Kurdish-American Filmmaker Brings Kurdistan to Hollywood

52582image1

Kurdish-American filmmaker Jano Rosebiani (center) with actors Ghazi Ghefur (priest) and Ismail Salih (Mella Issa). Photo courtesy of Evini Films By Joshua Thaisen

LOS ANGELES – The premier of two Kurdish films in Hollywood this week may help bridge the cultural divide between Kurdistan and the West. Kurdish-American filmmaker Jano Rosebiani touches on topics of equality, love, relationships and the progressive attitudes of youth culture in Kurdistan.

“Chaplin of the Mountain” and “One Candle, Two Candles” are the first English-language films to be shot in the Kurdistan Region, an autonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, and the war-torn country’s only peaceful and prospering portion. Both movies are honest reflections of daily life in Kurdistan, and highlight its natural beauty.

“All these scenes could be real, I wanted to show life as is, and therefore the idea was to shoot documentary style,” Rosebiani told Rudaw.

Strong female leads in both films highlight the growing pains of feminine identity, through conflict with conservative opinions in Kurdistan.  As director, Rosebiani weaves a local and foreign cast into stories that transcend borders and take on a globalized view of social issues.

“Americans see it as an American film and Kurds describe it as a Kurdish film,” the filmmaker said. He emphasized that his effort is to try and steer away from the traditional style of Kurdish cinema, which is “usually about atrocities and trying to gain viewer sympathy.”

“Chaplin of the Mountain” is about two American film students running a social experiment, screening Charlie Chaplin films in remote villages in the Kurdish mountains. They run across a half-French, half-Kurdish girl who is on a quest to find her family’s village. The story highlights a journey of friendship and self-discovery through authentic interactions with local communities in the mountains.

“One Candle, Two Candles” spotlights the sexual revolution of Kurdish women who are fighting for marriage equality and empowerment. The film follows the story of a young woman who is resisting conservative culture in her exploration of love.

Rosebiani predicts that the themes of love and life will be received well by Kurdish audiences.

“Life without love is death,” he said. “The Kurds have always been threatened by death, but nonetheless, they’re resilient, they get on their feet. It’s always about the continuation of life,” he explained.

And he has an optimistic outlook on the future of Kurdish cinema.

“I think, because we have so many stories to tell the world, Kurdish people in my view are very creative. I spent eight years in Kurdistan, where many young people were making short films left and right, without any prior education. I don’t see that even here, in America!” he said.

“I think the future is bright. But it takes a little time for it to find its base, because the politicians, government, and institutions have to understand the value of cinema. There has to be better support. Kurdistan is still in the making in every aspect of life.”

Despite living in the United States, Rosebiani still identifies strongly with his Kurdish roots.

“I grew up in a small town called Zakho, on the border of Turkey and Iraq. I left and joined the 1974 uprising at 14. At 15 I was a refugee, and at 16 I was in the States under political asylum. I didn’t lose my Kurdishness, and did not forget the language.”

Rosebiani returned to Kurdistan after the 1991 Gulf War so he could “relearn the cultural aspects of the Kurds,” and begin retelling their stories in motion theatre.

Both films are currently previewing in theatres, and are expected to screen in Kurdistan in late July.

Source: http://rudaw.net/english/culture/27062014

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kurdish zone an oasis of ‘good news’ in beleaguered Iraq

ERBIL, Iraq — Sectarian fighting of a most ruthless kind is occurring literally down the road from here in Mosul and Tikrit, where Sunni ultra-fundamentalists with a brutal medieval credo have taken over.

But all is serene in Iraqi Kurdistan which is guarded by the Peshmerga militia, whose reputation across the Middle East as ferocious warriors is akin to how Nepal’s renowned Gurkhas have long been regarded.

Whether the Kurdish autonomous region sticks with Iraq or, as virtually every Kurd hopes, bolts and declares its independence from Baghdad, the midterm and long-term economic prospects of this mostly mountainous region are dazzling.

It’s all about oil, of course. Vast proven reserves have been waiting to be exploited in foothills that look identical to those west of Calgary. And a huge pool of even cheaper-to-reach oil is still being discovered.

“Every day there is the surprise of more good news,” said Hiwa Hiwa Arif Haziz, general manager of Mapcom, a Kurdish company that supplies major oil companies with environmental and mapping services as well as topographical land surveys. “It turns out there is much more oil than anybody suspected.”

That prospect informs a recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, part of the company behind The Economist magazine, that paints a guardedly optimistic future for the six million Iraqi Kurds.

Even before Sunni extremists with dreams of an Islamic caliphate seized nearly a third of the country, Kurdistan was rated higher than Iraq in six categories examined by the EIU. Kurdistan was judged to be something like China, Thailand, Brazil or Argentina, while Iraq was ranked alongside Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan.

Despite being in one of the most volatile parts of the Middle East, “people come in and out all the time and feel safe,” said John Downe, the British managing partner of Azure Serviced Offices, which has contracts in Erbil with leading Asian, European and North American companies involved directly or indirectly in the energy business.

Because of estimated reserves of 45 billion barrels, the big international players such as Exxon, Chevron, Total, Gulf Keystone, Marathon and Gazprom have invested as much as $20 billion over the past few years, helping to fuel an annual growth rate of about eight per cent.

Two Calgary-based companies, Talisman Energy and WesternZagros Resources, have significant interests in two Kurdish oilfields. WesternZagros expects to be producing 10,000 barrels a day of light, sweet oil by the end of the year from one field and has discovered about one billion barrels of oil in an adjacent field, according to a company statement.

In another sign that the Kurdish part of Iraq is considered a reasonable place to do business, Canada opened a trade office in February at a luxury hotel in Erbil.

“What is happening is that this region is moving from a development boom to a production boom,” Downe said. “That is a transition that needs to take place.”

With no visa required for western visitors to the Kurdish part of Iraq, a dozen airlines — including heavyweights such as Lufthansa, Emirates Airlines and Turkish Airlines — now have direct flights.

Until very recently the Kurds have had serious problems because the government in Baghdad has regarded itself as the master of Kurdistan’s energy resources. But Iraq’s claims were gravely weakened two weeks ago when its army, rather than face Sunni extremists, deserted its posts around the vast oilfields at Kirkuk, a majority-Kurdish city just outside the Kurdish autonomous zone. The Peshmerga, who number nearly 200,000, seamlessly filled the defensive gap, which has effectively put Kurds in charge of everything.

“It is a transitional state coming out of a conflict situation, but there is pre-Mosul and post-Mosul and there is no going back now,” Downe said of the political earthquake that has occurred since Mosul was lost to the insurgents.

Relations with Turkey, which has long been in conflict with its own Kurdish minority, have suddenly thawed over the past year with a few senior Turkish officials hinting for the first time that their country would recognize an independent Iraqi Kurdistan. This shift in sentiment has allowed Iraqi Kurds to open a pipeline to Turkey. Their first tanker shipload of crude was sold to Israel, via Turkey, with Ankara taking an undisclosed cut.

“I think that relations with Turkey are perfect now. It was never like this before,” Haziz said. “Thousands of Turkish companies have investments here. Because of these economic ties, they are interested in keeping good relations.”

Washington has long been opposed to Kurdish independence because of the U.S. preference for a united Iraq. But since the disgraceful performance of Iraq’s army this month, the United States has acknowledged that the map of Iraq is being drastically redrawn.

“Just look at where the Peshmerga is now compared to where they were two weeks ago,” a State Department briefer has been quoted as telling reporters during Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Baghdad Monday. “Not so much out of a deliberate move, but out of just the exigency of the situation. Some facts on the ground can be created that might not be reversed.”

Source: http://o.canada.com/news/kurdish-zone-an-island-of-good-news-in-beleaguered-iraq

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Statement on Security Situation Jun 2014

Kurdistan Adventures wishes to make a statement regarding the recent wave of violence in Iraq.

Firstly it is important to recognise that the Kurdistan Region has maintained its territorial integrity since the latest terrorist insurgency swept though cities and towns south of the agreed border between Iraqi-Kurdistan and Federal Iraq. Kurdish Security Forces mainly the Peshmerger have actually moved forward past the recognised southern border and occupied a number of cities and towns to create an increased buffer zone to shield Kurdistan from the violence taking place between the Islamic insurgents and the central government led Iraqi Army. A number of public statements have been made from the insurgent leadership that their fight is not with the predominantly Sunni Kurdistan Region but with the Shia led government in Baghdad.

You will note that most of the primary news agencies are broadcasting their news reports from Erbil the capital of the Kurdistan Region for one reason only, because of the continued safety and security the Kurdistan Region offers. Having said that, Kurdistan Adventures fully understands that the ongoing situation will be a cause of concern for our partners and this in turn may cause stress to pending or future clients considering travel to Kurdistan and we anticipate cancellations in the short term as a result of this unfortunate situation. This is totally understandable.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) continues to highlight the fact there has not been a single security incident against any foreigners in the Kurdistan Region since the initial U.S. led invasion in 2003.

Kurdistan Adventures has been able to operate safely for nearly five years and in turn share the wonderful region of Kurdistan with people from all around the world and we are confident of doing so into the future.

Finally, it is worth noting that the none of the US, UK, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand governments have changed their travel advice for the Kurdistan Region and that they continue to recognise the security situation is distinct from the rest of Iraq.

Kurdistan Adventures will continue to monitor the situation and will communicate any updates as needed. Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact us immediately.

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kurdistan Hopeful of Adding Erbil Citadel to UNESCO Heritage List

49153image1

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In Kurdistan, Hotels Growing Faster than Tourism

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Food Writer Explores Kurdistan through the Palate

46742image1

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kurdistan courting Arabian Gulf tourists

0a11_2154

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Akre Getting a Facelift to Attract Tourists

45404image1

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Research suggests Sulaimani was birthplace of civilization

365420742014_494918742014_shunawar

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Erbil’s New Bus Terminal a Boon for Travelers

44291image1

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment