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Putting a face on the Iraq war

When the U.S. Army entered his town of Kirkuk, Iraq, Louis Yako—now a Fulbright Scholar at Lehigh University—volunteered to translate for the Americans.

On Oct. 18, Yako will describe life in Iraq and his work as an interpreter. His talk, which is sponsored by the Global Union, will be held in Maginnes 102 at 7 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Yako’s talk will provide a timely and interesting perspective on the conflict, says Bill Hunter, director of the Global Union.

"We're very fortunate to be able to hear a voice from both inside and outside the conflict," Hunter says. "Louis can offer both of those perspectives from a very personal vantage point."

A native of northern Iraq, Yako will incorporate his personal stories with the opinions and experiences of most Iraqi citizens, which are very different than those his audience has heard through the media, Yako says.

“I want them to know that their opinions are manipulated and filtered,” he says.

During his talk, Yako will compare how he and many other Iraqis lived before the war to their current conditions. As part of the Christian minority in Iraq, Yako says Christians face greater persecution today from the Muslim majority than they did under Saddam’s secular government.

Yako, who speaks English, French, and five Iraqi languages, volunteered to translate for the American Army as an undergraduate at the University of Bagdad in 2003.

For three years, Yako enjoyed translating for the Americans.

“I wanted to serve my home country and do my best to bring the two cultures together,” he says.

The Army was impressed with his abilities and promoted him to work in the U.S. Embassy. By May 2005, insurgents had killed dozens of interpreters for the U.S. military, most of whom were Iraqi civilians, according to the Associated Press.

Seeking a safe haven, Yako applied for scholarships at schools in both the United States and the U.K. Although accepted at schools in both countries, he entered a British school, where he studied management and political policy.

After earning his master’s degree, Yako traveled to Bethlehem to pursue his passion for language and literature at Lehigh.

In his lecture Thursday, Yako hopes students will see the conflict in Iraq from a human perspective.

“I want to put a face on it,” he says.

--Becky Straw

Posted on Wednesday, October 17, 2007

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