Akre: An­cient Houses Be­ing Ren­o­vated

The Kurdish Globe - - FRONT PAGE - By Sh­van Goran

Through nar­row paths which lead you from the foot to mid­way up the steep moun­tain of Akre city, dozens of old houses thought to have been build decades ago are be­ing ren­o­vated. The sound of drills and ham­mers can be heard miles away. Build­ing tools are ev­ery­where in some of the old neigh­bour­hoods—the whole an­cient city seems to be un­der con­struc­tion.

The ren­o­va­tion process started two years ago when reg­u­la­tions came into force whereby peo­ple could re­ceive gov­ern­ment fund­ing to re­build their old houses in a mod­ern way, pro­vided the out­side of the house re­mained as it used to be.

The mayor of Akre, Kami­ran Qasim, said in an in­ter­view with the Globe that the gov­ern­ment has al­lo­cated an an­nual sum of IQD 250 mil­lion for the ren­o­va­tion process. The money is given to peo­ple in­ter­ested in re­build­ing their houses in the old neigh­bour­hoods of Akre. The mu­nic­i­pal reg­u­la­tions state that IQD 150 thou­sand is to be given for ev­ery 100 square me­ters, pro­vided that tra­di­tional con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als are used for the re­con­struc­tion, and that the build­ing is in ac­cor­dance with the de­sign the mu­nic­i­pal­ity has spec­i­fied for this pur­pose. “The ex­te­rior de­sign of all houses must fit the de­sign we have pro­vided", he said.

“We took th­ese steps just in time, be­cause some peo­ple were try­ing to re­build their houses us­ing ce­ments and bricks, and we couldn’t pre­vent them”, Qasim told the Globe. “Be­cause most of the peo­ple liv­ing in those neigh­bour­hoods are poor and could not af­ford to ren­o­vate in the man­ner we would like with­out funded”, he added.

Ac­cord­ing to the reg­u­la­tions, peo­ple should only use man­u­ally-ex­ca­vated stones to dec­o­rate the out­side of their homes, and doors and win­dows should be curved to re­flect the de­sign of the old houses. Peo­ple are free, how­ever, to use any con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als they want in­side their houses—a de­ci­sion the Duhok Direc­torate of An­tiques con­sid­ers rea­son­able, given that the houses are in­cluded on the list of cul­tural, rather than his­tor­i­cal, sites. "Site dat­ing back 200 years or less are con­sid­ered cul­tural, rather than his­tor­i­cal", said Dr. Has­san, head of the Duhok Direc­torate of An­tiques. He told the Globe that this stan­dard is fol­lowed ev­ery­where.

Dr. Has­san said that al­though the Direc­torate has no di­rect in­volve­ment in the project, it is none­the­less an im­por­tant ini­tia­tive. "The ren­o­va­tion process main­tains the ap­pear­ance of the an­cient city, in the same way as the work cur­rently un­der­way around Er­bil Ci­tadel", said Dr. Has­san, who ad­mit­ted that the project was not be­ing su­per­vised by any global ar­chae­o­log­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion, such as UNESCO. How­ever, he jus­ti­fied the ini­tia­tive, say­ing only ar­chae­o­log­i­cal/his­tor­i­cal projects can be su­per­vised by such an or­ga­ni­za­tion.

So far, 20 houses have been ren­o­vated. “The work will con­tinue for as long as the gov­ern­ment funds the project”, Qasim said, hop­ing that the neigh­bour­hoods be­come a tourist at­trac­tion in the fu­ture. “We plan to turn some of the houses into restau­rants, ho­tels and cafes and make them a tourist at­trac­tion”, the mayor re­marked.

Peo­ple who ben­e­fited from the project say they were given even more money than they needed. They also agreed that if the mu­nic­i­pal­ity had not taken this step, peo­ple would have de­tracted from the authen­tic­ity of their houses by us­ing ce­ments and bricks. “Be­cause the money is non-re­fund­able, peo­ple will be en­cour­aged to re­con­struct their houses ac­cord­ing to the reg­u­la­tions that have been agreed on”, Os­man Mo­hammed, a long-term res­i­dent of the neigh­bour­hood, said.

The old city con­sists of three neigh­bour­hoods— Chostayi, Go­rava and Qa­paky, build as­ton­ish­ingly at the foot of the steep moun­tain. The houses are thought to have been built decades ago, and some of them are even older.

Ac­cord­ing the Akre’s Of­fice of An­tiques, there are more than 700 ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites in Akre and its sur­round­ing ar­eas, in­clud­ing an­cient caves, Zoroas­trian tem­ples and old Chris­tian churches. There was once a Jewish com­mu­nity in the city, in ad­di­tion to the Mus­lims and Chris­tians who live there now. The most as­ton­ish­ing thing about Akre is the lo­cal celebration of Newroz on the evening of March 20, which at­tracts hun­dreds of lo­cal and for­eign tourists.

Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics is­sued by the Direc­torate of Tourism in Akre, tourist num­bers have risen over the last three years to more than 156,000. The Direc­torate notes that Akre has re­li­gious, nat­u­ral and his­tor­i­cal sites which peo­ple visit through­out the year.

A view of the old neigh­bour­hoods of Akre.

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