The valuable work of the British Council in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq

APPG delegations have met the British Council on several occasions over the last 14 years in Erbil. The BC is the United Kingdom’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities and builds connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and other countries through arts and culture, education, and the English language. There have been reports that 20 BC outposts could be cut and the following parliamentary exchange outlines its work in the Kurdistan Region.

Thanks to Lord Austin of Dudley for asking Her Majesty’s Government whether they will make a statement on the activities of the British Council in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park responded: “The British Council maintains an office in Erbil and all of the British Council’s cultural relations activities in Iraq extend to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). This includes programmes in arts and culture, education and English. The British Council runs a free digital library service across Iraq, including KRI, and paid education services in online English teaching and face-to-face English language assessment at centres in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.”

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Jack Lopresti MP, APPG Vice-Chair, raised vital vaccine issue in the Commons on 23rd June 2021.

My hon. Friend will be aware that there are a good number of British troops deployed in the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, training the peshmerga in their ongoing military fight with Daesh, and we know that Daesh seeks to capitalise on some of the chaos of the pandemic to make advances. I understand that our deployment in Iraq will be growing slightly over the next year, so will my hon. Friend assure me that anybody deployed there will be fully vaccinated, and that the troops who are training and who are still engaged in military operations have equal access to the vaccine?

Defence Minister, James Heappey replied. I can reassure my hon. Friend that 96% of people currently serving on Op Shader — that will include those who are based in Cyprus as part of the aircrew—have been vaccinated, and 31% have had their second dose. I can assure him that they will receive their second doses as soon as it is medically advisable for them to do so. I cannot, however, tell him that it is policy to vaccinate the troops with whom they are partnering.

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UK supports a strong and successful Kurdistan Region of Iraq within a thriving Iraq

Robert Halfon asked the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what the (a) outcome was and (b) implications for bilateral relations is of his recent visit to the Kurdistan Region in Iraq; and if he will make a statement .

On 22 June 2021, the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, replied: The Foreign Secretary’s visit to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) was the first visit by a Cabinet Minister since 2017. He spoke to President Barzani about the Iraq elections in October, regional security and the threat from militia groups, security sector reform, our continued support to Iraq and the KRI in the fight against Daesh, and the importance of freedom of expression.

The UK supports a strong and successful Kurdistan Region of Iraq within a thriving Iraq. The UK looks forward to continued close engagement with the Kurdistan Regional Government as a critical, valued and longstanding partner in the region with the aim of progressing security cooperation, increasing our business links, and supporting sustainable economic reform that delivers for all Iraqis.

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Advancing animal welfare in the Kurdistan Region

Our Chair, Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, has tabled a Commons motion on Dr Sulaiman Tameer and animal welfare in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The DUP’s Jim Shannon and Labour’s Mohammad Yasin have also backed it. Here is the text.

That this House commends the determination of Dr Sulaiman Tameer, a vet from Duhok and founder of the Kurdistan Organization for Animal Rights Protection, to advance animal welfare legislation, as recently detailed by Joanne Stocker-Kelly for the Guardian newspaper; notes growing political support for him in the Kurdistan Region, which lacks a ban, for instance, on dog fighting and any standards for slaughterhouses; further notes that Dr Tameer’s proposals echo the UK’s animal welfare principles of upholding protection from hunger and thirst, discomfort; pain, injury or disease, the freedom to express normal behaviour, and freedom from fear and distress; and believes that Dr Tameer’s pioneering work illustrates the willingness, in difficult circumstances, of the Kurdistan Region to overcome various legacies of its past.

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Sir John Major was a one-man genocide prevention unit.

Remarks by Karwan Jamal Tahir, KRG High Representative to the UK, at the rally on the 30th anniversary of the safe haven and no-fly zone.

Today is a historic day for the United Kingdom’s history and the Kurdish nation’s history; therefore, it is worthwhile celebrating together and being proud of our shared achievements.

Thirty years ago today, it was proven that humans are living in an integrated and connected world. No longer were the oppressed people left to their own limited resources and determination to resist and defy challenges to their very existence. That reality came to light with the endorsement of UN Security Council Resolution 688 that calls on states to rescue a nation from further genocide.

This resolution was endorsed and implemented through Sir John Major’s bold initiative in Iraqi Kurdistan that advocated for a safe-haven, saving a whole nation from further genocide.

That decision in realpolitik is called a game changer. It rightly constituted a subjective transformation in international policy towards the responsibility to protect. I’m pleased that the British government’s recent comprehensive review will create a Conflict Prevention Centre that would make the UK respond more effectively and use all its resources to meet its diplomatic goals. Some atrocities and conflicts could have been prevented if this Conflict Prevention Centre had existed 30 years ago. In our case, Sir John Major was a one-man genocide prevention unit.

In addition to the international implications, the UNSC resolution 688 also had regional and internal ramifications. The resolution helped save the Kurdish nation from further mass atrocities and shone a light on the Kurdish people’s plight. Ever since then, we have been able to govern ourselves and achieve immense progress in many areas.

Today, we thank Sir John Major and argue that as much as the decision was necessary then, it is even more important today in preserving the success story of the Kurdistan Region and in ensuring that the Kurdistan Region continues to be a force of stability and prosperity in the Middle East.

The Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region and the former Prime Minister of the UK, and distinguished speakers before me, said much about the importance of the safe haven and its outcome. I don’t want to repeat what has been said, but I, as representative of a nation that has been rescued and saved 30 years ago from elimination, now I am proudly representing them within the legal and constitutional framework here in the UK, which I have been mandated to promote deeper bilateral relationship with the UK at all levels.

It is with great pleasure and pride I will highlight some significant developments in our bilateral relationship.

Our Representation is working steadfastly to expand ties between our two nations through government to government relations, scientific and education associations, as well as cultural connections. We work with officials and business bodies to further develop areas of cooperation between the KRI and Britain.

With respect to parliamentary affairs, our good friends, MPs and Peers have demonstrated their interest in Kurdistan through the APPG on Kurdistan Region for the last 15 years. They have played an instrumental role in promoting and securing a link that builds on our longstanding relationship. This successful rally is a testament to our long and deep friendship.

As for the economy, we have for long sought robust bilateral economic relations. Many British companies operate in Kurdistan. We encourage other British companies to pursue business endeavours in an emerging market where there is a wealth of opportunities and a great demand for British expertise across multiple sectors, especially agriculture and tourism.

We also enjoy excellent educational ties and collaborations between the Kurdish and UK universities on a range of projects, including gender studies, Life Science and Medicine, and Archaeology, amongst many other fields.

Additionally, culture also plays a vital role in shaping our bilateral relations with the UK. We thank the UK government and the British Museum for supporting the Kurdish archaeologists to preserve our rich cultural heritage and restore parts that were damaged by conflicts.

We share values, and interests, as it has been rightly reiterated recently by the Rt Hon James Cleverly the FCDO minister, who emphasised how our many shared interests and values align, including a strong: belief in diversity, tolerance, and publicly stated commitment to preventing extremism amongst many others things.

The KRG is grateful for this longstanding partnership with the UK. Many milestones have already been achieved, and we hope that through the continuation and amelioration of this relationship, we can better serve our mutual interests in promoting peace and security in the wider region.

We highly appreciate the British government’s emphasis on a strong Kurdistan Region

Indeed, I would like to take this opportunity to extend my profound gratitude to British public opinion then and now, which has become ever more supportive.

I would also like to acknowledge the role of the Kurdish diaspora in the UK as a very active community within the British multicultural society, who have played their role in swaying public opinion, engaging influential figures, and lobbying for decision-makers to take a serious position towards the catastrophe. We value and appreciate the active and productive community in the UK, which has contributed to many areas of progress.

As the representative of the KRG, I express our sincere thanks to our dear friends in both Houses of Parliament who continuously acknowledge the Kurdish question and has been very supportive to the Kurdistan Region.

I would like to salute the victims that dedicated their life and fallen in the freezing mountains 30 years ago during the Kurdish exodus.

Thanks to all who have helped and supported us to become what we are now, including Sir John Major and all those men and women from the armed forces. In fact, we are joined today by the distinguished Jason McCartney MP and Captain Tom Hardie Forsyth.

Thanks also to British journalists, photographers, and reporters that brought to light the plight of the Kurdish people worldwide.

My particular thanks to APPG and our good friends that have been a driving force in supporting Kurdistan and strengthening our bilateral relations on many fronts.

8th April 2021

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My Unfinished Business

A personal view from Tom Hardie-Forsyth, a British Army Officer, and former Nato Chairman.

As a British Army Captain, arriving in the spring of 1991 in the mountains of Kurdistan, I was greeted by unimaginable suffering – the mud, the stink, children dying of dysentery, adults almost beyond despair. We had arrived, the British military and others, to try and put a stop to the inhuman manhunt of innocent civilians following the uprising of persecuted peoples against Saddam Hussein’s regime and our disgraceful failure at first to support it. Having called for it, not only did we not support it, but America actually foolishly gave Saddam the means to continue it by allowing his helicopter gunships to continue to fly ‘for internal security purposes’, thus giving him a licence to kill civilians en masse.

As a trained army officer, I had expected the sort of destruction on a scale that a short sharp conflict creates; but that isn’t what I witnessed. What I saw was much, much worse, and what I kept hearing everywhere from ordinary people in the mountains, terrified out of their lives to return back, was “Anfal, Anfal, Anfal.” This is the name of Saddam Hussein’s genocide against the Kurds in 1987/1988. As I travelled around, I saw village after village (the final count was more than 4,000 communities) that couldn’t have been destroyed in five minutes or even just a year, and when I say destroyed, I mean meticulously and with heartless industrial efficiency.

What summed up the whole experience for me was, that, despite the suffering that people were enduring in the mountains, there was utter reluctance, no matter how hard we tried to convince them it was safe, to come back down; not just reluctance, terror! They actually preferred to stay and take the risk, even die in these inhospitable mountains as the snow was melting into a fetid quagmire, rather than go back down and face Anfal being inflicted on them again.

I wrote to my wife in UK: “Spending a lot of time in the more inaccessible places in the mountains trying to persuade the people that it is safe to come down. They are taking a lot of persuading. I never thought that I would witness, much less take part in such a clear conflict between decency and manifest evil and brutality.”

Frankly, it was because they were then used to casual betrayal by us over many years. When we eventually did coax them down; rather than go to prepared UNHCR camps and promises of food and so on, the majority still preferred (and I witnessed this amazing exodus) to go back to their devastated villages, so that we were obliged to follow them and set up mobile teams to support them as best we could. Why? These people had a shrewd historical insight that if they went into organised camps and they were disarmed in the usual way, they could again be sitting ducks for Saddam, no matter what we promised them.

Shockingly, they were almost right again. Just as they were coming down from these mountains at the end of spring in May, having given our promises of protection, a staff meeting at the military headquarters outside Zakho was briefed by our American Commander in Charge of Operation Provide Comfort that all allied military forces involved in the operation were leaving by June 15. They were to be replaced by a United Nations Guards Contingent of Iraq, a unit barely able to protect itself and which had no remit to protect anybody, just observe.

Fortunately, for once, this was too much for some officials to swallow. I’ll say, without any exaggeration, there was almost a punch up. It was one silence too many for some, including me. I returned to the UK and protested on Newsnight. The next day a newspaper carried the headline, “John Major’s Haven Plan in Tatters”

Now, I am not taking away from what John Major and other leaders achieved, but what I am saying is that the main reason that the scale of the problem was known, and acted upon, was because the cameras were rolling and feeding public protests in the UK and elsewhere.

Without credible forces and public attention, it was surely going to be business as usual for Saddam. Fortunately, as a result of this protest and others, the allies agreed to mount Operation “Poised Hammer,” providing fast reaction forces if Saddam reneged so that he wasn’t allowed to continue his dreadful plans.

Thirty years have now passed, and a great deal has happened; some good, some not so good, some downright evil. The one thing though that has moved me powerfully has been that, when it came to the necessity to rescue, house and protect tens of thousands of other refugees and internally displaced people from ISIS and other dreadful forces, the Kurdish people and the KRG have never hesitated nor stinted in their response, no matter what the cost or sacrifice to themselves.

For this and other reasons, I am determined to keep my own personal promise made 30 years ago to the Kurdish people, never to abandon them. I, for one, still have unfinished business.

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My Remarks at the Rally to Mark Sir John Major’s Safe Haven that saved Kurdistan

The great Irish Poet, Seamus Heaney wrote

History says, don’t hope on this side of the grave,
but then, once in a lifetime,
the longed-for tidal wave
of justice rises up and make hope and history rhyme.

That opportunity for Kurdistanis came in 1991. Discrimination and genocide appeared eternal until Saddam invaded Kuwait.

The frantic weeks between his defeat and Sir John Major’s safe haven saved the Kurds and decency in foreign policy.

The other key heroes are the Kurdistani people and their brave rebellion, astute leaders such as Safeen Dizayee and Nadhim Zahawi, horrified public opinion, those who sent aid, MPs of all parties, especially Labour’s Ann Clwyd, and service personnel such as Jason McCartney and Tom Hardie-Forsyth.

The APPG has taken many MPs to Kurdistan and I am pleased that one of them, the Deputy Speaker of the British Parliament, Rosie Winterton is watching this rally.

Saddam cynically counted on warm words and wishes from the wider world.

Number one in the charts at the time was Should I Stay or Should I Go by the Clash. It was also a political dilemma.

The normal position would be to say this was an internal Iraqi matter. It would have proved that the Kurds have no friends but the mountains and the UK only has eternal interests rather than allies, as Palmerston put it in the 19th century.

Sir John Major rejected this Realpolitik. His moral pragmatism saved the Kurds who built a safe haven for religious groups, refugees and displaced people.

The safe haven gave Kurdistan the freedom to build freedom, to paraphrase another Irish figure, Michael Collins.

Kurdistan used freedom to build a parliament and expand universities. After the liberation of Iraq, it built a modern energy sector and boosted living standards.

But life doesn’t stand still. Our bilateral relationship can help build better universities whose research and innovation can encourage enterprise, create jobs, and diversify the economy after Covid and as carbons fade.

I also hope Kurdistan can build a film sector so we hear their stories of the past, the present, and the future.

We are not merely marking history but seeking to make it. But bravo to Sir John and all those who saved Kurdistan. We have more to do. As they say in Kurdistan, Ba Broin – let’s get on with it.

Gary Kent, APPG Secretary

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Comments by James Thornton, the UK Consul-General in Erbil, at today’s ceremony to name Sir John Major Street.

Good morning. I would like to begin by thanking my friend Safeen Dizayee, the Minister of Municipalities and Tourism and the Governor of Erbil for making this event and wonderful dedication possible. I echo the powerful sentiments expressed by Safeen just a moment ago.

Thirty years ago last month, the world’s TV screens were filled with the pictures of Kurds who had fled into the mountains and were living in appalling conditions.

The response in the UK was enormous. Large NGOs in the UK organised for hundreds of tons of food and other humanitarian aid to be delivered. I personally know a person in the UK who hired a van, got his friends to donate food, and who drove it across Europe and across Turkey to get it to the Kurds. And there were many other stories like this.

Our then Prime Minister, John Major, was also moved by the images. He became clear that the atrocities being perpetrated by Saddam could not be allowed to continue. He ensured UK support for the critical resolution of the UN Security Council, Resolution 688, which was passed thirty years ago today. He played a key role in the promotion of the idea of a safe haven, persuading other world leaders. He had strong backing from members of the UK Parliament.

It is worth saying that the idea of interfering in another sovereign country, even to protect vulnerable civilians against a dictatorship, was very new then. What Sir John Major successfully advocated for represented a radical change in the conduct of international affairs.

I know that Sir John Major still feels a tremendous warmth for the Kurds – indeed he will be joining Prime Minster Masrour Barzani and other guests, including myself, to speak this Thursday, in an online event organised by a British parliamentary group focused on the Kurdistan Region.

In order to give effect to the safe haven concept, John Major and other leaders committed UK military forces to Operation Haven, otherwise known as Operation Provide Comfort. These included Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade – some of our finest military forces. We also provided planes over a number of years to help police the No Fly Zone.

The Kurdistan Region of today grew out of these initiatives. Through the space provided by the no-fly zone, autonomy became possible for the Kurds. The KRG today runs a region stronger and more prosperous that could possibly have been imagined in the late 1980s, when so many Kurds had taken refuge abroad, and those who remained were faced with the Anfal. We continue, as your international partners, to watch on with a smile as you achieve things that are a testament to your enduring motivation and resilience. We will also continue to be with you in this journey.

I lead a substantial diplomatic mission here in Erbil – in fact it is larger than many of our embassies. And our programme work reaches many aspects of Kurdish life here. I have a permanent team led by Colonel Sir Charlie Sykes, working to deliver security sector reform, with a united Peshmerga our greatest ambition. Last week the first female Peshmerga officer graduated from the prestigious British Military Academy at Sandhurst. Another Peshmerga officer graduates from Sandhurst in the summer, and a further female officer starts there in the autumn. We have a programme of support to the KRI’s judiciary. And each year we send some of the brightest and best Kurds, leaders of the future, to the UK to complete their studies.

This road will stand here forever as a reminder of what our predecessors did for us today. Much has changed in the last 30 years but one thing remains the same: the strength of the UK and KRI relationship. I have been proud to play my part in that and in particular to have had the honour of being here for this special event today.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go. The Safe Haven that saved Kurdistan.

(Newcastle Journal today)

Should I Stay Or Should I Go by the Clash topped the charts in March 1991. Three thousand miles away the free world had won the clash with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to liberate Kuwait. British and American troops understandably wanted to go.

But humanity desperately asked that some stayed. The defeat of Saddam prompted a wave of popular rebellions across his “Republic of Fear.” The Americans, keen to go but not leave behind a disintegrating and even more dangerous country, urged a palace coup but the Shias in the south and the Kurdistanis in the north revolted against repression. Saddam lost control of 14 of 18 provinces.

The top American General made a fateful mistake in conceding that Saddam could deploy helicopters because roads and bridges had been knocked out. Saddam quickly exploited this error and brutally crushed the Shia rebellion before turning on the Kurdistanis, a term they use to underline their mixture of religious and ethnic groups.

Two million Kurdistanis joined an almost biblical exodus to the freezing mountains bordering Iran and Turkey, with many entering those countries. They all feared further genocide by Saddam. I use the term carefully as one that means an intentional effort to partially or entirely eliminate a people.

Saddam had deployed industrial-scale genocide against the Kurdistanis just three years before when 200,000 Kurdistanis were murdered, the town of Halabja was bombed with chemical weapons, and thousands of villages were deliberately demolished brick by brick. The UK Parliament later formally recognised it as genocide.

That genocide was barely covered by the media. This time, the miserable scenes of death and horror in the mountains moved those who watched it and encouraged MPs of all parties to demand action.

The British people’s tremendous generosity gathered 1,100 tonnes of provisions for the Kurdistanis. I helped British Aid for the Kurds secure an Iranian 747 to take some to the mountains.

Conservative MEP Paul Howell visited refugee camps and said: ”On television, you only see the faces, you don’t see the ground. There you see human faeces, diarrhoea, sheep’s heads and entrails, it’s as close to hell as you can think of.”

Labour’s Ann Clwyd mesmerised the Commons with her eye-witness account of five days with the Kurdistanis. They were, she said, freezing by night and bitterly cold by day in the clothes they were wearing when they fled and in makeshift tents like the thin plastic laundries use. She concluded that “Saddam Hussein is still killing, killing, killing, in Iraq. This is genocide, and it calls for an international response.”

The routine diplomatic response was to say that this was an internal affair while the UN passed vacuous resolutions. But the new Prime Minister, John Major, rejected such hand-wringing.

Four hundred people gathered in Glasgow where the organiser read a message from Major: “…my thoughts will be with you and the people of Iraq who have fled to escape the brutality of their own government.” Conservative Prime Ministers don’t usually send messages to demonstrations.

Major took the issue to his Cabinet on 21 March, incidentally Kurdish New Year, and through a series of canny, innovative, and morally courageous moves persuaded the Europeans and then the Americans to stay rather than go.

He proposed a safe haven and no-fly zone. He writes in his autobiography that “failure would simply have been a political embarrassment; for the Kurds, it would have meant almost certain death for tens of thousands. I never had a shred of doubt that it was right to proceed.”

The safe haven was policed for 12 years by US and UK forces, with the French at the beginning. Without that, Kurdistanis would have been exterminated.

We would not now have a decent Kurdistan Region in Iraq as a safe haven for Christians and other minorities. The Kurdistanis would not have accelerated Iraq’s transition from dictatorship to democracy after the invasion of 2003, though there is a long way yet to go.

Nor would Britain have allies in the Kurdistani Army, the Peshmerga, that repelled the so-called Islamic State (Isis) when it sought to capture Iraq and Syria. If the Kurdistanis hadn’t resisted them, with the support of the RAF, Isis could have had captured Iraq’s oil and arms. They would now be stronger and there would be more terrorist murders on our streets.

I started working in the Commons in 1987 on the Labour side and, as a former British Rail manager opposed his rail privatisation, but respected John Major for his brave work on Northern Ireland on which I was heavily involved.

I have backed the Kurdistanis since the overthrow of Saddam and, looking back, I recognise how well Major used persuasive diplomacy to do the right thing. Those few hectic weeks 30 years ago of rebellion, lobbying by Kurdistanis including Nadhim Zahawi (who escaped Iraq with his family in 1967), and Major’s statesmanship certainly saved the Kurdistanis.

The clash between Saddam and millions of Kurdistanis was won by their efforts with the RAF and the British Army staying the course rather than going. It is something we can all celebrate.

Gary Kent has been the Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq since 2007.

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Tourism in a Nation in the Making – the Kurdistan Region

One day, after Covid, many will want to travel again. Here is an article outlining why you should consider the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. Gary Kent

Gideon Benedyk outlines the charms of holidaying in Kurdistan

London black cabs in Iraqi Kurdistan? Absolutely. Kurds can now hire newly imported Hackney Cabs for weddings and photo-ops in the city of Duhok. Kurds love classic British brands in this beautiful, Western loving near-nation where I have just spent two months working and exploring in several cities and its expansive countryside.

Kurds also know what they hate after decades of resisting genocide and tyranny from Saddam Hussein and Isis. Unlike federal Iraq, whose government struggles to contain terrorism and pro-Iranian militia groups, the Kurdistan Region is a proud beacon of religious pluralism and is generally very safe.

Kurdistan is a dream destination for travellers seeking adventure, history, nature or just a luxury break but it is almost completely off the tourism map.

The scenery is stunning. My trip took me hiking in snowy mountains in Choman and lush green hillsides around Shaqlawa. I enjoyed the spiritual and environmentally protected Barzan village (the spiritual home of the Barzani tribe) and the gushing Bekhal waterfalls in the largest Canyon in the Middle East.

Kurdistan sports a plethora of sites spanning biblical, ancient, and medieval history, along with locations of more recent interest. Within hours, you can see where Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Empire at the Battle of Gaugamela, view carved-rock reliefs inscribed in 690 BC by Assyrian King Sennacherib, and explore the eerie, harrowing prisons used by Saddam’s regime to detain, torture, and execute Kurdish dissidents. You can inspect the Erbil Citadel (Earth’s oldest continuously occupied human settlement for about 6,000 years) and visit Pira Delal, the Roman-era stone bridge in Zakho. The panorama of human history is breath-taking.

Journeying through rural villages allowed me to spend time with local people whose authentic hospitality was constantly pressed upon me for no gain. Even in the centre of Erbil, the region’s capital city, the goodness of everyday Kurds was always evident. Every morning I would walk from my bedsit to Iskan Street, a popular neighbourhood filled with restaurants, shisha bars and teahouses.

Car drivers would often ask if I needed help or a lift. They regularly insisted on taking me to my destination, buying food for me, and then going on their way. My local Kurdish friends were unsurprised. ‘It is our culture’, they would remark. If a car pulled over to stop me in the UK, I would more likely leg it.

Kurdistan also has a vibrant café culture and nightlife scene, with a huge range of bars, tobacco shops, clubs, and restaurants offering all kinds of local and international cuisine.
The attractions are many, but Kurdistan’s tourism sector is rudimentary. British travellers get a free 30 day free visa on arrival and can extend it for £50. But it was a painfully slow process that pointlessly wasted three hours in 11 offices.

Shared taxis between cities are cheap and easy but public transport is almost non-existent. Many hotels and food places are not advertised on the internet and museum opening times are unpredictable.

I befriended inspiring young Kurds who were well-educated, ambitious, and patriotic, but despise a traditional system that stymies those without ‘wasta’ (connections). A good friend who recently started a business gave the latest iPhone to an official to jump the paperwork queue.

They’re going to have to stamp this out to encourage entrepreneurs to create new businesses, especially in tourism, that can help overcome recent years of severe economic hardship due to fighting ISIS, hosting two million refugees, declining oil revenues, COVID-19, and Baghdad withholding budget payments to the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Whether solo or as a family, whether you’re seeking adventure or a restful break, you will receive a welcome so warm that it’s humbling. From colourful and lively bazaars to ancient treasures, delectable food to untouched nature, vibrant cities to ancient villages – Kurdistan is a truly stirring place. Their old icons and our new ones blend well together.

After studying International Relations with a focus on the Middle East at Cambridge University, Gideon went on to work in UK politics before working and travelling in the Kurdistan Region.

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