland.”
Of course, it's not just flags that mark out the identity of a people. Some would say it's the food they eat.
There are three Kurdish restaurants in Edinburgh - at least one in Glasgow - and, since Indian and Greek food are well-known throughout Scotland, many readers will be interested to discover that Kurds make their own versions of biryani and dolma.
But was Ms Rahman aware that Scots also know a thing or two about making food out of a sheep's stomach?
“When I was twelve years old, we visited Edinburgh and of course we ordered haggis, and when it came we said, “Eh, great! It looks just like Serupe!”. But, of course, it tastes different.
"The stomach, we stuff it with rice, nuts, raisins and spices. It's sort of sewn-up and you eat the stuffing which is very delicious. Serupe, which literally means 'head and feet', includes all the bits of the sheep that you wouldn't normally put on a menu [laughs].”
As well as food, literature and music can tell us much about a people; Robbie Burns' “Address Tae A Haggis” celebrates perhaps the oldest of Scotland's many notorious dishes in verse.
Kurdish artist Şivan Perwer is an old family friend of Ms Rahman's - he's also a folk musician whose songs were once banned. As the "Biographie" on Mr Perwer's website says, with some lyricism, "he can not go back to his homeland since the day he left his country in 1976. His land is a forbidden land and he's a forbidden man".
During the 80s and 90s, people may recall that outspoken support for Scottish independence came from pop acts such as Hue & Cry and The Proclaimers. But away from the Top 40, Scotland is also famous for it's folk music, and few politically-engaged artists anywhere can match the rootsy sagacity of Dick Gaughan.
Chopy Fatah is a Kurdish pop singer who grew up in exile and, according to her Wikipedia page, “was also one of the first singers to perform in the Iraqi (Kurdish) city of Kirkuk, where the safety condition was and still is bad”. And Chopy Fatah's management informed me, by e-mail, that this concert, "was held in 2004 in the Newroz-Hall that is situated between the Almas and Tappa quarter in the city".
Readers wanting to hear her music really should check out the song “Cit Naw Binem”.
So, had Ms Rahman heard much Scottish music, I wondered? Given the beautiful landscapes, the politics, the haggis and the serupe, I wondered if the musicians of Kurdistan and Scotland might have more than a few things in common?
“Well, there's Şivan Perwer, a Kurdish singer and a super star, he's in his fifties now I guess. The style of his music is quite traditional. I have seen Chopy live and she is magical and she's at the other end of the spectrum. She's the new face of Kurdish music.
"Honestly, they're both very good.
"I've heard the bagpipes and I think folk music is a very important part of our identities. Often it is political - I don’t mean political in the sense of debating about the NHS - it is about people's lives and aspirations.”
Scots may be interested to know that it was a Mr Muir who discovered Iraq's first commercial oilfield, Baba Gurgur, about five miles north-west of Kirkuk in the 1920s.
Although Kirkuk is not part of the area currently administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government, many Kurds make a historical and cultural claim to the city. Chopy Fatah herself has a connection beyond her 2004 concert - according to her official website, it's also the place where she was born.
The name 'Baba Gurgur' pre-dates modern drilling and, according to Ms Rahman, means 'Eternal Fire'; this refers to will-o'-the-wisp-like ground flames that have long been observed in the area for hundreds of years.
But I wasn't able to find out much about Mr Muir, although Chapter 19 of "Trek of the Oil Finders" by Edgar Wesley Owen does quote an "account, obtained from company records" by one Francis Ernest Wellings, a "retired former executive".
Mr Wellings refers to Muir as "Johnny", describing him as, "first Chief Geologist of [the] Turkish Petroleum Company" and "best known for his outstanding work in Mexico".
And the Turkish Petroleum Company, despite the name, was in fact a London-based operation.
Since eighty-five years have passed since oil first gushed from that derrick at Baba Gurgur, I wondered if the presence of the latest wave of foreigners - i.e. Westerners taking oil from Middle-Eastern sand and soil - could be a source of frustration to Iraqi Kurds? After all this time, might people in the region prefer to see their Arab, Assyrian, Kurd or Yezidi citizens carrying out such work?
“It's true that it's still mostly Western companies that are getting contracts to explore for oil but the relationship is different and that's key. The Turkish Petroleum Company was at one time British-owned, they were not just exploiting the oil field in a contract with the Iraqi government, they owned it.
"It was a colonial set up where the local government and people had little or no say. The difference is that now, for example, the exploration contracts that the Kurdistan Regional Government signs with the oil companies are fair.
"All of the Kurdish contracts include clauses where a certain number of employees have to be Kurdish. Most of these oil companies make very big contributions to community projects, building schools and hospitals and water projects and so on. So, it's a different relationship from what was a colonial association in the past.
"There might be people who wonder why we aren't doing it ourselves but, generally speaking, we don't have the expertise. Kurdish oil companies are being developed but, five or ten years ago, there weren't such companies.
"The other thing is that we are in a hurry. Historically, Kurdistan's economy has been neglected deliberately; well, now that we can manage our economy ourselves, we want to exploit all of these assets and bring the wealth to our people and our region and to Iraq as a whole. We can do that better and more quickly with the expertise of international companies.”
When discussing oil exploration and climate change in "A Night Sky in the Coffee Cup", I mentioned what Prof Nuttall refers to as a "Faustian bargain Greenland appears willing to strike". If independence from Denmark is really to come about, some believe the extraction of sub-surface resources will provide the financial key.
Interviewed in 2008 on the BBC's Truth, Lies, Scotland and Oil documentary, Bernard Ingham, in polemical Thatcherite voice, referred to what he called the “monstrous piety” of the Scottish Nationalists, after provocatively claiming that, “the only thing that fuelled nationalism was the smell of oil and money in oil”.
I asked Ms Rahman if she believed support for Kurdish independence could lose some of its momentum if the promise of future income from sub-surface resources was less than it is now.
“The will and desire for independence goes back to the beginning of the 20th Century when the Kurds were first denied a state and we were divided-up without anyone asking our opinion.
“The push for independence has existed throughout that time when we had no idea what resources we had at all.
"We're hoping that we can use the revenue from oil and gas for the prosperity of the country and for good relations with our neighbours rather than for the opposite. I think there's a sense that there was a historic injustice that should have been corrected and that sentiment has been there way before oil and gas was discovered.
"If you look at the Kurds in Iran, Turkey and Syria - as far as currently we're all aware - there aren't oil and gas resources there but they still have the aspiration for independence and autonomy.”
Be it understood as parochial opportunism or the natural, reasonable consequence of so many oil fields being above the latitude of 55 degrees North, the use of Scotland's resources for Scotland involve decisions about spending in a well-developed part of the world.
The business of mineral extraction is currently at a different level in Iraqi Kurdistan, but investment requirements are also on a different scale.
Given these disparities, not to mention the shedding of blood and loss of life in Iraqi Kurdistan, are comparisons with modern Scotland in bad taste or just a waste of time? What, I wondered, are Ms Rahman's thoughts on the differing histories, and the different tasks ahead?
“Among the similarities between our countries are the issue of natural resources and who manages them and how.
"I know there are disagreements, even now, between Scotland and Westminster over how much oil is really coming out and where the money is going.
"At different times, different sections of our community have been the target of assassinations and massacres, the peak of which was when Saddam launched what he called Operation Anfal, a genocide campaign against the Kurds.
"Through decades, four and a half thousand villages were destroyed in Kurdistan out of five thousand. Nearly every village in Kurdistan was razed to the ground. The people were forcibly moved-out - either they went to concentration camps in the South like Nugra Salman, or they were sent to live in what they called collectives, where there was nothing, just a roof over your head.
"Kurdistan was neglected through years of economic abandonment and then it was destroyed. So, from our perspective, we are starting from scratch.
"By the time of the American and British intervention in Iraq in 2003, there was no oil, no trade, the hospitals were very run down, and the people were very poor. The situation was very different from what it is today. We have built a secure and stable society with a growing economy.
"This is perhaps what the Scots want as well, to have more say over their economic and political decisions.”
Ms Rahman is a history graduate, and her current official role requires her to move in British political circles. Given her background, and her knowledge of events in Iraqi Kurdistan, what are her thoughts on the root causes of people's desire for independence, wherever they are in the world? And what are, in her view, the tipping points that turn aspirations into tangible political change?
“The desire for political independence is ultimately about identity, about representation, fairness, justice and how power has been shared or not shared, used or abused.
"Where the tipping points are may vary according to people’s history and geography.
"Issues that are very hot in the Middle East are the denial of someone's language, heritage or origins, the marginalisation of a group either financially, politically or socially, but these things can exist for decades before finally the situation explodes.
"In Kurdistan, everyone dreams of independence but just as strong has been the dream to live in a democracy. The view in Kurdistan is that we are a new democracy compared with mature democracies like the UK or Germany or Sweden - I'm talking about them because they have very large Kurdish communities.
"We still have a lot of things to iron out.
"Governments in the West are more representative, and the mechanisms for listening to the public and for democratic decision-making are much stronger and have been in place for longer.
"Britain started the road to democracy a few hundred years ago, whereas in Kurdistan it started about twenty years ago. But the important point is that we have dreamt of democracy and now we are implementing it.”
Germany these days is a re-unified country. But around the time of the 1988 chemical attack against the people of Halabja (in the south of Iraqi Kurdistan), Saddam Hussein's “government services” were, according to a 1998 article in Le Monde Diplomatique, “trained by Stasi experts from the East German secret police”.
Of course, many may recoil from describing the GDR as a democracy; but in December 2012, the BBC's John Simpson wrote of, “foreign companies that knowingly supplied these awful weapons”, and stated that “West Germany's chemical industry was exempted at the time [ … of Halabja ... ] from the international agreements forbidding the sale of chemical weapons”.
And a number of sources on the internet quote a troubling assessment made by a British government minister less than six months after the Halabja chemical assault. The oldest online article I could find containing this remark is an abridged version of The Scott Report, published by The Independent in February 1996.
And in The Independent's abridgement, Geoffrey Howe is reported to have written to Margaret Thatcher (as her Foreign Secretary) eight years previously, to say, " … the opportunities for sales of defence equipment to Iran and Iraq will be considerable … ".
One wonders at the role the general populations of Germany, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales had in influencing the decisions taken by their governments during the decade of the Halabja attack.
In the “Scotland Forward” handbook I gave to Ms Rahman, the SNP states that Scotland cannot currently “ … decide whether or not our young men and women are sent to fight in wars abroad ... legal or illegal ...”. Many will recall the massive 2003 anti-war protests, and Scots of all political persuasions will understand the SNP statement I quote as a reference to Iraq.
I asked Ms Rahman what the Iraqi Kurdish public thought about the relationship between what UK voters want and what the UK government does.
“On the issue of the disaffection with the Iraq War, I would say there's a lot of puzzlement in Kurdistan. Why would, especially the Scottish people, but anyone in Britain be against their troops liberating a country from a dictator?
"Britain was involved in liberating parts of Europe from the Nazis.
"So, there is a lot of puzzlement as to why people in Britain - perhaps even more so Scotland because the Scots also have that feeling of injustice that goes back centuries - why is it that there wasn't that much pride at liberating the Iraqi people from a dictator who used chemical weapons and committed genocide?
"It's a question I'm always asked by Kurdish friends.
"People here in Britain get stuck on the question of whether Saddam was a direct threat to this country. Whether he was or wasn’t, doesn’t the international community, including Britain and Scotland, have a responsibility to protect other people who are oppressed, tortured and killed by their own rulers?”
And questions are still asked, of course, by many in Scotland.
Despite the meltdown of support for the Liberal Democrats in the 2012 Scottish local elections, an answer given by their Deputy Leader during an edition of the BBC's Question Time, broadcast in May 2010, will resonate with many Scots today.
When asked, “Is it a crime to bring down a fascist dictator who's killed millions of his own people?”, Simon Hughes replied, “of course it's not a crime if you do it following international law … you can act defensively, to defend yourself, without another international body saying so. But if you're doing this sort of action [ … invading Iraq … ] you need the international community - by international law - to cover you, and that was the controversial issue.”.
Could the three-times democratically elected Tony Blair, whose US/New Labour-led military activities helped bring about the fall of Saddam Hussein - the tyrant who flattened Kurdish villages and who attacked Ms Rahman's people with cocktails of chemical ingredients provided by our allies - was it possible that this Edinburgh-born, Edinburgh-educated former Prime Minister of Great Britain could be guilty of war crimes?
Many Scots still don't know what to think. But Lord Blair continues to maintain that he did what he thought was right.
Seymour Hersh, talking on The Real News Network (actually about Dick Cheney) in July 2008, remarked: “I've been a reporter for forty-something odd years [ … I've covered … ] police stuff … I've covered the Vietnam war, all kinds of atrocities and stuff like that. Abu Ghraib. And in all my years, I've never found anybody, not one, who thought he did anything wrong”.
If Mr Hersh's words don't give Tony Blair, Eric Joyce and John Reid pause for thought, other Scots may feel differently.
If Scotland becomes independent, would the electorate have more of a say in how, and why, their government deploys their armed forces? And what of the relationship between defence contractors and the government of an independent
Whether voting systems are in place or not, the degree to which a government's interests coincide with those of the general public they govern may be open to question.
Might the frustrating gap which appears to exist today, between Scottish voters and their Prime Minister in Westminster, re-emerge as a gap between them and their leader in a newly-empowered Holyrood? “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss”, as Roger Daltrey sang at Parkhead in 1976?
It will be interesting to see how such things are publicly addressed as the 2014 referendum approaches.
In Ms Rahman's assessment, the Kurdistan Regional Government already has something like 'Devo Max', and the will for further change in that region remains strong.
What of citizens' expectations, then, when political change is demanded, and when changes are seen to take place?
“There are many times when there is huge pressure from the Kurdish public on the leadership and on the government to just GO for independence. People ask, ’Why are we part of this country that doesn't even want us?' and 'We have every right to be independent', all of those arguments.
"I think the danger is that people expect silver bullet solutions. Right now we have autonomy, we have our own parliament and institutions, we have peace and stability in Kurdistan.
"That doesn’t mean that Kurdistan shouldn’t be independent but as Michael Gunter, an American academic, recently said, if the Kurds go for independence, we must do it intelligently.”
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman is the UK High Representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government, www.uk.krg.org
Ms Rahman's father, Sami Abdul Rahman, was a leader of the Kurdish movement and was assassinated in 2004 along with his elder son Salah.
Previously a journalist, Ms Rahman was awarded the Farzad Bazoft Memorial Prize in 1993, and later worked as Tokyo correspondent for the Financial Times.