Our Story

Our story begins on October 26, 2012, in Iraq. On that day, AST’s founder, Alex Olteanu, landed for the first time in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He had accepted to take up a position to develop a business management program for a local educational institution working in collaboration with the college he had been teaching at for the past four years, in Vancouver, Canada.

 

Alex Olteanu's Kurdistan experience in his own words

"Although I was somewhat familiar with Kurdish history and traditions, I didn’t expect to find such a diverse, multicultural community in Erbil, where everyone seemed determined to work together to the best of their abilities to improve their lives and create a prosperous home for all residents of this beautiful land. In particular, I was struck by the large communities of Christians living in Kurdistan, whose members were direct descendants of the ancient Assyrians who had been inhabiting this region some four thousand five hundred years ago and had built some of greatest empires of their age, spanning some two millennia. As their successors became part of the Roman Empire, they adopted Christianity as their religion and preserved their beliefs and traditions as wave after wave of new settlers and conquerors swept over this strategic crossroads of trade, commerce and intercontinental communications.

In addition to the local inhabitants, Erbil boasts a significant expatriate community, from all corners of the Middle East, and many parts of Europe, North America, and Asia. They come here as professionals, qualified workers, educators to take part in the extraordinary development Erbil and Kurdistan have experienced for the past decade - but also as displaced people and refugees seeking protection from the dangers they had to face in their home communities, in southern Iraq and in many of the neighboring countries. The result is an extraordinary mix of peoples, languages, religions, and beliefs, all playing their part to enrich the multicultural life of modern Kurdistan.

Soon I began to know my students – Arabs and Kurds, Muslims and Christians, Iraqis and Syrians, and to develop a deep respect for their enthusiasm to learn, to expand their horizons, to dream and to fight for a better life in a prosperous and peaceful land. In January 2013, my business management students and I went on a weekend trip to the mountains surrounding Duhok, a major Kurdish city close to the Turkish border. During this trip we had the opportunity to see not only the stunning Kurdish landscape, but also visit many Christian Assyrian villages nestled high up on the snowy peaks of northern Zagros mountains, as well as deep in the valleys of the hilly plains lying at their feet."

 

The Birth of our Project

Alex was struck by the fact that, despite an emerging system of higher education in Kurdistan, many young people living in Erbil – and especially the displaced, the refugees, members of the Christian communities, those without substantial financial means, had little change to pursue their studies at university level, despite their burning desire to do so. Alex promised his students that he would do his outmost to help them and their friends to achieve their dreams of continuing their studies in Canada; and thus first emerged the vision of setting up a scholarships fund for deserving students from this region, lacking educational opportunities or in financial need.