London, Asharq Al-Awsat and Agencies – The population of Arbil and the rest of the Kurds who live in Iraqi Kurdistan prefer to use the historical name ‘Lir’ in reference to the Kurdish region’s capital, Arbil, as an homage to the history of the region, which predates back to over 6,000 years. This history bears testimony to the fact that the Kurds, as a nation, settled in northern Mesopotamia thousands of years ago and that they are not foreigners to this region.
Arbil, or Hewler, [in the Kurdish language] boasts natural beauty as it is home to evergreen valleys and mountains with snow-capped peaks, in addition to spectacular waterfalls that gush out of mountain rocks. The Zab River runs close to the center of the city descending between mountainous passageways, creating an unforgettable landscape.
Arbil International Airport receives guests from all over of the world. Upon arrival to the airport, one can clearly see that Arbil international, which is considered one of the largest airports in the region, is a new construction. One would also notice the colorful flag of Kurdistan with the golden sun in the center heralding a bright future, and the friendly Kurdish women at the airport who welcome visitors to their city.
Despite being one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, Arbil is witnessing a lot of construction work; modern buildings, luxurious palaces and glass-front offices, in addition to trade centers. AFP reports that in central Arbil, high-rise buildings are under construction on the site of what was once a cemetery. A tall concrete tower rises near Arbil’s international airport. A 22-storey luxury hotel will be the tallest in the whole of northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Dozens of other hotels are also under construction, with some promising five-star “dream rooms” to clients.
Large billboards announcing new housing projects such as Dream City, British Village and Royal City have sprung up across the city. The project to build a race track is also underway. These complexes that resemble buildings one would imagine in California are being constructed on land that was once used as a base and headquarters for the [Iraqi] V Corps that killed a large number of Kurds under the former regime. A large area has been transformed into a park named after the martyr Sami Abdul Rahman.
From the ancient citadel in the center of Erbil, the view is eclectic as old minarets share a skyline with a jumble of unfinished concrete towers, tall cranes and relay towers belonging to cellular phone companies.
The citadel is situated in the center of the city; or rather the new city of Arbil has been built around the citadel that has been here for over 6,000 years. The word ‘Arbil’ used to refer to the citadel alone, which stands on a high plateau and is surrounded by a wall that protects it from invaders.
But what makes this citadel unique is the fact that it is still inhabited. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently announced the beginning of the restoration process of the Arbil citadel. Boasting one of the most ancient histories in the world; the citadel has been ruled by Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Islamic civilizations. During the Ottoman era, the citadel was divided into three areas: Atakaya, Tubkhana and Sarai.
UNESCO’s director in Iraq Mohamed Jaleed said, “UNESCO is acting to protect the existing monuments in the Kurdistan region by taking on a number of projects, preparing cadres and launching an educational television channel.”
During a joint press conference with the Kurdistan Region’s Minister of Tourism Nimrud Baito Yokhana, Minister of Culture Falakaddin Kakeyi and the governor of Arbil Nawzad Hadi, Jaleed stated that UNESCO has decided to open an office in the region and that its first project will be Arbil’s citadel, restoring water to its aqueducts, training cadres to protect industries and providing assistance to museums.
Mohammed Jaleed stressed that Kurdistan would be included in every project undertaken by UNESCO in Iraq, especially with respect to the field of education.
The inhabitants of the citadel used to obtain water supplies through the watercourse at Bastura (about five kilometers north of Arbil), traces of which are still present in many areas.
Jaleed stated that UNESCO and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) have made a number of decisions regarding the monuments that are present in Kurdistan, “there are over 300 sites. We work in cooperation with the concerned ministries to protect them.”
Furthermore, he highlighted “the importance of renovating the Arbil citadel, the first stage of which is to take rapid and necessary action and to look into the current problems and the level of finance that we require. This stage will continue for six to eight months.”
“Kurdish cadres will be trained in the preservation of monuments. We have begun working and have signed an agreement with the KRG to restore the citadel,” added Jaleed.
For his part, the Minister of Tourism Nimrud Baito Yokhana said, “The Kurdistan Regional Government took the initiative and asked UNESCO to help in restoring the Arbil citadel and to classify archeological sites in Kurdistan as part of international and human heritage,” indicating that the Arbil citadel as well as the history of the region are tourist attractions.
The Kurdish Minister of Culture, Falakaddin Kakeyi highlighted that “Cooperation with UNESCO will take place on various levels, most notably the recognition of the entity of Kurdish culture.” He added, “We have discussed the idea of launching a television channel in Kurdistan.”
The KRG has allocated residential land and financial grants to be distributed amongst the citadel’s residents as compensation in return for leaving the citadel so that it could become a historical and tourist attraction. Besides, the majority of houses within the citadel are old and unsuitable for living.
The KRG welcomes local, Arab and Western investors, including Turks, Lebanese and mostly Saudis by encouraging the private sector to transform Kurdistan into a “gateway to Iraq for businessmen.”
The region of Kurdistan in reality, if not officially, is independent as part of a country in which chaos is prevailing. In light of the remarkable boom, officials are awaiting the profits of oil production that has witnessed an expansion, in addition to aiming to produce approximately 100,000 barrels per day.
Those in charge of regional affairs seek to portray the region as “an oasis of safety and stability” where approximately four million people live.
The Kurdish Peshmerga forces, along with other security forces, uphold the mission of protecting the region.
The authorities say they have formed a dynamic parliamentary democracy where fundamental rights are guaranteed, including those of minorities, such as Christians who have sought refuge there after fleeing the more volatile areas of Iraq.
Other tourist attractions near Arbil that have yet to obtain investments include the Gali Ali Bag and Bekhal waterfalls. The city is also surrounded by picturesque Kurdish villages built on mountain peaks.