A boom­ing city of coex­is­tence and tol­er­ance

It’s also a hub of busi­ness

The Kurdish Globe - - FRONT PAGE - Go­ran Sabah Ghafour Er­bil lo­hang­o­ran@ya­hoo.com

Volatile sit­u­a­tion in Bagh­dad and ev­ery­day prowl of sol­diers left him with no bet­ter choice than leav­ing his home and set­tling down with his two sons and wife in Er­bil.

Laith Sel­man, peo­ple call him “Abu Ali” mean­ing “Ali’s fa­ther” in English. The sec­tar­ian ten­sions, po­lit­i­cal strife and vi­o­lence in 2006-2009 in the cen­tral and south of Iraq pushed many peo­ple to flee for safety and seek a bet­ter life; for thou­sands Kur­dis­tan be­came a safe haven. Abu Ali is one of them and his fam­ily is one of thou­sands.

Abu Ali opened his bar­ber­shop in Er­bil in 2011. His cus­tomers are mostly Kurds. He is quite happy with the job and his cus­tomers. Though, some­times lan­guage is a dif­fi­culty for com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

One hour be­fore the sun­set, an Arab in the Kur­dish cap­i­tal city of Er­bil tries to un­der­stand a Kur­dish cus­tomer who wanted just wanted to have a blowout. Af­ter they made it through their com­mu­ni­ca­tion, both sur­pris­ingly, though with dif­fi­culty, started chat­ting on var­i­ous in­ter­est­ing so­cial topics. This makes the bar­ber­shop the last civic fo­rum in Kur­dis­tan for: so­cial­iz­ing, strength­en­ing Kurd-Arab so­cial re­la­tions, dis­cussing lat­est po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic up­dates and even do­ing some busi­ness dur­ing the hair­cut-time.

In just one hour, the doe-eyed bar­ber, not very tall and, his youngish move­ments doesn’t cope with his grey hair, cut the hair of four peo­ple; all were Kurds. As you get in the bar­ber­shop, you im­me­di­ately see posters of sev­eral Kur­dish pop mu­sic singers. Ev­ery­thing around the shop is Kur­dish. An Arab own­ing a Kur­dish style bar­ber shop in the heart of Kur­dis­tan makes a per­fect con­trast and a sharp point telling Kur­dish and Arab lead­ers, who are at log­ger­heads now, that peo­ple at the grass­roots level are liv­ing side by side com­fort­ably.

When asked if he would let his son marry a Kur­dish girl, he smiled, pat­ted his col­or­ful shirt to re­move hairs from all over his body left from the pre­vi­ous hair­cuts, cleared his throat and said “Sure, why not? They aren’t bo­gey­women” and con­tin­ued with a bark­ing laugh “even if I could make it two, my sec­ond wife would be Kur­dish!”

Kur­dis­tan re­ceived 60,000 IDP (in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple) fam­i­lies, out of which only 20,000 have so far re­turned home.

Peo­ple in Kur­dis­tan see the in­flux of Arabs in their coun­try dif­fer­ently. Some think the in­flux is good, some have no prob­lem with them and oth­ers say they are here for no good.

When asked about Arabs in Kur­dis­tan, he sat with a shrug on a wooden chair in an Er­bil based café where Arabs con­sti­tute most cus­tomers. “Well, Arabs are ev­ery­where in Kur­dis­tan: ev­ery turn, ev­ery mall, ev­ery shop and ev­ery café,” Karzan Fekhraddin, a busi­ness grad­u­ate stu­dent, while en­joy­ing a chat with his friends, mostly Arabs, said af­ter he had one deep in­hale of his apri­cot Shee­sha.

The in­flux of thou­sands of Iraqis to the Kur­dis­tan Re­gion from cen­tral and south of Iraq is un­prece­dented. Be­sides hol­i­day­mak­ers, Arab dwellers in Kur­dis­tan reach tens of thou­sands.

Iraqi im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter, Din­dar Ne­j­man Doski, said 198, 000 fam­i­lies have been dis­placed in­side Iraq. The fig­ure means one mil­lion and 177 Arab peo­ple. And ac­cord­ing to the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Government more than 150,000 (from 40 thou­sand fam­i­lies) are in Kur­dis­tan now, most from Mo­sul, Diala, Bagh­dad and An­bar.

They do dif­fer­ent things from both pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors: busi­ness own­er­ship, civil ser­vants and they are all en­ti­tled to buy and sell prop­er­ties. Arab tourists for sure soar the fig­ure, as the flow of Arab tourists to Kur­dis­tan is in­creas­ingly at rife.

Many Kurds com­plain about hav­ing such a big in­flux of Arabs in Kur­dis­tan. Zana Ahmed, 29, a high school teacher said “they buy our prop­er­ties and if the Arabs in­vade us that could have dis­as­trous con­se­quences.”

Oth­ers point out that the in­flux of Arabs in the re­gion has eco­nom­i­cal ben­e­fits to Kur­dis­tan as the Arabs “have brought many job op­por­tu­ni­ties with them into the re­gion” be­cause many of them have started big busi­nesses here and they hire lo­cal peo­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to the Kur­dish cham­ber of com­merce, hun­dreds of Arab-owned com­pa­nies work in Kur­dis­tan. Jab­bar Shah­ban, owner of a build­ing com­pany, said he has been in Kur­dis­tan since 2006 and has started his gen­eral con­tract­ing com­pany in 2007. “I have more than 100 lo­cal peo­ple work­ing for me.”

Bes­tun Akram, on-site project man­ager of the com­pany said he’s do­ing great with the com­pany and learned a lot from it: lan­guage, cul­ture and eti­quette of busi­ness.

Econ­o­mists say such a big in­flux of Arabs in the re­gion serves the eco­nomic in­fra­struc­ture of the re­gion. Khalid Ashad, an in­de­pen­dent econ­o­mist, said Arabs as tourists and as dwellers in Kur­dis­tan bring eco­nomic good to the re­gion as they cre­ate more jobs by start­ing new busi­nesses. He fur­ther said that one can hardly find a ho­tel to stay in, es­pe­cially dur­ing the hol­i­days. “That’s one big boom!” he said en­thu­si­as­ti­cally.

Be­sides tough se­cu­rity mea­sures at the Kur­dish main gates of Er­bil, Su­laimani and Do­huk cities, Arabs still flow in, buy houses and set­tle in the re­gion. They mostly set­tle in the newly built hous­ing units such as En­gi­neer­ing Group, Aynda, Ko­ma­l­gay Lawan in Er­bil city, and many more in the other two prov­inces.

Se­cu­rity is rel­a­tively good in Kur­dis­tan but there are some ca­coph­ony voices de­mand­ing re­con­sid­er­ing the tough se­cu­rity mea­sures, es­pe­cially at the check­points.

Up to 370 ho­tels, 180 mo­tels and 45 tourist vil­lages op­er­ate in the three prov­inces of Kur­dis­tan; plus a large num­ber of tourist restau­rants, fa­cil­i­ties, mar­kets and mod­ern malls, all of which de­pend mostly on tourism. All this re­ceives tens of thou­sands of tourists and the KRG has to pro­vide se­cu­rity and safety and fix prices to en­sure the com­fort of ci­ti­zens and the Arabs, Ashad sug­gests.

Ac­cord­ing to the KRG min­istry of tourism Kur­dis­tan re­ceived over one mil­lion tourists from cen­tral and south, mostly Arabs, in just the first nine months of 2011. Half a mil­lion more added to the fig­ure in 2012.

The re­ac­tion of peo­ple in Kur­dis­tan fort he in­flux is good but a former Pesh­marga thinks dif­fer­ently. Hasan Ha­mad, 43, a former Pesh­marga, said Arabs are de­stroy­ing this re­gion be­cause of “them prices of ev­ery­thing have flown.

Many oth­ers thought the same ex­cept Ashad who op­ti­misti­cally stated, “high prices have noth­ing to do with the large num­ber of Arabs in the re­gion but it’s due to an in­crease in de­mand and high in­comes of peo­ple.”

Abu Ali was also up­set with the un­fixed prices. He com­plained like the lo­cals do here as if he was really one of them. He crit­i­cized busi­ness­men who “have no con­science” as they bring “crappy goods” and sell them very ex­pen­sive.

Amongst the Arabs who set­tled down in Kur­dis­tan, many wish to go back one day to where they came from while oth­ers can’t think of bet­ter­ing the sit­u­a­tion in the cen­tral and south in the per­ceiv­able fu­ture and pre­fer to stay in Kur­dis­tan for now.

“If Bagh­dad’s con­di­tion would be­come like Er­bil, of course hopes of hav­ing Bagh­dad to be bet­ter than Er­bil are not pos­si­ble for now, then I would de­cide to go home, un­til then Er­bil is my home,” con­cluded Abu Ali with a ten­der smile and mixed feel­ings of ex­cite­ment and sad­ness.

The in­flux of thou­sands of Iraqis to the Kur­dis­tan Re­gion from cen­tral and south of Iraq is un­prece­dented.

Pedes­tri­ans walk by the an­cient Ci­tadel in the cen­tre of Er­bil City.

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