….I’m told every time someone new greets me, their sincerity present in every word. I think the number of different things I’ve experienced in the last four months has already softened the memories I had of Kurdistan, of how warm and inviting everyone, almost without fail, really is.
Those that don’t smile at me immediately only act so out of their form of repressed curiosity. Much more so than Erbil I have the impression that I am a real outsider (and one of a small handful of expats). But in a good sense… those that don’t smile quickly always return one when I smile at them first. So the initial showing of curious stares or blank faces is only the first front of hospitality and open-heartedness.
Duhok lies to the northeast of Erbil, almost due north of the largest city of northern Iraq, the Islamic State- controlled Mosul. The city is tucked behind a small mountain ridge in the northeastern edge of the Zagros Mountains. South of the city the mountains flatten to the northern Iraqi plains on the Tigres River, eventually giving way to the vast expanses of the Syrian Desert. To the north, the mountain ridges increase in dramatic presence and size towards the Turkish border. Wherein Erbil I was about equidistant from the Iranian and Turkish borders, I am now much closer to both the Turkish and Syrian borders, in the extreme northwestern corner of Iraq. I have arrived during what is widely recognized as the ugliest part of the year- the hot and stuffy end of summer with haziness and temperatures still hovering above 100 Fahrenheit-and yet the rugged beauty of the surrounding mountain slopes and distant city edges climbing towards the peaks is obvious. Come winter and spring it will be stunning.
The rugged mountains enclosing Duhok and its narrow valley
Duhok is a growing city. The trend of the very recent past in Kurdistan is one of rapid modernization and urbanization. More and more Kurds are leaving their traditional villages in the rugged mountains and moving to cities in search of greater economic opportunities. Duhok, like Erbil, is an excellent example of this trend; this once small city now boasts a population of over a million and is still rapidly growing: consumerism, regional investment, and demand for westernization all pushing continued growth.
The other great factor contribution to Duhok’s growth in population is the mass influx of Syrian refugees and Iraqi IDP’s. For Syrians, Duhok represents the first plausible place to settle having crossed east from the international border. Across the street from my apartment is a nice little coffee shop serving Turkish coffee and cappuccinos. Both baristas are friendly young men, and both are Syrian refugees, having moved from Damascus and Aleppo with their families. My grocer three shops down is an Arab man, and new resident of Duhok from Mosul. Like Erbil, many service and tradesman jobs are being filled by young men escaping regions of Syria and Iraq experiencing terrible and continual violence and upheaval. My bike mechanic in Erbil and his three brothers are another example; all of them Syrian refugees from Kobane.
In truth, I don’t know this city in the slightest. I’ve been here only a week. I’ve spent that lone weekend wandering the city bazaar, and spend my weekdays building a long term plan for my classes’ curriculum and development. As soon as I have a chance to, I’m going to return to Erbil and buy a new motorcycle so I can continue my exploration of the Kurdish countryside as well as explore this city in depth.
In the meantime I’m going to continue exploring on foot, seeing whatever I see, meeting whoever I meet.
“Oh wow, you’re from America! Thank you for coming here! Welcome to Duhok.”
My second 1st Iraqi sunset
The city bazaar at peak hours