Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

Intellectuals were a threat to the regime, me included.

Foto: Robert Oosterbroek

“In Nice, I saw people lying naked on the beach. Coming from a war zone, it was a bit surrealistic”, says Monir Goran. “But it meant that I could wash myself under a beach shower after a week and a half.” It was a year since he fled Iraq. He entered Jordan on a false passport before being smuggled into Italy. His initial plan was get to Europe via Libya, but his trafficker was arrested by Gadhafi.

Monir grew up in a family where music, politics and literature were a priority. Background music was courtesy of ABBA and Beethoven. Monir’s four brothers and four sisters were all musicians, with one brother becoming a maestro. “When we were small, we pretended to be an orchestra”, laughs Monir. This was when he first encountered the ‘oud’, a string instrument that he still plays today.

Monir’s family were Kurds. Saddam Hussein was in power so the Arabs were in charge. “We were a minority in Iraq. Kurds had to do their best to be accepted in society.” Monir wanted to study music, his true passion. But the regime decided what you would study and in his case, this was petroleum engineering. Later, he took a second programme in fine arts in the Kurdish city of Mosoel, after being turned down for a degree programme in music in Baghdad. “The capital was the country’s poster city; Kurds weren’t allowed.”

Two of Monir’s brothers became active opponents of Iraq. “I had to report to the security service every week; they wanted to know where my brothers were.” One brother wrote articles criticising Hussein, making him a threat to the dictator. Monir joined an artists’ union: poets, writers, painters and musicians from various ethnic backgrounds. “The regime considered all intellectuals a threat, me included.” A lot of his friends were arrested. Monir and his family decided to flee, but they had to leave separately as they couldn’t afford to go together. So Monir left for Jordan on his own, hoping to reach Denmark. He got to Lecce in Italy by boat from Jordan, before travelling to the Netherlands via France. He ended up staying in the Netherlands, because this is where the rest of his family were.

‘How are you
The first Dutch words he learned were: ‘One ticket, please’. He spoke them to the bus driver who took him to Maastricht (and therefore the Netherlands). Monir moved in with his brother in Overvecht-Noord, bought a bike and gradually found his way around Utrecht. “’t Hoogt, an alternative café where I met lots of new people, was my favourite haunt. I even met my wife there”, he smiles. Monir thought he knew all about western customs and values, but now admits that he’s still learning. “In Iraq, you always ask ‘How are you?’ when you see someone, even if you just saw them five minutes ago. Once a day is enough in the Netherlands. And five o’clock means five o’clock, not five past five.”

Monir now has two daughters: Solien and Lara. The names mean flower bud and wheat flour in Kurdish. Every day, he walks to the Oudegracht to contemplate the bridges and the boats. “I just sit there and stare, and then I walk back.” When he arrived in the Netherlands, he felt displaced, his mind still filled with images of Iraq. Now he’s got his children and family around him, and his music. “A bit of peace.”


Name: Monir Goran
Date of birth: 12 September 1975
Place of birth: Kirkoek, Iraq
Motto: ‘Let it be’

Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.

Click here to view the other articles.