On The Road

Occasional ramblings from a rambling journalist

Where on earth is Erbil?

After a week of very intensive training it’s been wonderful to get out and visit the citadel of Erbil today with Alex, Derek, Boulos and Luay. Erbil (or Arbil) is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and is the third-largest city in Iraq after Baghdad and Mosul.

The ancient citadel of Erbil

The city is the capital of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region and the Kurdistan regional government. Urban life, it seems, can be traced back at least to the twenty third century BC, which would make it an ancient Assyrian city, which was apparently known as a major centre for the worship of the Assyrian godess Ishtahar.   For me it felt like a trip down memory lane, back to the days when we lived in Central Asia.  Not surprising really, Erbil apparently was a major stop along the Silk Road.

Walking around the streets of Erbil today, it seems a peaceful place, and by and large it is.  Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, only isolated, sporadic violence has hit the city, unlike many other areas of Iraq. There were some big bomb attacks in 2004 and 2005, but it seems that people feel quite secure now. They certainly are very friendly and are only too willing to pose for a photograph – even soldiers.

soldiers

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  • Kindly leave your guns outside

    leave-guns-outside
     
    The sign outside this hotel in Northern Iraq, asking patrons to leave their weapons outside, is a stark reminder that this is a very unsettled place and yet it’s hard to believe that there’s a civil conflict going on. Well strictly-speaking that’s down south, tragically brought home again by yesterday’s suicide bomb. But arriving here last night was, I must say, quite a surprise. A very sophisticated airport, polite, helpful and very friendly staff, no intrusive questions (unlike JFK airport last month) and the whole arrival process taking less than 20 minutes (unlike London). So this is Iraq! Well apart from the fact that all I’ve seen so far is brown and dusty, I’m impressed!

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