“Bor­ingly Safe” in Kur­dis­tani Iraq!

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - Alina L'Ami Part I

The ever ad­ven­tur­ous and fear­less glo­be­trot­ter Alina l'Ami has re­cently fin­ished a tour­na­ment in... Kur­dis­tani Iraq! Specif­i­cally the tour­na­ment was the se­cond Kur­dis­tan Chess Fes­ti­val held in Er­bil, Iraq. Sev­eral strong play­ers were not put off by ru­mors of dan­ger zones or by the un­usual lo­ca­tion and en­joyed a mag­nif­i­cent and unique ex­pe­ri­ence. Alina brings us a beau­ti­ful re­port.

Years of ex­pe­ri­ence have taught me that be­ing a true globe-trot­ter re­quires a mul­ti­fac­eted prepa­ra­tion be­fore any new trip. In the be­gin­ning I thought things were sim­ple: you step into the air­plane and af­ter ar­riv­ing at your des­ti­na­tion, you let the place un­fold its own and unique story. This ap­proach was not out of lazi­ness; I was con­vinced this is the best way of per­ceiv­ing the re­al­ity without be­ing influenced by the oth­ers’ (travellers, friends, colum­nists) opin­ions.

Grad­u­ally, I un­der­stood that so many times I didn’t get any wiser by us­ing this kind of “sys­tem”. It is ad­vis­able to do some pre­lim­i­nary re­search be­fore de­part­ing to a re­mote and un­known place; oth­er­wise you might just look at things without re­ally see­ing or hear­ing any­thing im­por­tant. You will not get the story the place is telling you without a bit of ear­ing in and a gram of lov­ing... And to get ready for it, you def­i­nitely need to know a bit of what you should ex­pect and what to be fo­cused on when look­ing around.

My re­cent trav­el­ling to Ir­bil, in the Iraqi Kur­dis­tan, is an ex­cel­lent proof that do­ing your home­work be­fore de­par­ture ac­tu­ally helps you avoid­ing prej­u­dices!

The process started some­what un­der the pres­sure of my self­p­reser­va­tion in­stinct, which proved a fair counter-weight to my usual pleas­ant creeps when­ever I feel there is some chal­lenge in­volved. But maybe my ad­ven­tur­ous spirit would have pre­vailed had it not been for the mem­bers of my fam­ily, who un­der no cir­cum­stances would have let me go without prov­ing them I was go­ing to be safe...

Kur­dis­tan en­joys a cer­tain de­gree of au­ton­omy. For in­stance, I would have needed a Visa for Iraq, but I was not re­quired one for the Kur­dis­tan re­gion! Still, it is not a coun­try of its own, be­ing part of Iraq; more­over, it is placed not re­ally far from the bor­der with Syria and rather close to the area of con­flict be­tween Turks and Kurds, not to men­tion sev­eral other is­sues within the neigh­bour­hood... From far, it sounds like trou­ble!

These de­ter­mined me mak­ing a more thor­ough re­search than ever be­fore step­ping into this new ad­ven­ture. I checked and dou­ble-checked ev­ery de­tail and the re­sult was sim­ply as­ton­ish­ing!

Kur­dis­tan en­joys en­vi­able safety; over the last ten years there was al­most no ter­ror­ist at­tempt, no bomb ex­plod­ing or sus­pi­cious cars... This is quite dif­fer­ent in Bagh­dad es­pe­cially or Mo­sul and Kirkuk, where dozens of bombs fall daily… In some parts of Iraq it is cus­tom­ary that peo­ple go to work in the morn­ing without know­ing whether they will re­turn home safely in the evening, but al­though Kur­dis­tan be­longs to the same coun­try, what Kurds have ac­com­plished here is a model worth fol­low­ing.

At first, I was a bit con­fused about the nu­mer­ous spellings of the name of Kur­dis­tan’s cap­i­tal: Er­bil, Ir­bil, Ar­bil, Hawler. But later, this be­came a re­veal­ing de­tail: the for­mer three are ex­plained by the dif­fer­ent Ara­bic lan­guages, while the lat­ter, used by the Kurds, speaks about the in­di­vid­u­al­ity of the place and its peo­ple.

In­deed, there are mil­lions of Kurds of Turk­ish, Iraqi, Ira­nian and Syr­ian prove­nience, who don’t have a proper state of their own; Iraq is the only coun­try where there is a clearly de­fined, al­though not com­pletely in­de­pen­dent, Kur­dish ter­ri­tory.

Er­bil/Hawler is re­ported to be one of the old­est con­tin­u­ously in­hab­ited city in the world, with more than 6000 years of ex­is­tence. In 2014, it will be the cap­i­tal of tourism in the Arab World, over­tak­ing such pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions as Dubai! I only won­der if the Euro­pean tourists will man­age to win the in­ner psy­cho­log­i­cal bat­tle with their stereo­types and fears...

I know this is not sim­ple and I con­fess that con­vinc­ing my fam­ily about the safety of my en­deav­our was eas­ier than... get­ting peace of mind for my­self! Even af­ter col­lect­ing all the en­cour­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion, I spent two sleep­less nights (or maybe more): could I be sure I was not head­ing straight for trou­ble?

Soon af­ter mak­ing up my mind, I dis­cov­ered how tir­ing it was ex­plain­ing again and again to my friends how safe it was go­ing to be. I could feel the dis­be­lief and well-in­tended worry in their eyes and voices, as well as the con­vic­tion that I was the same ir­re­spon­si­ble girl hunt­ing dan­ger­ous ad­ven­tures!

There­fore, I started avoid­ing get­ting into de­tail; words like Iraq or Syria be­came taboo and I was just telling to my friends that Kur­dis­tan is some­where near Turkey! Later I found out that some of the par­tic­i­pants of the Se­cond In­ter­na­tional Kur­dis­tan Chess Fes­ti­val went even fur­ther. They told their fam­i­lies that they were go­ing to play a tour­na­ment in…Istanbul Well, I am sorry if this ar­ti­cle will spoil their un­der-cover strategy!

There was an­other, not es­sen­tial, but still im­por­tant, pre­judge­ment which I felt sorry to dis­man­tle. I was hop­ing to trick the Euro­pean winter once again, but I found out that the tem­per­a­ture in Er­bil was lower than in many parts of the old Con­ti­nent! But, as I men­tioned be­fore, I did my home­work: I knew it was go­ing to be cold, so I was ready.

My first morn­ing walk on the lo­cal streets was enough to make all the fears van­ish and prove in the most con­crete and sug­ges­tive way that within the clearly marked ter­ri­tory con­trolled by the Kur­dish Re­gional Govern­ment and guarded by the Kur­dish Se­cu­rity Forces life was ab­so­lutely safe. Well, it would be bet­ter not to say 100% safe, things might hap­pen to you, such as a slip on the stairs, but you are not safe from it in day by day Euro­pean life, ei­ther; at least here you would get a mul­ti­lin­gual warn­ing, in­clud­ing highly non-con­form­ist English!

To some visi­tors the nu­mer­ous po­lice pa­trols, mil­i­tary uni­forms, safety con­trol points at the en­trance in the very mod­ern shop­ping malls and other build­ings or sim­ply on the streets, would create an un­de­fined feel­ing of dan­ger. Se­cu­rity mea­sures are nec­es­sary, though, in the sur­round­ing gen­er­al­ized tragedy. And the re­sult is out­stand­ing! As a Euro­pean woman I didn’t feel any shadow of dan­ger, ha­rass­ing or in­se­cu­rity! On the con­trary, I would de­fine the place as...‘bor­ingly’ safe!!

For the first time in my life I felt that I didn’t need to worry whether I for­got my purse open. The species of pick-pock­ets and thieves seem to have been ex­ter­mi­nated here. Big bulks of money (sum­ming up to the equiv­a­lent of more 100.000 Eu­ros) can be seen on ta­bles placed in the bazaars or straight on the street. It is also quite com­mon that the owner of these im­pro­vised ex­change of­fices leaves the money un­guarded while tak­ing a tea break in the neigh­bor­hood. Would you try such an ex­per­i­ment in any of the Euro­pean cap­i­tals?!

Alina l'Ami dur­ing the Kur­dish flag's day.

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