It is difficult to believe today, when Erbil has emerged as a global economic player and a major tourist destination, that less than a century ago Erbil was little more than a desert-strewn wildscape where Bedouin tribes roamed the sands and a huddle of settlers crowded around the banks of the lifeblood creek. Even as Europe embarked on the mass industrial destruction of World War I, Erbil still had no running water, no real roads.
The regional instability that has followed the Iraq war and the rise of Al-Qaeda has, however, put a strain on the Kurdisch region and still threatens to hit tourism, one of its most successful industries. Tourism currently remains remarkably resilient with more and more tourists flocking to Erbil every year, which is unsurprising really, considering the idyllic climate for much of the year, with constant sunshine and only an average of five days of rainfall annually. During summer, however, the heat is extreme, making trips away from air-conditioned vehicles and buildings unbearable.
The future prospects of the Kurdisch region tourist industry 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 in federal 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 4 million and rapidly increasing, the three governorates of Duhok, Erbil and Suleimaniah cover approximately 40,000 square kilometres - four times the area of Lebanon and larger than that of the Netherlands.
- 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 Regionâ€™s 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.
- Iraqâ€™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 Regionâ€™s people, who are Chaldeans, Assyrians, Turkmen, Yazidis and Kurds living together in harmony and tolerance.
- Since the Anfal genocide campaign by Saddam Husseinâ€™s Regime in the 1980s, more than 65% 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 and Pashto. There are two main dialects, Sorani and Kurmanji.
- The Kurdistan Region has seven universities, including the English language University of Kurdistan-Hawler in Erbil which opened in September 2006, and the American University of Iraq in Suleimaniah which started its first programme in autumn 2007.