Marvels of the Kurdish Mountains

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‘Those days when we had no friends but the mountains’

Iraqi-Kurdistan is an autonomous region in the north of Iraq, which is run by the Kurdish regional government. It is not officially recognised as a sovereign country but rather a densely populated cultural region that has its own language and ethnic identity. 

The Kurds are an indigenous people who are situated in the mountainous regions of what are defined today as Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Aside from the mountains being a home for Kurds they also are the locus of a spiritual connection for them. ‘Those days when we had no friends but the mountains’ is a description of an image displayed in the Red Prison Museum in Sulaymaniyah where Saddam Hussein imprisoned and subjected thousands of Kurds to brutal torture in the 1980s. The methods of which the museum describes and illustrates in detail. The mountains were their only place of refuge.   

‘Those days when we had no friends but the mountains’ is a description of an image displayed in the Red Prison Museum in Sulaymaniyah where Saddam Hussein imprisoned

Although the tumultuous political history of the Kurdistan region disorientates you and could be a source of confusion and questions, you can be certain of the splendours and marvels that characterise the Kurdish mountains. All that is required to complete the four-and-a-half-hour drive from the capital, Erbil, to Sulaymaniyah is to follow the route calved out by the awe-inspiring mountains. Each cluster of mountains seems to give you a reassuring nod in the direction of the next family of mountains before you reach the hazy skyscrapers of Sulaymaniyah.  

Natural waterfalls nestle into the embrace of the mountains on the Iraq-Iran border. Families wade in the waterfalls seeking a weekend refuge surrounded by the scents of barbecue smoke. Young men also nostalgically playfight underneath the shrubbery that smothers the source of the waterfall. Many would describe Iraqi-Kurdistan as ‘the cradle of civilization’ as it is home to the 4,000-year-old mountainous village of Lalish. Disguised in the Kurdish mountains in the Dohuk province and characterized by its conical spires, Lalish is the heart of Yazidism and the only Yazidi village in the world. Yazidism is estimated to date back more than 7,000 years and its followers revere the natural elements. 

Many would describe Iraqi-Kurdistan as ‘the cradle of civilization’ as it is home to the 4,000-year-old mountainous village of Lalish

Located only an hour and a half drive away from the capital, Akre is yet another birthplace of civilization as it is the capital of the Nowruz festival. The day of Nowruz has its origins in Zoroastrianism; every spring equinox thousands of people flock to the mountain face of Akre as it is illuminated by the torches of fire which mark the start of spring.  

In the same journey to Akre you can come back via the town of Rawanduz which is distinguished by a breathtaking canyon that parts the mountain range. In the springtime undergrowth decorates the canyon and the low-lying cloud provides a soft dome protecting the fertile land. Waterfalls feed into the river that meanders through the colossal mountains in springtime but the parched canyon gasps for water in the searing heat of summer.  

The perpetuity and fixity of the mountains provide a stability to the identity of the Kurds amidst a quest to establish a sovereign Kurdish country in a volatile political setting.

Photography by: James Hunter-Young

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