It is certainly not for the monuments or a splendid nature. So what the hell am I doing in Iraq then?
22.06.2014 - 01.07.2014 40 °C
Forget the usual explanations that travellers normally give when they are heading into harm’s way: “The media exaggerate the situation“ or “it’s a domestic conflict, they don’t care about foreigners” or “most locals will rather help you than hurt you”.
While those explanations above are usually true, Iraq is not normally the place to travel to. Though the media probably do exaggerate the current situation just a bit and most locals are really nice people here. This lesson instead starts with a little bit of political geography. Because most of the surprise and chock I received when telling friends and family that I was heading to Iraq for my summer holiday was based on a fact: The lines of your world map lies.
Studying Global Studies I apologise if this gets too nerdy. For while the map above this blog entry, shows me to be in Iraq, I am really not. I am in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, and this is basically another country. While not recognised as an independent state Kurdistan does have its own president, its own parliament and their own ethnicity and languish. The Kurds speak Kurdish not Arabic, and they would definitely take offence if you call them Arabs. Kurdistan even has its own army, an army that is both better trained and more experienced than the regular Iraqi army. Years of fighting against Saddam and Assad (the Syrian president) as well as changing Turkish and Iranian governments have hardened the Kurdish Peshmerga into a formidable fighting force.
Just to show how different Iraq and Kurdistan actually are: the Kurds have their own visa regime. I would actually need another completely different visa to visit the ‘real’ Iraq (a fact that I am sure my parents celebrate as they read this). The visa I have instead proudly pronounces: Republic of Iraq – Kurdish Region.
So why would anyone actually travel to and around Kurdistan? First of all is Erbil (the regional capital) one of the best places to sit and sip in the shade of a citadel while watching old men play domino on the neighbouring tea bed, while youths and families hang out on the central square below. Other than good tea spots Kurdistan offers a change to get away from the crowds – almost nobody else visit the unknown travel destination. There are no tourists and no tourist’s infrastructure – Kurdistan is in many aspects untouched – so much that some locals I have talked to do not recognise the idea of tourism, but do understand the idea of a visitor or a guest. And the Kurds are famed for their hospitality – it will be seriously hard to avoid offers of lunch, dinner or a place to sleep depending on the time and places you visit.
More excitingly (and here I mean exciting in the morbid sense of the word) is there something trilling about Kurdistan’s location next to some of the World’s most troubled regions. Places close to the border can be dangerously close to the battleground and there is just something about having to ask ‘Is it safe?’ before going somewhere new. At least for romantics like me who longs for the old days were it was still possible to explorer the blanks of the world map. Back when one could join James Cook’s crew or ride with the Cossacks into Central Asia’s mountains.
Kurdistan truly feels like a new discovery – it is unspoiled, guests are welcomed with open arms and it still got some of the dangers of exploring; while one is actually in very safe surroundings as long as you follow the advice you are given.
And that is at least why I have ended up here, for the time being…