Karen Dabrowska

Kurdistan Tour Guide

Book Review

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Tour Guide Describes Every Nook And Cranny in Iraqi Kurdistan


Kurdistan Tour Guide

Kurdistan Tour Guide, Published by Kurdistan Iraq Tours, Erbil, 2015


Having the world’s deadliest armed terrorist group as a neighbour has not prevented the indomitable Kurds from promoting Iraqi Kurdistan as a tourist destination.

According to Dr Douglas Layton, one of the authors of Kurdistan Tour Guide, ISIS has done a lot of publicity for the area. “All we have to do is turn the negative into a positive.”

Iraqi politics aside, when it comes to Iraqi Kurdistan, there are numerous positives. In the words of the London representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Karwan Jamal Tahir: “We have more than 3500 archaeological sites (The Arbil citadel, Bestun, Shandar Cave, Zawi Cahramo Qizqawyan, Hazarmerd etc.) There are many attractive and breathtaking attractions such as waterfalls, mountains, dams, museums and historic and religious places. The visitors to the Kurdistan region over the years have increased dramatically from 300,000 in 2007 to 3m by 2013. “International consultants are preparing a strategic tourism master plan and the KRG is confident that by 2015 the area will be a prominent global tourism destination despite the current harsh realities on the ground.

After the ISIS take over of Mosul in June 2014 tourism to the Kurdish region came to a virtual standstill. But the founders of Kurdistan Iraq Tours launched in 2008 used the downtime to produce an amazing 400 page guide, listing 150 sites, with 600 photos selected from the 6,000 they took.

The company is a partnership between Layton, who visited Iraqi Kurdistan for the first time in 1992 in support of Operation Provide Comfort, and Harry Shute, a retired American colonel who is also a senior security adviser to the KRG’s Ministry of the Interior.

“One could spend a lifetime merely investigating the myriad caves of Kurdistan – some dating to the Neanderthal era. I have often stood on the site of Alexander the Great’s historic battle with the Ruler of Persia, Darius III. Realising the site has never been excavated I wonder what wondrous artefacts must lie beneath this battlefield where as many as a million men fought for the future of the known world and the title Lord of the Earth,” Layton tells us in Letter from the Editor.

Strangely, the names of the authors are missing from the cover. The title suggests that the book covers greater Kurdistan which spreads across Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq but this is not the case and Iraqi Kurdistan Tour Guide would have been a more appropriate title. Layton and Shute go out of their way to present the Kurds in a positive light and do not mention that the Halabja Monument was set on fire in protest at the neglect of those who had suffered from the chemical weapons attack in 1988.

Kirkuk, the disputed oil-rich city which the Kurds would dearly love to be included in their autonomous region, is in the guide which concludes with articles by guest authors on cuisine, cinema, music fauna and flora, artists and poets. There is also a useful chapter on doing business in Iraqi Kurdistan and an excellent reading list.

The book has to be commended for the excellent research, attention to detail and comprehensive information about Iraqi Kurdistan’s numerous tourist attractions, towns and cities. There is also a lot of interesting background information. “A main reason why locals and foreigners often travel to Tawela is because this is one of the last areas where unique Kurdish kalash shoes are made. These traditional hand-made men’s shoes are made suing a crochet technique. The tops are painted white and the bottom soles are cloth painted blue.”

The English guide is aimed at the American, European and Australasian markets. Layton believes that any investment in Arab tourism will not be profitable for some time because ISIS has virtually severed the Kurdish north from the Arab South of Iraq. “Historically Arabs don’t come here and spend a lot of money – there’s not a lot here for them. They’re not interested in history, and that’s what Kurdistan abounds in.”

Shute is impervious to inevitable criticism. “We are facing the same kind of naysayers that we faced when we started our company. ‘You are doing a book about tourism – who is going to come to Kurdistan?’ they ask. We are filling a niche in the market. We knew that there has been some good publicity recently in the mainstream media about Kurdistan because the peshemerga are playing a responsible role and doing something good in the fight against ISIS and we thought let us get on the back of that positive wave of information. Let us change the focus and come away from the military and political events and focus on some of the wonderful things that Kurdistan has to offer. We want to get people talking about business again and deliver a message to the English speaking world. Kurdistan is here. It is open for business. It is a safe place to come and visit. ISIS has tried to make Kurdistan go away but they have failed. The people are welcoming and want everyone to come. With this book we want to say you can come to Kurdistan, you can visit, you will be okay.”