Microsoft's Dream Assignment 2009: Invisible Nation

Apr 3, 2009
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Dave Torstenson, of The Tiziano Project
Above: Dave Torstenson, of the Tiziano Project, works with students at a Seropayxana in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq. (Photo: Jon Vidar)

My friends and family

I want to thank everyone that took the time to vote for my project in Microsoft's Name Your Dream Assignment Contest. It has been an amazing run. I first heard about the contest one week ago while traveling with my girlfriend in Switzerland. We were staying with her friends and had a long talk about if we could pull it off - the top projects were already close to 1,000 votes. In the end we decided to go for it. I am so glad we did.

This week has been a journey of reconnections and new connections. I reached out to everyone I knew and was greeted with, not only encouragement, but also, resounding support. We have gone from nothing to a three way tie for second place with 1185 votes in just seven days. I am truly amazed and could not have done it without you.

This map gives you an idea of how widespread our efforts were. It shows visits to my photography website over the last seven days, during which my traffic jumped over 700 percent!


The Kurdish Community

A large part of that traffic came directly from a community that is absolutely crucial for the success of my project: the Kurdish people. Two days into the contest, I had the idea of reaching out to Kurdish groups on Facebook. The next thing I knew, I was an Administrator of a 3,200+ member Kurdish group and I personally had 117 new friend invitations.

There were Kurds working around the clock in cities across America, Europe, and the Middle East to gain support for this project. I was getting direct emails from Kurdish celebrities and politicians and the instructions for voting were translated into both dialects of Kurdish. Without the enthusiasm of the Kurdish community, I would not have been able to get to where I finished in this competition. The overwhelming Kurdish support proves that this project can and should become a reality.

Here is a selection of comments from the Kurdish people that made it onto the project entry page:

Go on brother, document our culture and make us known to the whole world of who we are and what we do.

good luck, i am voting for you, becouse this peple been suffared alot under iraqi,turkey,iran,syrian regiames.kurds face genocide,not just there people also languages,ecology.gegraphy,history during history been deny by this regimes.kurds deserve to live free like all nations,

I am the owner of the facebook group most famous Kurdish Singer, Sivan Perwer and you got my vote, I am also going to update 47.000 fans.

That should help a lot.

Thanks for bringing in such a brilliant idea.

You have all our support from and! Your vision is inspiring and has potential to change millions of lives, or at least how others perceive Kurds!

Here's to your success. We will do everything we can to make sure you come out as the winner.

Dear the name of Kurdish nation I salute you.. you are a winner for us and a do not belived how many people are praying...every on talks about even people who never had access to computer or internet..Kurdish nation suffered enough it is about time tell the story and I am sure your project and photos will achive that goal....

By the way Jonathan you are famous in Kurdistan, do you know local Newspaper wrote about you and the competition even local Kurdish Radio talked about you and your fight to win for your project...good luck.

What we will do

As all of you know, I am deeply connected with the Kurdish regions of Turkey and Iraq. While there, I have been an archaeologist, a photographer, and a teacher of multimedia storytelling.

My goal with the Microsoft project is to have the opportunity to develop my work on the region and to tell the complete story of the modern day Kurds - from both western and local perspectives. I will work with a female journalist to provide unbiased reporting, while simultaneously continuing work we started with the Tiziano Project to teach Kurdish youth the technology and multimedia skills required to tell their own stories.

Here are a couple such projects that we completed last summer during our two-week workshop in Northern Iraq:

Deelan Newroz, a Tiziano Project student in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, takes us on a tour of the chaikhana - a Kurdish precursor to Starbucks.

Rahel Azad, a Tiziano Project student in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq introduces three foreigners to the traditional Kurdish meal - Seropay.

So again, to everyone that has helped work so hard to help me achieve my dream - my family, friends, coworkers, friends of friends, and, most of all, the Kurdish community - thank you.

UPDATE: NEED Magazine just posted some of my work from the Syrian Kurd Refugee Camps outside of Dohuk, Iraq that I photographed last summer! They have also expressed interest in paying students that we teach in Turkey and Iraq to produce multimedia content for their website! The word is spreading! Check out the stroy they posted here:

Dave Torstenson, of The Tiziano Project

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Andrew A. Nelles | April 3, 2009 10:32 PM | Reply

Hey Jon,

Good luck with the voting/judging. You deserve this. It was great meeting you and exploring the Diyarbakir area last July. You know the area and the culture well.

-Andrew A. Nelles

Tory | April 3, 2009 10:42 PM | Reply

I'm so glad your idea has been rewarded with such widespread recognition. Congratulations, Jon! I'm crossing my fingers for the finals! The Kurdish community truly deserves this and you are the best person I know to cover this story.

Sindy | April 3, 2009 11:38 PM | Reply

Congratulations Jon!! :) you deserve it.

Sara | April 4, 2009 8:17 AM | Reply

You did it! You have an amazing dream coupled with the experience, insight, creativity, and compassion to make it a reality. All of the support that you have received over the past week shows that this project is going to happen. Good luck, I look forward to learning from, and enjoying the outcome!

Nick Schaadt | April 4, 2009 11:55 AM | Reply


You are the man. What an inspiration. Good luck, I can't wait to hear more. We will be praying for you, brother.

Walter Gaya | April 4, 2009 12:43 PM | Reply

Congratulations on your project. I spent some time in Diyarbakir. If you get a chance, take a look at some of the portraits I took in the alleys.



Meda Saber | April 4, 2009 1:26 PM | Reply

I can so glad that this worked out well for you, I'd like to think I did my part to pass the word around and help you out, because I know, as you've already shown, you will do your part and help all the Kurds tenfold. Best of luck.

Ferid Kurdi | April 4, 2009 2:09 PM | Reply

Congz bro, and good luck 4 the next steps.

Mehmet Topaloglu | April 4, 2009 3:07 PM | Reply

Merhaba Jon,

You deserve this! All I can say that MASALLAH! Everyone from Diyarbakir has many greeting, and regards to you, your family, friends, coworkers, friends of friends, etc. KISMET! ;)

Best regards.

Kamiran Dizayee | April 5, 2009 11:58 AM | Reply

Hi Jon

I can wait to the end of the month to find out the outcome the competition..I have a great feeling that your project will be the winning one.
please inform as of all great works you...wish all the best in future.

I enjoed reading and watching your the way did enjoy eating the Serope, hahaha

Zor Supas and Kind Regards

Jwan Dizayee | April 19, 2009 5:01 AM | Reply

we will find out and figure, who are the best.

har Sarkautobi

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