Duluth’s first new Sister City in 24 years! And first Sister City located in the Middle East. Following five years of annual friendship exchanges, Rania and Duluth already have strong bonds. Established as a Sister City in 2014, a formal agreement was signed in November, 2015 by Mayor Don Ness and Mayor Hiwa Qarani of Rania.

The Rayal Center was established in 2010 in the city of Rania. It is an official Cultural Exchange Organization registered under the Kurdistan Regional Government with the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Culture. It is the first point of contact for incoming and outgoing delegations to and from Rania.

Rania is located in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, and is a somewhat autonomous region; with its own Regional Government, a Deputy Prime Minister, and borders that are guarded by Peshmerga soldiers. The population is primarily Muslim, with 95,000 people in Rania and 250,000 in the neighboring areas.  It is surrounded by mountains, rivers and lakes. Lake Dukan may not be a “big lake” to Duluthians, but it is huge for that region. The economy is based on agriculture, trade, industry, and livestock including; sheep, goats, cows, buffalo, and bee keeping. The industry includes oil wells, an oil refinery, mining, cinder, and clay and tar factories.

Historically, Rania’s history dates back to 7000 B.C., giving Rania a long and rich history which includes ancient religious traditions practiced since the time of Zoroastrianism.

The Royal D. Alworth Institute for International Studies at UMD hosted a visiting professor from Rania. In return, the Rania Sister City Committee is making plans for a delegation of local professors and educators to travel to Rania. In 2013, members of Duluth’s Echoes of Peace Choir traveled to Rania and solidified our connection. After their return, Mayor Don Ness and the City Council approved entering into a formal Sister City relationship. While the choir was in Rania, they were fortunate to witness the Nawroz Festival or Rania’s New Year celebrations. On March 21st every year, the people of Rania dress in festive and traditional clothing and bring food to the mountainside to celebrate, sing, and dance all day.

The Kurdish people have been incredibly welcoming and big hearted with their hospitality. Our delegations have been overwhelmed with their generosity. All they ask in return is that we tell their story. A daffodil garden has been planted in the Sister City Park located in Lake Place Park, Duluth to represent our friendship with Rania. These bright, dynamic, resilient flowers are associated with their New Year celebrations (Nawroz) and hold a beloved status for the people of Rania, which now also stands as a symbol of the “blossoming” connections between Duluth and Rania. Members of the Duluth Sister Cities delegations are happy to speak to community or church groups who would like to learn more about our newest Sister City.

Click here to watch a short two minute film about our newest sister city in Rania, Iraqi-Kurdistan