I review Nicholas Ostler’s The Last Lingua Franca in The Wall Street Journal.
Originally appeared in Caravan.
IN 2003, Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, felt like a city preparing for a siege. Its residents, nearly all Kurds, were proud of having built a poor but functioning Kurdish homeland. But on Iraq’s northern border, the Turkish military stood ready for Ankara to order an invasion.To the south, across the imaginary line that separated Kurdish Iraq from Arab Iraq, violencewas simmering, and Erbil’s residents were steeling themselves for the moment when it would spill over their own borders. In the centre of the city, the magnificent citadel— round, brown and layered, very much like Bruegel’s ‘Tower of Babel’—looked ready to repulse a medieval invasion, as if the city’s Kurdish majority could crowd in, pull up the ladders, and watch the waves of Arabic- and Turkish-speakers wash away the Kurdish dream.