Written by Zoe Stephens
Iraqi Kurdistan has been floating around in the media a lot over the past few weeks. But do you know where it is, why you should visit, and what exactly Iraqi Kurdistan is?
Iraqi Kurdistan refers to the 3 Kurdish northern Iraqi Provinces; Duhok, Erbil, and Sulaymaniya. These are semi-autonomous regions of the central Iraqi government and ruled by the Kurdistan Regional Government. In 1991, the provinces achieved de facto independence.
Perhaps one of the most important progressions in recent Kurdish history was the recent independence referendum.
Results came out on 27. 09.17, and showed a strong ‘yes’ vote, with over 92% of Iraqi Kurds voting for independence.
With much opposition from Iraq and surrounding countries, what this will bring in the future for Iraqi Kurds is unsure, however voting was kept peaceful.
Is it safe to visit?
Many travelers miss off Iraq from their vacation due to safety worries. Fortunately, as long as you stay inside the area controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government, you won’t encounter any problems. Other cities to watch out for are; Mosul, Kirkuk, Tikrit, and Baghdad to the south. Don’t worry, it’s not hard to accidentally walk out of this area since it’s is clearly marked and heavily guarded.
It should, however, be noted that there is continued conflict with neighboring Turkey to the North and Iran to the East. You cannot enter the country via Turkey. Generally speaking, life in this region is quite peaceful and more than safe for travelers.
It should also be noted that many flights are currently being rescheduled or canceled, and authorities are warning of unrest due to proximity of recent referendum.
Why Should I Visit?
#5 Rich History
Kurdistan-Iraq is very different from the middle and Southern Iraq. It was spared of war in 2003 and has a minimal level of terrorist activity. Instead, Kurdistan sees much foreign investment and a great deal is invested into their development of infrastructure and tourism. With its strong and fast-paced economic development, Kurdistan is quickly becoming known as the “gateway to Iraq”.
“A Gateway to Iraq”
Kurds and Arabs are different in many ways in Iraq. The culture, lifestyle, and even language are entirely different. Kurdish society consists of a variety of religions and beliefs. This includes Muslims, Christians, Jews, and much more. They all live together alongside each other in this unique structure alongside in peace and harmony.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s history is certainly not without its turmoils that have shaped the society they live in today.
Probably one of the most horrific events was the 1988 genocide under Saddam Hussein’s ‘Anfal’ campaign. Thousands of Kurdish civilians were killed. You can visit the powerful memorial in Halabja. Inside a mysterious and eary room is endorned in shards of mirror and lights. Each mirror fragment symbolizes a person who lost their lives (182,000) and each light symbolizes a village that was damaged or destroyed.
Kurdish cuisine may not be Michelin star haute cuisine, but it’s good hearty stuff that will fill you up and keep your tummy happy. Prepare to be loaded up with meat and carbs. As with many other middle eastern people, Kurds love their meat. But as well as ample lamb and chicken, there is a wide variety of fruits and vegetables available. Common are pomegranates, grapes, figs, and walnuts. Local foods include; Kebab, Stuffed grape vines (dolma), and the Kurdish national dish of ‘shila u brinc’. This simple dish composes of chicken, rice, and vegetable soup.
If you’re a vegetarian, don’t fear the strong meat influence. Just don’t eat any falafel a few months before you travel there since that’s probably going to be your daily main meal. In a sit-down restaurant, expect to pay about 3,000 (24USD) dinars for your meal. You can purchase street food for as little as 600 dinars. (4USD)
If you get the chance to dine in a Kurdish house, you’ll be eating traditionally. Kurdish people eat meals generally while sitting on the floor. They place several dishes on a small cloth placed in the center of the room. Traditionally, all dishes, including hot, cold, and sweet, are all served together.
2014 Arab Capital of Tourism it’s hard to find a reason not to visit this pro-Western capital known for its good security, low crime-rates, and rich oil fields.
In 2013 Kurdistan saw a massive three million visitors, and Erbil even welcomes A-list visitors including Angelina Jolie.
“Erbil will make you forget everything you’ve heard about Iraq.” –
You’ll be spoilt for choice with things to do here and places to see. No trip is complete without seeing the Qaysari Bazaar. This 12th century bazaar is one of the world’s largest and oldest. Located near the ancient citadel, it’s currently being restored. Here you can find anything from gold, meat, spices, and textiles.
One of the largest Christian enclaves in the Middle East, Ainkawa, is famous for its many churches and a great place to relax. Erbil Citadel stands in the heart of the city. It’s over 8,000 years old and sited on a naturally defendable 10-ha plateau. It’s also the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city!
#2 The People
Iraqi Kurds are amazing people. They may not have much to give, but what they do, they do gladly.
They’re incredibly hospitable people who will go out of your way to make your stay extra special and some of the kindest and friendliest people in the world.
“The Switzerland of the Middle East.” – CNN
A Middle Eastern paradise on earth, characterized by mountains, unique beauty and rugged waterfalls, ravines and water springs. A strong contrast with Iraq, it has long been famed in Middle Eastern literature thanks to its unparalleled scenes of natural beauty.
Young Pioneer Tours
Young Pioneer tours offer a unique Iraqi Kurdistan Adventure tour. This trip hits up all of the must-see places in Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as doing some cool off the beaten track-esque stuff.
The trip begins in Erbil where the exploration of the region begins. The trip takes us to the world’s only Yazidi shrine at Lalesh (40 KM from ISIS territory), before heading north to Duhok, the Saddam palace, Amadiya, and then looping around and heading south to Sulamaniyah, and back to UNESCO World Heritage Site, Erbil, checking out lots of stuff in between.
Highlights include holding an AK47 and take photos with the Peshmerga in Lalesh, the sacred town of the Yazidi people, and checking out one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces in the town of Amadiya. It’s situated on a mountaintop and provides amazing views of the scenery. All the while, you’ll be in the safe hands of experienced and knowledgeable tour guides taking you along, also ensuring you have the best time! Don’t miss out on this once in a lifetime trip!