Erbil is the world's oldest continuously inhabited city. It was born during the early Mesopotamian civilizations, around 10,000 years ago. But in the past few decades, the city expanded and developed beyond anyone's expectation. From a small agricultural settlement less than a century ago - where much of the life was centered in the ancient citadel, the city's heart, and the direct vicinity of it - to a well-established Middle Eastern tourism and business destination of 2 million people now;
Its populace is overwhelmingly Kurdish, but there are also significant communities of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Turkmen, and increasingly also, a large Arab community hailing from central and southern Iraq. Furthermore, Erbil also has a vibrant, and fast-growing, expat community from more than 100 different nationalities - including Americans, Turks, European Union nationals, Lebanese, Iranians, Asians, Africans and Latin American citizens.
Erbil - since 2003 - is Iraq's fastest growing city. As the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan Region, it's also Iraq's main gate for tourism, business, banking, investments and other sectors. In a few years only, Kurdistan Region has attracted $20 billion in direct investments through the Kurdistan Investment Board, and most of the money has been spent in Erbil.
At the moment, hundreds of large-scale projects are being built in the metropolitan area of Erbil. They include highways, urban rail networks, international and local universities and schools, luxurious five-star hotels managed by global hoteliers, Dubai-styled shopping malls,sports complexes, hospitals and dozens of large-scale residential projects.
The future prospects of the local industry - especially its vital Oil & Gas sector - and its economic situation as a whole may be increasingly governed by developments in the rest of the Middle East, but for now Erbil is a city on the rise and rise.
The Kurdistan Region
The Kurdistan Region is an autonomous region spanning the northern parts of the Federal Republic of Iraq. It borders Syria to the west, Iran to the east, and Turkey to the north, where fertile plains meet the Zagros mountains, and is traversed by the Tigris, Big Zab, and Little Zab rivers.
A few facts about the Kurdistan Region in Iraq
- With a population of currently around 6 million and rapidly increasing, the three governorates of Duhok, Erbil and Sulaimaniyah cover slightly more than 40,000 square kilometres - four times the area of Lebanon and larger than that of the Netherlands and Belgium combined.
- The Region is geographically diverse, from hot plains to cooler mountainous areas blessed with natural springs where snow falls in the winter.
- Since March 2003 not a single coalition soldier has died nor a single foreigner been kidnapped in the areas administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
- The capital and seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government is Erbil, a city known locally as Hawler.
- The Citadel in Erbil is said to be the longest continually inhabited place in the world.
- The Kurdistan Regional Government exercises executive power according to the Kurdistan Region laws as enacted by the democratically elected Kurdistan National Assembly. The current government, led by Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, assumed office on 7 May 2006.
- Iraq's Constitution recognises the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Kurdistan National Assembly and the Peshmerga guard as the legitimate regional forces.
- The current coalition government consists of several political parties that reflect the diversity of the Region's people, who are Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians,Turkmen, Yazidis and Kurds living together in harmony and tolerance.
- Since the Anfal genocide campaign by Saddam Hussein's Regime in the 1980s, more than 70% of the razed villages have been rebuilt by the Regional Administration.
- The Kurdish language is distinct and is in the family of Iranian languages, such as Persian. There are two main dialects, Sorani and Kurmanji.
- The Kurdistan Region has around 20 well-established universities, including the English language University of Kurdistan-Hawler (UK-H) in Erbil which opened in September 2006, and the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani (AUI-S) which started its first programme in autumn 2007.