WASHINGTON — I safely returned to Washington late Monday evening, March 22. Due to the British Airways strike, I had to change my flights around, delaying my return. This meant I was unable to spend two days in Istanbul at the end of my trip, but because of the change in flights, I had to fly out of Sulaymaniyah, instead of Erbil. This gave me the chance to spend a couple days in Sulaymaniyah prior to my return home.
Sulaymaniyah is about two and a half hours from Erbil. It costs more than $100 for a private taxi that takes a longer route which avoids Kirkuk. But it costs $10 for a shared taxi which travels through a small area of the oil-rich city which also happens to be plagued with violence. Of course, I decided on the latter. It was an interesting drive, stuck in the middle of the back seat in between an 85-year old man who wouldn’t stop talking to himself and a 30-year old man who ran as a candidate in the Iraqi parliament from Sulaymaniyah. Up front sat a well-known Sunni imam from Erbil who sang various prayers every time there was a dull silence. None of them spoke any English, and only the politician spoke any Arabic. If he ends up winning a seat in parliament, it is unclear how he will communicate with his fellow Arab members of parliament in Baghdad with such little knowledge of the Arabic language.
While we only drove past Kirkuk, I enjoyed the opportunity to at least see it briefly. I got several pictures of oil facilities on the outskirts of the city. I didn’t get any pictures of it, but we also had to pass through a number of checkpoints guarded by American, Kurdish, and Arab security forces. This was a quick reminder that I had left “the other Iraq” for “the real Iraq.” Sulaymaniyah, however, is about as safe as Erbil.
Sulaymaniyah is much more liberal than Erbil, and you will find Talabani posters instead of Barzani ones. This helped add to my collection, since it was difficult to find Talabani memorabilia in Erbil. A Kurdish friend who works at the Kotri Salam hotel in Erbil set me up with some of his friends when I arrived in Sulaymaniyah. I also met up with an Iranian guy who I met in Erbil, who I hope to profile in a later post. I arrived in Sulaymaniyah during the start of Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year, which was an exciting time to be there. I only caught the beginning of the Nowruz celebrations, but it was definitely a sight to see.
Overall, my trip was an amazing experience. After my short time there, I am greatly anticipating my next trip to Kurdistan, perhaps for a longer time period. There are so many economic opportunities in the Kurdistan Region and these opportunities will only grow. I quickly made some long-lasting friendships while I was there. More than anything though, this is a testament to the friendliness and hospitality of the Kurdish people.
Over the next two weeks, I will make a number of blog posts, a couple of which I worked on while I was there but never finished. Upon my return last night, I uploaded the rest of my pictures from the trip. While I still have to write captions for the latest pictures, more than 700 of them are now posted. To view the pictures, click here.