Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Citadel, Kirkuk, Iraq

 A peek from my parent's childhood house - now being a UNESCO heritage site.

I visited the graves of my ancestors here. It required a headscarf, so I made one quickly with my pyjama that happened to be in my bag. It did the job and no one even noticed, haha. 

 The governors of the provinces have money and they are often giving money for tourism projects without consulting archaeologist
-Donny Youkhanna, a former director of Baghdad's national museum 

The beautiful citadel - during the 90's, Saddam Hussein had a campaign to 'beautify' the area - this in fact was cleaning it off the mostly Kurdish families living there. My dad's family was one of those who left just before the ethnic cleaning started.

 The dress code in Kirkuk is slightly more conservative than in Suleymanya - but a hijab is no compulsory, and many women wear even western style jeans and (long) T-shirts. Kurdistan Regional Government doesn't reach here - Kirkuk is in Iraqi government's control, and therefore they have a different system - for example schools hold final exams during Ramadan, whereas in Kurdish areas exams are to be completed before it.

 Batam - A shop with best baklawa in Kirkuk...In case you go, you can find their shop in an area called 'Iskan'

 My new best friends :)

 When you drive from Suleimanya to Kirkuk, you will be able to see the refugee camps. The families have escaped ISIS from the south.

 Best bread in the whole world - it is made with tandoor style oven. People all the way from middle east to India make bread with this old way.

The light here was magic. This was a visit to my dad's childhood house. The area called 'Kala'a' is now owned by the government and is set to be a historical site. 

So this was Kirkuk. It is a city where my family is from, and the most diverse city in Iraq (Jalal Talabani even referred to it as the 'Jerusalem of Iraq') . There is not much information on Tourism here unfortunately, althought the city was set to be a 'dazzling tourist spot' in 2009. Well, these are empty words of course, and since  ISIS happened to almost reach the city in April, many still fear that the city is an unsafe place to visit. When searching online, you will easily bump into sites saying Kirkuk is unsafe, especially after 2014. This is false information. As a matter of fact, the city had a few suicide bombings before ISIS almost reached it, but since the Kurdish Peshmerga has pushed ISIS out of the city and is in charge of security, there has not been a single bomb. 

To conclude, Kirkuk is now more safe than it has ever been since the rise of ISIS or even the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 

This is not to say, of course, that you can pack your beachwear and sunscreen and go and enjoy the green parks here or organise yourself a guided tour across the beautiful heritage sites of the city. Tourism is the last priority in a city long disputed by Arabs and Kurds, and what mainly drives people here from abroad is the oil. However, if you DO decide to visit, the top sites to see would deifinitely be:

  • The Kirkuk Citadel
  • The Qishla
  • Profet Daniel's Tomb - one of the disputed locations - some argue it is placed in Kirkuk.
  • An ancient market called 'Joot Qawa', that has been in use since the Ottoman times. It has 365 shops, according to calendar days of the year, and 12 sectors, according to calendar months.

Many of this sites are slowly getting destroyed - the city governonate does not look after them, and some sites were unfortunately lost in 2007 bombings. Nevertheless,  I enjoyed my visit and was happy to see it's beauty before it possibly vanishes. I would recommend a visit to everyone interested in history of Middle East.

-Rita x

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