Kurdistan – the other Iraq: day three

Today started with the simple need to search for carpets for the austere echoey office of tables and chairs marooned in a sea of floor. It turned out to be not so simple. Small shop units sell wide room size carpeting which is then cut up to size. The resulting raw edges were not quite the image I had in mind, but one shop had a machine which finishes off the edges. The result was unexpectedly really good.

In tracking down the options, the city street plan becomes more obvious. Radiating from the Citadel at the centre, Erbil’s map consists of three ring roads: 30m, 60m and 100m, and main roads radiating like spokes of a wheel. All addresses are a function of where the closest ring road intersects with a spoke main road.

This is a city of contrasts: the down-town centre facing the Citadel has fountains and the municipal park lined by shops with wide, arched shaded walk ways with honey coloured stone facings. The big busy covered souk lies to the west from here. Look behind though to any street, and the picture is different: buildings in all stages of decay, demolition and building abound on streets filled with barrows of fruit and vegetables.

The trickle-down effect of Kurdistan’s booming economy and oil dividend has not reached the people in this area. Lack of money and hard livelihoods are etched in lines on their faces. No family is untouched by personal tragedy and years of deep insecurity. Wages are not high, but prices are. Shiny new buildings are rising next to crumbling decaying homes and huge new SUVs sweep past their rusty cars and pickups at high speed. It seems that Erbil offers good prospects and wealth for some, but not for these people in this area.

All this in marked contrast to the nearby established residential Christian area of Ainkawa, lying outside of the 100m ring to the south-west, with established shops, cafes, restaurants, neon lighting and homes with established gardens and big gates, Cars parked beside the streets. Prosperity and confidence here.

Outlying to the western edge of the city lies Magity Mall with its well-stocked supermarket and the international brand shops. A surprise was a cigar shop selling small beautiful Iranian carpets for US$30,000 – Are there likely to be any buyers at this price and has a nought surreptitiously slipped in?

South of the city, up against the 100m ring and built on the site of Saddam Hussein’s former detention area, lies the up-coming business area and a huge leisure park – the Sami Abdul Rahman Park. A 5* hotel, and another scheduled to open in a couple of months, confirms it as the business area, fuelled by foreign investment and foreign businessmen.

The park though is completely Kurdish, a deliberately created place of beauty eradicating an area of brutality and death. Its dedication to peace and a very different future is underlined by the monument to the car bomb that killed 98 people, including Sami (the deputy Prime Minister) and his eldest son on 1st February 2004. ‘Lest we Forget’ is not lightly said in this part of the world that has known brutality on a genocidal scale.

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