it has been a while since i last visited erbil – the capital city of the kurdish federal region in the north of iraq which is lovingly referred to as “kurdistan”. the last time i spent some time in the area was in 2016 and since then, time flew by faster than i could have ever expected with life jusy keeping me busy. returning now, almost three years later, i find myself in something thay might as well be an entirely different city!
erbil seems to have grown exponentially over the last years. while this is a tendency that i have heard happening again and again since the 1990s, this time the city did not expand in diameter or in housing projects but in small businesses and in coffee shops and restaurants. in a place i lived three years ago, there used to be one coffee shop, one restaurant and one small bazar – now there is an entire street with so much to offer on either side of it that one has trouble choosing at which place to eat western food, smoke shisha or have coffee or tea. even beyond this street around the corner, the city is bustling with life again.
having recently heard of the budget finalisations in baghdad, i might imagine this but i honeslty feel as though i can see there is money pumping through the veins of this city again. all lights are ablaze – with the minor exception of still occuring power cuts here and there – shops are open, there are more and more big and heavy cars driving on the roads and even the city as a whole seems to be cleaner, more lean and organised. if it would not be for me having observed some american army helicopters going up and down next to the erbil airport, i might have had forgotten entirely that this is what is still considered a rather unstable region of the world.
seeing erbil this way, makes me happy for the city and the region even though the adventurous soul in my heart is almost disappointed because it does not feel like an “adventure” any more at all; it’s just another city with western-looking cars (okay, to be fair, there are more toyotas here than in any place in europe or north america, but beyond that…), many western-style shops and western-looking appartments. again, if it where not for the eventual three seconds of darkness due to a power cut, one would forget entirely that one is in an area that is internationally considered to be “iraq” – with all the media-pushed stereotypes that come with it.
instead, erbil seems to be unimpressed with the international stereotypes on it and its region. the city is simply truly buzzing. the international community is quite present as well. people are at ease. even u.n.-employees live off the compound and military men stroll casually through the city in civilian clothing. eveyone seems to be relaxed, enjoying the wide array of offers to meet new people, to hang and to chill. it is still particularly easy to meet people because everyone around has a need to connect to others. the empty spaces of time are filled with pub quizzes, private partys, organised hiking trips and latino nights at rotana.
i spent my first evening with kurdish discussions on politics, as well as with scottish poetry, japanese whiskey. it is the epitomy of what the city has seem to become – incredibly international, diverse and socially engaging. so, for now, welcome back to erbil 2.0.!