Kurdistan Hopeful of Adding Erbil Citadel to UNESCO Heritage List

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More than 300 of the Citadel’s ancient houses are being restored according to precise architectural standards, and excavation is underway to dig deeper into the city’s history. Photo Rudaw

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which is trying to develop as a tourist destination, hopes to add the ancient Citadel of Erbil to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

“The High Committee for Erbil Citadel states that it is still hopeful for the UNESCO World Heritage Sites to include the ancient Citadel of Erbil in their well-regarded list as the UN body convenes later this month,” said the committee in a statement.

It also denied news that UNESCO has rejected Erbil’s bid for membership before the June convention.

“In recent days, the Kurdish media outlets reported that the non-governmental organization of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) has rejected Erbil Citadel’s bid for membership, since the Citadel did not meet the criteria required for such association,” said the statement.

It explained that, while ICOMOS is associated with UNESCO, it does not take the decision to include a site or a monument in the UNESCO list.

The statement also added that ICOMOS representatives had visited the Kurdistan Region and completed a report on behalf of UNESCO about the Erbil Citadel, in which they made recommendations to Kurdish authorities about preservation and promotion of the Citadel.

“The High Committee for Erbil Citadel will continue its work, but also implement the recommendations of the ICOMOS. It is our aim to include the Citadel in the list of the World Heritage Sites as soon as it becomes possible. The World Heritage Sites will convene in June this year, but even if the decision is not made then, we hope it will include our Erbil Citadel into its list in the future conventions,” the statement said.

The Erbil Citadel is recognized as the world’s longest continuously-inhabited city, dating back more than 7,000 years. In addition, Kurdistan has a rich heritage of 3,000 known archaeological sites.

In 2007, officials established the High Commission for Erbil Citadel Revitalization, which subsequently signed an agreement with UNESCO to implement a “Conservation Master Plan.”   More than 300 of its houses are being restored according to precise architectural standards, and excavation is underway to dig deeper into the city’s history.

Erbil has been nominated the Arab Tourism Capital of 2014. The Kurdistan Region envisages luring seven million visitors in a strategic plan for 2013-2025, with expected earnings of $2.17 billion from tourism.

The number of tourists visiting the Kurdistan Region has already risen by 30 percent and among them are more Europeans and Americans, according to data from the Kurdistan Board of Tourism.

Kurdistan remains an anomaly for its security, stability and economic boom, as the rest of Iraq writhes in an unending cycle of violence and devastation.

Source: http://rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/030620142

An Australian/Kurdish joint venture since 2009, Kurdistan Adventures combines local knowledge with Western tour operating management. We pride ourselves on immersing our small groups of travelers in Iraqi Kurdistan culture with safety, security and professionalism. Our 8 day escorted tour includes the 3 major cities of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulymaniyah. A dedicated local guide will take you to key historical sites, explain local customs, dine with you in traditional restaurants and allow you to experience this amazing culture. Citizens of many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the EU, Canada, the UK and the USA are granted a free visa on arrival.

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In Kurdistan, Hotels Growing Faster than Tourism

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Erbil’s Divan Hotel, one of only two genuine five-star hotels in the Kurdish capital. Photo: Judit Neurink

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Hotel accommodation in Iraqi Kurdistan has grown enormously in the past few years, even though the region still has to establish itself as a tourist destination. As most of the demand for hotel rooms comes from the business community and oil companies, many hotels suffer from the unstructured growth, and some have a hard time surviving.

That is one of the conclusions of the quarterly Market Overview of IKG Property in Erbil, which focused its 2014 first quarter report on the hotel situation in the capital. Earlier reports examined the situation in the housing and office sectors of Erbil.

The total number of hotels in Erbil has tripled over the past three years. That has happened without planning, says Edward Carnegy, the managing director of IKG Property. “In this country there is a lack of feasibility studies. People just built hotels without an analysis of the market, and sometimes just because a friend was doing well.”

Normally, the increase in these kinds of markets is tied to the Gross Domestic Product (GPD), which in the Kurdistan Region amounts to around eight percent. But in contrast, the hotel market grew in the past few years by about 20 percent, and for the coming years a further growth by about double the GDP rate is expected.

Yet, of the nearly 53,000 hotel rooms Iraqi Kurdistan boasts now, less than five percent could be registered as good quality hotel accommodation, the report says. Carnegy notes that the grading used in the region seems to have no connection with international standards. “This is no help to the visitors, who do not get what they expect.”

Of the seven five-star hotels in Erbil now, only two — the Rotana and Divan Hotels — might be considered up to the international Grade 5 Star status.

Both report a healthy occupancy, and for a third year the Rotana was recently named Iraq’s Leading Hotel.

But since a bomb attack in Erbil last September less visitors are coming, and for some hotels the occupancy rate went down to 30 percent. One hotel owner cited a 20 percent occupancy.

In a healthy business environment, the hotel occupancy should be between 60-70 percent, experts say.

Two- and three-star hotels make up the bulk of the hotels in the Kurdistan capital. This market, which is typically dominated by local operators, is saturated due to the sudden growth.

Of the four- and five-star categories, there are at the moment 36 hotels in Erbil, according to IKG’s figures, although Carnegy states that for lack of accurate figures he cannot cover the whole hotel market.

Kurdistan is “mainly a back-packers destination, which is not on the tourist map yet,” according to the IKG Property’s director. At the same time, he mentions the growing air traffic, which increased to 1.2 million passengers coming into Erbil yearly. “But when I am on those flights, I see mainly returning locals and businessmen, and not so much tourists.”

One of the problems of the present tourism market is that it is very seasonal, with a spike at the Newroz festival in March, and most Iraqi visitors coming in at summer time. “For the next few years it will be mainly the Iraqis who will visit Kurdistan. We need more diversity there, too.”

Even though the sudden growth created major problems, it is set to continue. IKG Property anticipates a further 2,500 four- and five-star hotel rooms to be available by 2018, with some major brands arriving like Marriot and Sheraton. It will be at least 2022 before these additional rooms are absorbed into the market, the report predicts. For that reason, Carnegy thinks that “this increased competition should get the prices down.”

Another development will further depress prices. Many businessmen or workers with international oil companies, who now live in hotel rooms, would prefer a serviced apartment. Those are being built, with some 800 in the pipeline at the moment, and Carnegy estimates the total market for these serviced units at around 1,500 in Erbil at the moment.

“Once these apartments are available, the businessmen will move out of the hotels. But will there be other visitors to take their place?”

Even though the growth of the number of hotel rooms is not followed by a growth in visitors, some plans might still be feasible, Carnegy says, citing schemes for hotels near malls and shopping centers.

“There is a lot of traffic from the south of Iraq and from Iran for shopping in Erbil. In Dubai we see that hotels that are attached to malls have a high occupancy, due to foreigners that come on a shopping spree.”

Source: http://rudaw.net/english/business/25052014

An Australian/Kurdish joint venture since 2009, Kurdistan Adventures combines local knowledge with Western tour operating management. We pride ourselves on immersing our small groups of travelers in Iraqi Kurdistan culture with safety, security and professionalism. Our 8 day escorted tour includes the 3 major cities of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulymaniyah. A dedicated local guide will take you to key historical sites, explain local customs, dine with you in traditional restaurants and allow you to experience this amazing culture. Citizens of many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the EU, Canada, the UK and the USA are granted a free visa on arrival.

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Food Writer Explores Kurdistan through the Palate

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Duguid focuses on home-cooking and learns local recipes and cooking methods through cultural immersion, hanging around kitchens and observing people at work. Photo: Gulan Media By Kira Walker

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – From the earliest days of civilization, food has been the beating heart of humanity — the center around which life revolves.  Across cultures and throughout history, in war and in peace, the universal experience of eating has brought people together.

Food and the way it is prepared can also provide an understanding of how different cultures around the world have evolved over time to navigate the offerings and obstacles of daily life.

“Food is a way to make sense of things and I’m interested in how people connect with food,” says Naomi Duguid, an internationally-renowned Canadian food writer. She recently traveled to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq as part of a larger journey to explore the Persian culinary connection throughout the area, collecting material for her most recent book project.

Often described as a “geographer of food” or a “culinary anthropologist,” Duguid says food is a way to get a three-dimensional feel of the places she travels to.

“Food and agriculture are a way to understand the landscape and how people creatively manage in their different environments. Human creativity is remarkable in how people deal with shortages. And the way people cook is one way of managing shortages, which some traditions have been born out of,” she explains.

Duguid focuses on home-cooking and learns local recipes and cooking methods through cultural immersion, hanging around kitchens and observing people at work.

Before Duguid travels somewhere, she says she verses herself in the regional history and geography, but will not read about food or look through cookbooks. Going in with no preconceptions about local food and cooking makes it easier to recognize subtleties and differences, she says.

“I don’t want to go in with a list of expectations of seeing certain things. I like to go in with no knowledge of food and see what I find once I’m there. After I visit somewhere, and have developed my own conceptions, then I’ll crosscheck with other resources and talk to people. But I don’t want those impressions beforehand.”

Duguid spent most of her time in Halabja and Sulaimani, staying with the family of a Kurdish friend from Canada. She describes the cultural immersion she experienced as spectacular.

“It was completely wonderful, and I feel very lucky being welcomed into the family like that. I learnt an enormous amount about home-cooking and basic food patterns,” she says, “Kurdish hospitality and the generosity of spirit here is truly open-armed and extraordinary.”

Of all the new food she was exposed to, Duguid has a particular fondness for brinji rash, a type of black Kurdish rice, which she says is handled deliciously, and cardoon, the naturally occurring form of artichoke native to the Mediterranean region. It can be prepared several different ways, her favorite being cooked with a bit of egg.

Duguid was also able to visit some of the area’s notable historical sites, including Amedi and Lalish, and says that reading about the history of the area while traveling here made the landscape speak, adding another layer to the experience.

The larger area Duguid is exploring for her latest book on the Persian culinary connection stretches from northern (Turkish) Kurdistan to the Caucasus countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, plus Iran in the east. The idea to write about Persian food and its regional influence came to her in the fall of 2012 after the release of her latest book. Duguid says she started researching immediately, and set things in motion in the spring of 2013 with a trip to Georgia.

While countries like Georgia and Armenia are easy to travel to, the difficulty of obtaining visas for countries like Iran and Azerbaijan have presented Duguid with greater logistical challenges than she has experienced in past travels.

Duguid says she would like to return to the Kurdistan Region at some point, but has to get to Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Kurdish area of Iran first in order to wrap up her project.

Duguid has previously co-authored six award-winning books on food and travel in Asia. Her most recent book, Burma: Rivers of Flavor, published in October 2012, won the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) culinary travel cookbook award in April 2013, and has been nominated for numerous other cookbook awards.

Gourmet Magazine, and others, have credited Duguid and former co-author Jeffrey Alford with creating a new genre of cookbooks, which include photographs and stories and are as much about travel and culture as they are about recipes.

Speaking to her unique way of exploring the world, Duguid says, “The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. But you also start to see more.”

Source: http://rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/15052014

An Australian/Kurdish joint venture since 2009, Kurdistan Adventures combines local knowledge with Western tour operating management. We pride ourselves on immersing our small groups of travelers in Iraqi Kurdistan culture with safety, security and professionalism. Our 8 day escorted tour includes the 3 major cities of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulymaniyah. A dedicated local guide will take you to key historical sites, explain local customs, dine with you in traditional restaurants and allow you to experience this amazing culture. Citizens of many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the EU, Canada, the UK and the USA are granted a free visa on arrival.

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Kurdistan courting Arabian Gulf tourists

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Iraq’s Kurdish tourism board is courting Arabian Gulf residents as it looks to attract US$4 billion in foreign investment to the region.

“We want to show the people here that we are ready to receive tourists and investment,” said Mawlawi Jabar Wahab, the head of the general board of tourism for the Kurdish region.

The region’s tourism sector received $3.2bn in foreign investment last year, he said, and the figure is expected to rise by 15 per cent in the current year.

About 3 million tourists visited the Kurdish region last year, up 26 per cent on a year earlier.

Residents of Lebanon, Turkey and the UAE are among the major investors in the region, according to Mr Wahab.

Abu Dhabi-based Cristal Hotels and Resorts looks to have three hotels in the region, out of its planned 13 in the Middle East and Africa, in two years. It is opening the 95-room $13 million luxury Cristal Erbil Hotel in June. Another 198-room $25m Cristal Grand Erbil is expected to launch in 2016, along with a 156-room rebranded property in the city next year.

“They are rich in oil and gas and minerals, the region is lovely and visitor numbers will only grow,” said Peter Blackburn, the president and chief executive of the Cristal Group.

The properties there expect 70 per cent of the visitors to be business travellers and the rest leisure.

Hilton is scheduled to open its first two hotels in Iraq in Erbil next year.

The Dubai developer Emaar is working on a $3bn mixed-use project. Called Downtown Erbil, it will eventually have residential and commercial areas, hotels and malls, and is expected to be ready in 2017.

Damac Properties has had a tougher time. The Kurdish government cancelled its Dh55bn project in 2010 after the company failed to start work during the global financial crisis.

“We want to attract 7 million tourists by 2025 and make Erbil a global destination,” Mr Wahab said last week.

He led a delegation to the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai that concluded on Thursday, the first for the tourism board. With a budget of $100m this year, the board is also making the rounds of other international travel exhibitions, such as ITB Berlin in March and World Travel Market London in November, to drum up support.

Source: http://www.eturbonews.com/45653/kurdistan-courting-arabian-gulf-tourists

An Australian/Kurdish joint venture since 2009, Kurdistan Adventures combines local knowledge with Western tour operating management. We pride ourselves on immersing our small groups of travelers in Iraqi Kurdistan culture with safety, security and professionalism. Our 8 day escorted tour includes the 3 major cities of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulymaniyah. A dedicated local guide will take you to key historical sites, explain local customs, dine with you in traditional restaurants and allow you to experience this amazing culture. Citizens of many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the EU, Canada, the UK and the USA are granted a free visa on arrival.

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Akre Getting a Facelift to Attract Tourists

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An imposing cement mosque in the center of town is being encased in stone, a technique applied to many of the newer constructions. Photo by Alexander Whitcomb

AKRE, Kurdistan Region – Slowly but surely, Akre is getting a new look. Well, not exactly new. Residents are being paid by the local government to renovate their homes with traditional limestone construction to give the city the feel of yesteryear. Officials understand Akre’s rich history is the key to its future wealth.

Since independence in 1991, Iraqi Kurdistan has witnessed a proliferation of cheap and quickly- built houses. This construction addressed an urgent need: Entire villages had been destroyed in the Anfal campaign, and many refugees returned from abroad to resettle in the region. Building materials were expensive and hard to come by in doubly-sanctioned Kurdistan, so people simply made do with what was available.

In 1991, Akre was only 12 square kilometers; now it sprawls over 113 square kilometers. As the city retuned to life after war, the cost of growth became apparent: Improvised concrete eyesores interrupt the dramatic hillside cityscape of the old town. Sprawling and charmless, “New Akre” in the abutting valley replaced orchards, farmland, and forests.

City officials are acutely aware of the problem and are intent upon beautifying the city. Since 2010, $200,000 a year is budgeted for remodeling subsidies, awarded to citizens who voluntarily refurbish their buildings according to the style of the city’s oldest structures.

“We cannot force them to do it,” notes Kamiran Abdulrahman, head of Akre Municipality. “But we have more requests than we can keep up with.”

Abdulrahman looks to Mardin, an ancient Kurdish city in southeastern Turkey, as a model. Mardin has gone to great lengths to preserve its 12-13 century Atruqid Ottoman style, and attracts tourists from all over the world.

One need not look further than Erbil for an example of historically-oriented urban development. In 2007, officials established the High Commission for Erbil Citadel Revitalization, which subsequently signed an agreement with UNESCO to implement a “Conservation Master Plan” for the city’s 7,000-year-old citadel, the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the world. More than 300 of its houses are being restored according to precise architectural standards, and excavation is underway to dig deeper into the city’s history.

Akre certainly has the potential to be a major tourism hub. Seemingly carved out of three rugged hillsides, Its old city boasts an ancient citadel, waterfalls, a church, Zoroastrian temples, and an eleventh century Sufi shrine where locals claim dervishes still perform miracles. The shrine is already a destination for pilgrims from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Turkey. Officials brag that archeologists have only begun to scratch the surface of Akre’s treasures, promising more cultural tourism in the future.

The city’s Jewish quarter is largely in ruins, but offers fertile ground for excavation and rebuilding in one of the most beautiful parts of the city. According to the census of 1930, over five percent of Akre’s population was Jewish. In 1952, the population fled, following a series of anti-Semitic pogroms across Iraq. Despite this, city residents are proud of its long history of religious tolerance and multi-ethnic identity, pointing to the church of St. Mary perched above the old town.

Akre’s development hasn’t kept up with a dramatic surge in tourism. In 2010, the city had 49,000 tourists; just three years later, it had 178,000 visitors. Thousands of Arab tourists shuttle into town in spring and summer months to cool themselves in the city’s waterfalls, announcing their arrival with trumpets and drums.

Yet, with only 600 beds in three hotels in town, many tourists camp out in water parks, or are forced to bus back to motels in Erbil.

Several new resort developments are underway to accommodate the rising tide of visitors, a result of public and private sector initiatives, consistently good security and more awareness of Kurdistan’s tourism potential, according to Didar Khorshed, director of tourism in Akre. A new, larger building for the Sufi shrine will be built by a Swiss-Lebanese company. There is a plan for a teleferic to lift tourists to Akre’s peaks. Meanwhile, the municipality is planting 3,000-5,000 trees a year to restore the green in Akre’s hills and valleys.

Some residents complain of delays and obstacles in receiving funds for traditional renovations. “Of course we would all do it, if they gave us the money,” one Akrawi native laughs, preferring to remain anonymous.

Yet, even if there aren’t enough funds to go around, there is plenty of building going on in Akre. Much of this conforms to the traditional wood and chiseled limestone construction, at least on the facade. City planners admit residents are free to use whatever techniques they like for interiors.

This often means simply covering existing structures. An imposing cement mosque in the center of town is being encased in stone, a technique applied to many of the newer constructions.

Uncovering Akre’s past has also meant opening up.

City residents have warmed to the idea of tourism after initial apprehension. “You can see an 80 percent change about the idea of tourism in the last four years,” says Khorshed, citing residents’ fears about outsiders drinking and gambling. According to him, these misgivings stemmed from Akre’s decades-long isolation. “In the past, Saddam neglected the tourism sector in Kurdistan. He wanted to keep our economy small and keep the Kurds cut off from the outside world.”

“Since 1991, we have become more open,” he promises. “You will find the people of Akre to be extremely welcoming. Our residents might not let you stay at a hotel — they will invite you into their homes.”

Source: http://rudaw.net/english/business/04052014

An Australian/Kurdish joint venture since 2009, Kurdistan Adventures combines local knowledge with Western tour operating management. We pride ourselves on immersing our small groups of travelers in Iraqi Kurdistan culture with safety, security and professionalism. Our 8 day escorted tour includes the 3 major cities of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulymaniyah. A dedicated local guide will take you to key historical sites, explain local customs, dine with you in traditional restaurants and allow you to experience this amazing culture. Citizens of many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the EU, Canada, the UK and the USA are granted a free visa on arrival.

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Research suggests Sulaimani was birthplace of civilization

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READING AND LIVERPOOL UNIVERSITIES TEAMS DURING MEETING WITH SULAIMANI GOVERNOR BAHROZ SALIH

Researchers from Britain`s Reading and Liverpool universities have presented in a study they have conducted that an archaeological site found in Bestansur Village in Arbat area near Sulaimani contains evidence showing the place as the birthplace of civilization after transition of human lifestyle from hunting to residing.

The results of the research were presented in a meeting with Sulaimani Governor Bahroz Mohammed Salih and Kamal Rashid, Director of Archaeology in Sulaimani.

Research indicates that the archaeological evidence found at the site suggests humans began residing in the area from 10,000 B.C., an era in which it is believed human beings gave up hunting lifestyle and adopted traits of modern societies.

University of Reading is currently undertaking the duty of protecting the site and providing a design rendering the area a tourism and archaeological site.

Sulaimani Governor Bahroz Salih expressed approval to hold an international conference to present the research results during the past years to the world.

With 20 foreign university teams currently working in excavation of archaeological sites in Sulaimani Province, it is estimated that Sulaimani holds a total of nearly 700 archaeological sites. With the University of Liverpool, University of Pennsylvania, and Japanese University of Osaka having requested to explore the historical sites in Sulaimani, this number is subject to increase.

The cost of exploration of the historical sites is covered by the universities mentioned and all the found relics are to be presented to national museums in Kurdistan, with the patents going towards the universities.

Source: http://www.pukmedia.com/EN/EN_Direje.aspx?Jimare=19737

An Australian/Kurdish joint venture since 2009, Kurdistan Adventures combines local knowledge with Western tour operating management. We pride ourselves on immersing our small groups of travelers in Iraqi Kurdistan culture with safety, security and professionalism. Our 8 day escorted tour includes the 3 major cities of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulymaniyah. A dedicated local guide will take you to key historical sites, explain local customs, dine with you in traditional restaurants and allow you to experience this amazing culture. Citizens of many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the EU, Canada, the UK and the USA are granted a free visa on arrival.

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Erbil’s New Bus Terminal a Boon for Travelers

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The new bus terminal in Erbil. Photo: Rudaw By Rekar Aziz and Alexander Whitcomb

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Erbil’s first proper bus terminal signals that the bad-old-days of difficult road journeys to Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria are over.

The noise of buses making daily trips to the Turkish city of Istanbul is especially welcome in Iraqi Kurdistan. Not long ago, it took lots of time, energy and patience to make this trip. Ill-tempered border guards could refuse crossing after long and expensive drives.

Erbil International Terminal, located in the northeastern corner of the city, will officially open soon.  Its lots are already filling up with buses shuttling passengers to Turkey and Iran, as well as domestic destinations.  Shopkeepers and restaurateurs busily set up their stalls and kitchens. Cabbies chat outside the station, waiting to take tourists into town, and bus conductors shout out their destinations to waiting passengers.

Iraqi Kurdistan has long been a transit route for traffic between Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria.  According to the Association of Tourist Companies, 224 travel agencies are registered in Kurdistan, most of which are local. These are typically small bus companies that have been operating in the region for years.

In the past, however, they operated informally and without coordination. By building dedicated terminals in Erbil and Sulaimani, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) seeks to incorporate these businesses into a rapidly growing tourism industry.

Lawan Transportation Company is one of these small businesses, taking five buses (70-100 passengers) to Turkey and Iran every day since 2007. Like other such companies, the ministry of transportation requires them to move into the new terminal.

Company employee Arkan Najat is pleased with the new real estate.

“We are very happy to have a terminal, because passengers don’t get lost here, unlike the old locations in the inner city. We used to spend a lot of time giving directions to customers or the taxi drivers where to find us.” These tasks have been outsourced to Information Desk attendees, who also help tourists find hotel rooms and restaurants.

Fuad Muhammad Mustafa frequently travels by bus to Turkey. “This is my first trip north, stopping at the Erbil International Terminal.  The bus station is beautifully designed,” he said. “It’s a lot like Turkish bus stations.  It’s very comfortable and safe, with rest seats for passengers.  It shows the growth and development of Erbil as a city.”

The transportation ministry reveals that construction is underway for a second terminal in the city. This will be on the southern side of the city, and is already 30 percent complete.  Both located on the perimeters of Erbil, these terminals are part of initiatives to decrease the flow of traffic through the center of the city, which is already suffering from high levels of congestion and pollution.

Nadir Rosty at the Kurdistan Region’s Board of Investment thinks regional tourism is a big part of Kurdistan’s future. All you have to do is look at the multitude of new hotels and resorts springing up across the country.

“Facilitation of transportation is one of the key factors in attracting tourists to the region.  Erbil International Terminal is not one of the biggest in the world, but it does a great job, especially accommodating the tourists from Turkey and Iran.”

Over 2.2 million tourists visited the Kurdistan Region in 2012, a figure surpassed in the first eight months of 2013. Erbil was named the Arab Tourism Capital for 2014.

Source: http://rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/25042014

An Australian/Kurdish joint venture since 2009, Kurdistan Adventures combines local knowledge with Western tour operating management. We pride ourselves on immersing our small groups of travelers in Iraqi Kurdistan culture with safety, security and professionalism. Our 8 day escorted tour includes the 3 major cities of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulymaniyah. A dedicated local guide will take you to key historical sites, explain local customs, dine with you in traditional restaurants and allow you to experience this amazing culture. Citizens of many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the EU, Canada, the UK and the USA are granted a free visa on arrival.

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Motor Bikers Finding Their Way to Iraqi Kurdistan

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Marco Brand wants to bring adventure motor bikers to Kurdistan. Photo: Marco Brand/Facebook

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – After attracting hikers and skiers, Iraqi Kurdistan is also going to be the destination for motor bikers. The Dutch travel company Motor Trails that organizes “adventurous motor tours,” will be developing a tour to this new destination.

“We want to see beautiful places that are not touristic, meet people and drive on trails and tracks. We are looking for an element of adventure,” says the company’s owner Marco Brand, during a trial tour in the Kurdistan capital of Erbil.

He started Motor Trails 15 years ago, with a trip through Vietnam. Although he was working for a travel company, he would also go off by motorbike to discover new places. “I like to go on my own, even if I am not preparing a trip, to discover the unknown trails.”

The idea of organizing sightseeing tours for bikers started when he was driving through Vietnam. “When I drove through the rice fields, I felt the urge to show this beauty to others.”

Motor Trails now has 35 destinations, most of them in Asia and Europe. Groups are usually comprised of six to 10 motor cyclists, accompanied by a guide, a mechanic and a backup car with spare parts. Special tours are Nepal-Holland, and the Central Asia Silk Route, from Holland to Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.

On this latest tour, motor cyclists take their own bike, but often Brand rents motorbikes locally. You cannot take your motorbike with you on a plane, and on most of the routes a slightly lighter bike is preferable to the heavy Harley Davidsons and the like mostly in use in Holland.

“A lighter bike, with a 250 CC motor is better for off-road biking, as it is more maneuverable and easier to get back up after a fall. Otherwise, you are mainly occupied with the bike, and that is not the idea.”

The object is to feel the freedom of driving through the most beautiful countryside possible, Brand says. “You hear and feel everything. You are not cooped up in a can of cold air, and you can decide on your own speed.”

For his trip through Kurdistan, he had to rent the bike in Turkey, as no motor clubs are known in Kurdistan yet. This meant he had to bring official papers from the owner that he is allowed to take the bike across the border. The paperwork delayed him for three hours at the Turkish-Iraqi border.

On his discovery trip through Kurdistan, Brand is looking for trails and tracks that will take a motorbike to the villages and towns. “The way you get somewhere almost is more important than where you go. The motor will get you to places where a car cannot go.”

One problem is the lack of good maps that not only show highways and main roads, but also the dirt roads and even minor roads that Brand wants to use for his tour.

Driving around for just a few days, he already has a good feeling about the place. He recounts drinking tea at a checkpoint, a chat and picture with men hanging around in a village he passed through, a bottle of water offered by strangers and a meal that he was not allowed to pay for in a small restaurant. “I was even invited for meals at home, but had to refuse because I needed to move on.”

Even though Kurdistan still is associated with the dangers of Iraq, his pictures and reports on Facebook have already pitched the trip to his first customers. “People react saying they want to be in the pilot tour they know I will be organizing first to try out the new destination.”

The safety situation in Iraqi Kurdistan does not seem to be an issue. The motorcyclists that book Brand’s tours are looking for adventure. “Last year we did Tajikistan, and this year even Congo, which is a special and dangerous destination,” he laughs.

Motorbiking would be a new asset to the fast growing Kurdish tourist industry that already brings Western tourists in on organized tours to see the natural, historic and cultural sites, that offers hiking tours into Kurdistan’s rough mountains and luxury stays in five-star hotels in the Kurdish cities of Erbil and Sulaimani.

Skiing sites are being developed at the Korek Mountain, near Kurdistan’s third city Duhok and on a couple of other places. Canoeing on Kurdistan’s fast mountain rivers is another new activity under development.

On top of that, during the first months of Erbil’s year as the Arab Tourism Capital, many Iraqis have flocked to Kurdistan to enjoy the nature, waterfalls and parks, with one park attracting people with a hot air balloon ride.

Source: http://rudaw.net/english/people-places/20042014

An Australian/Kurdish joint venture since 2009, Kurdistan Adventures combines local knowledge with Western tour operating management. We pride ourselves on immersing our small groups of travelers in Iraqi Kurdistan culture with safety, security and professionalism. Our 8 day escorted tour includes the 3 major cities of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulymaniyah. A dedicated local guide will take you to key historical sites, explain local customs, dine with you in traditional restaurants and allow you to experience this amazing culture. Citizens of many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the EU, Canada, the UK and the USA are granted a free visa on arrival.

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An Anfal Survivor tells his story

Anfal-cemetery

Translated by Kamal Chomani:

Twitter: @KamalChomani

Today, 14-04, marks the 26th anniversary of the Anfal Campaign which was carried out by Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and brought death to more than 100.000 innocent Kurds.

Anfal is the cruellest atrocity in the modern history of the Middle East. Here is the story of a survivor, Hassan Ali, 42 years old, whose account reminds us how Anfal can never be forgotten in our history.

“We are from Omerblin village. The Anfal campaign started in our area in 07-04-1987. My father said an unnumbered detachment of the army has come to our area and they are extremely hostile with very cruel ambitions. At that time, our village comprised 128 families. At the dawn of 09-04-1988 our village was vacated. On 13-04-1988 we all reached Qalla Charma village. At that time I was about 15 years old. My mother gave me 4 Iraqi Dinars and my dad gave me 20. They told me we might become separated and that I should have some cash in my pockets. Then on 14-04-198 my mother and I came on to the main street close to SarQalla between Kfri and Kalar. We saw that 22 men, some of them our relatives, had all been arrested by a military brigade and the traitors of the Fatah Bagi Jaf which had been awarded five of Saddam Hussein’s golden medals. So that was the last time I saw my father and other men who were taken away in a military patrol by the armed men.

My mother’s last cry for me

With five shepherds of our village we were taking care of a flock of sheep. My mother (Amina Ahmed) and my auntie (Sawsan Faraj) stayed with me. The commander of the brigade who was a brigadier talked with the traitors in Arabic. The traitors said, “we take these two women to Qorratu near to Kalar city and later we take the sheep straight to you’. They were talking in a way to show that the officer is sorry for us and wants to show his kindness. Afterwards, they forced my mother and auntie onto the back of a tractor and they started crying. Still I can see the picture of my mother. Her flowered shirt is still in front of my eyes. From the back of the tractor she was crying: “Hassan… Hassan…”

I never saw my mother again since then. All the detainees were transferred from Qorratu to Topzawa, West of Kirkuk. Then, on 17-04-1988, it was Ramadan. People told me that my mother was fasting. She had bought one kilo of sugar for two dinars from the soldiers, whereas 50 kilos of sugar then was usually only 10 dinars. My mother had bought sugar because she didn’t care much about being hungry but she was not able to survive without having tea. She loved tea so much.

I am not only a survivor of Anfal, I am not only left alone, but even my psyche was ‘anfalled’. How can I forget those moments when my mother was crying ‘Hassan…Hassan…’ at the back of the tractor?

Starving

The witnesses told me: my mother and the other women were taken at 3-4am, early morning, and no one was left in the first destination. When they took my mother, she had her own pot on the fire, and that’s why many times I have dreamed about my mother who told me, “Before killing us with guns, we are starved from hunger and thirsty”. This has left very bad impact on me and always makes me weep.

Two wishes

Often when I cry, I cry for two things. I am afraid that I may die and may not see the traitor chiefs being hanged. After 61 sessions of court, arrest papers have already issued for 423 of them in which 256 are for the betrayers under the name of tribal leaders and Sheikhs. I am also afraid that I may die but never find the remains of my parent’s corpses”.

Source: http://kurdistantribune.com/2014/anfal-survivor-tells-his-story/

An Australian/Kurdish joint venture since 2009, Kurdistan Adventures combines local knowledge with Western tour operating management. We pride ourselves on immersing our small groups of travelers in Iraqi Kurdistan culture with safety, security and professionalism. Our 8 day escorted tour includes the 3 major cities of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulymaniyah. A dedicated local guide will take you to key historical sites, explain local customs, dine with you in traditional restaurants and allow you to experience this amazing culture. Citizens of many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the EU, Canada, the UK and the USA are granted a free visa on arrival.

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What happened in the Kurdish genocide?

Halabja_1988__2012_06_23_h18m0s2__HA

Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were executed during a systematic attempt to exterminate the Kurdish population in Iraq in the Anfal operations in the late 1980s. They were tied together and shot so they fell into mass graves. Their towns and villages were attacked by chemical weapons, and many women and children were sent to camps  where they lived in appalling conditions. Men and boys of ‘battle age’ were targeted and executed en masse. The campaign takes its name from Suratal-Anfal in the Qur’an. Al Anfal literally means the spoils (of war) and was used to describe the military campaign of extermination and looting commanded by Ali Hassan al-Majid. The Ba’athists misused what the Qur’an says. Anfal  in the Qur’an does not refer to genocide, but the word was used as a code name by the former Iraqi Ba’athist regime for the systematic attacks against the Kurdish population. The campaign also targeted the villages of minority communities including Christians.

But the Kurdish genocide began decades before the Anfal and has claimed countless victims. The genocide perpetrated over decades began with the arabisation of villages around Kirkuk in 1963. It involved the deportation and disappearances of Faylee Kurds in the 1970s-80s, the murder of 8,000 male Barzanis in 1983, the use of chemical weapons in the late 1980s, most notably against Halabja, and finally the Anfal campaign of 1988. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people perished, families were torn apart, many still live with severe health problems. At the same time, 4,500 villages were razed to the ground between 1976 and 1988 undermining the potential of Iraqi Kurdistan’s agricultural resources and destroying Kurdistan’s rural way of life and heritage.

WHAT DOES ‘ANFAL’ MEAN

The term al-Anfal is the name given to a succession of attacks against the Kurdish population in Iraq during a specific period. These attacks were named  “al-Anfal” by Saddam Hussein and his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (known as ‘Chemical Ali’),  who used this term to describe the carefully planned and orchestrated eight-staged genocidal campaign between February 23rd and September 6th 1988. In Kurdish society, the word Anfal has come to represent the entire genocide over decades.

THE KURDISH GENOCIDE: THE FACTS

  • An estimated 1million people in Iraq have ‘disappeared’ since the 1960s, all presumed murdered or missing.
  • Human Rights Watch reported in its 1993 comprehensive report on Anfal in Iraq that at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 Kurds are estimated to have been killed at the hands of the Ba’ath regime.1  However, since then, several sources have stated that as many as 182,000 or even more people were killed in that operation
  • Gendercide: Throughout the Kurdish Anfal, men and boys of ‘battle age’ were rounded up and ‘disappeared’ en masse. Most of these men and boys were captured, transported to mass graves and shot in mass executions. Of the total victims of Anfal, an estimated 70% were men, approximately aged 15 to 50.2
  • Thousands of women and children also vanished. Unlike the men, however, they were taken from specific areas as opposed to throughout the region. Evidence also shows that many were taken to internment camps where they were executed or died from deprivation.3
  • During the 1980s, the Kurdish population was attacked with chemical weapons, killing thousands of men, women and children indiscriminately.
  • During the Anfal, 90% of Kurdish villages and more than 20 small towns and cities were completely destroyed. 4

ANNIVERSARIES AND KEY DATES

  • 16th March: Halabja Day, commemoration of the chemical bombing of the town of Halabja in 1988
  • 14th April: Commemoration of Anfal genocide against the Kurds in 1988
  • 10 July: Commemoration of the 40,000 displaced civilians from Kirkuk and the Kirkuk districts in 1962
  • 31 July: Remembrance of the Barzani disappearance in 1983
  • 18 August: Remembrance of the mass killing in Surria village in 1969
  • 4 September: Remembrance of the mass killing of Fayli Kurds in 1980

The following are some of the anniversaries of the chemical bombardment of towns and villages which took place across Kurdistan in hundreds of communites, in 1984, 1987 and 1988:

  • 26, 28 February: Chemical bombardment of villages Sargalu, Yakhsamar, Guezilla, Dolli Jafayti in 1988
  • 16 March: Chemical bombardment of Halabja city in 1988
  • 18 March:Chemical bombardment of villages Abnab village and Halabja district in 1988
  • 16 April: Chemical bombardment of Shekh Wasanan village and surrounding areas in 1987
  • 17 April: Chemical bombardment of villages Qzlar, Sangar, Mawlaka in 1987
  • 20 April: Chemical bombardment of villages in the Dolli Balisan Provinces in 1987
  • 21 April: Chemical bombardment of the Qarakh district in 1987
  • 3 May: Chemical bombardment of villages Goptapa, Aakar, Maylan, Sarchma, Shekhanm Kalasher, Chamy Rezan, Qochlakh, Zare in 1988
  • 23 May:Chemical bombardment of villages Malakh Gorasher, Kandol, Bardok, Ble, Tahe, Nazanin, Balisan in 1987
  • 28 June: Bombardment of Sardasht city of eastern part of Kurdistan (Iran) in 1987
  • 1 July: Chemical bombardment of many villages in Duhok district in 1987
  • 9 August: Chemical bombardment of the villages in the Bahdinan district and Gali Baze area in 1988
  • 16 September: Chemical bombardment of Mergapan village in 1984

Anfal campaign 1988

Anfal campaign in 1988 was performed in eight stages, in which 182,000 civilians lost their lives. Thousands of villages were destroyed, bringing the total destroyed since the 1970s to 4,500 The eight stages were orchestrated as follows:

  • 21 February 1988 – 18 March 1988: The first stage of the Anfal campaign started in Dolli Jafayty Marg
  • 22 March 1988 – 14 March 1988: The second stage of the Anfal campaign started in the Qaradakh district
  • 31 March 1988 – 14 April 1988: The third stage of the Anfal campaign started in the Garmyan district
  • 20 April 1988 – 18 April 1988: The fourth stage of the Anfal started in the Askar district, Goptapa, Shwan, Qala, Swaka, Dashti Koya
  • 24 May 1988 to 31 August 1988: The fifth, sixth, seventh stages of the Anfal campaign started in Shaqlawa and Rewandiz districts
  • 25 August 1988 – 6 September 1988: The eighth stage of Anfal campaign started in the Badinan district

[ 1 ] Human Rights Watch. (1993) ‘Genocide in Iraq – The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds.’ Available at: http://www.hrw.org/legacy/english/docs/2006/08/14/iraq13979_txt.htm

[ 2 ] ‘Iraq’s crime of genocide’ by Human Rights Watch 1994, p.266 – 268

[ 3 ]  ‘Iraq’s crime of genocide’ by Human Rights Watch 1994, p. 13, 96, 115, 171

[ 4 ]  Le Monde diplomatique, March 1998 by Kendal Nezan

Source: http://uk.krg.org/genocide/pages/page.aspx?lngnr=12&pnr=37

An Australian/Kurdish joint venture since 2009, Kurdistan Adventures combines local knowledge with Western tour operating management. We pride ourselves on immersing our small groups of travelers in Iraqi Kurdistan culture with safety, security and professionalism. Our 8 day escorted tour includes the 3 major cities of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulymaniyah. A dedicated local guide will take you to key historical sites, explain local customs, dine with you in traditional restaurants and allow you to experience this amazing culture. Citizens of many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the EU, Canada, the UK and the USA are granted a free visa on arrival.

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