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NOBLE AMBITIONS AND A BRIGHT FUTURE
From the Pen of Pakhshan Abdullah Zangana
Secretary General of the High Council for
Women's Affairs in the Kurdistan Regional Government – Iraq
I see a ray of hope shining incandescently from the eyes of the young girls and women of Kurdistan with ambition and hope for a better future than that of their mothers and grandmothers. I remember twenty years ago, when I, along with a group of other girls my age, were part of the Peshmerga forces in the mountains of Kurdistan fighting for the freedom of our land. We who struggled in those days are now mothers and grandmothers whose persistence laid the foundation of the modern day Kurdistan Region. Indeed we had the same hopes, the same ambitions, and the same glowing eyes that I see today.
The hopes and aspirations that Kurdish women carry and are consistently working for are not mere fantasies but based on objective facts and a historical journey consistently supported the political will of our leaders.
Today, Kurdish women have ambitions that reach to the sky and in spite of difficulties are catching up with other women of their age in more developed societies. It is not only our right, but also more precisely, our duty to carry such ambitions. From the earliest times Kurdish society has recognized and valued the contribution and participation of women in various fields; not only on a community level but also on official and governmental levels as well. While taking into account the current realities of our society, as well as the role and the status of women historically, we look to the support of the public, and the support of friends and our community realizing that a comprehensive approach is required for the development of democracy, and to achieve, through laws and strategic plans, the principles of Human Rights, including increased human rights for women.
The nature of transition in our society poses a clash of two sets of values, which influences our chances of success. In the past some were steeped in fixed values of cultural heritage based on discriminatory relations between women and men. Some did not support constructive programs and the development of women on both materialistic and humanitarian levels. While the new set of values in Kurdistan has visions and ambitious aspirations of the future, which are not yet complete, the future is reflected clearly in the insistence of young women to achieve further progress and development in all aspects of life. These possibilities have become especially attainable in the past twenty years and we are looking forward to a promising future and the emergence of the role of Kurdish women in all aspects of society.
A thousand greetings to the young people of Kurdistan, their noble aspirations and their consistent eagerness to gain more knowledge and experience, and their brave insistence that constantly adds new degrees in the ladder of ambition, which is continually enriched by the successful experiences of the advanced societies of the world
General Information / History
Lalish (Lalesh) is 52 km (32 mi) southeast of Dohuk, or roughly a one-hour trip. From Erbil, it is 150 km (93 mi) or a two and a half hour drive, depending on which route your driver takes you.
Best Times To Visit
The best time to visit is during holidays/festivals.
The New Year: Certain Wednesday each April
The Feast of Sacrifice: mid-February
The Feast of Seven Days, (late September or early October)
The first Friday of December feast following three days of fasting
For more information: http://www.yeziditruth.org/yezidi_religious_tradition
It is best not to wear blue since Yezidis generally do not wear that color though they will not be upset if you forget
If you bring outside food, do not bring lettuce, as this is against Yezidi dietary restrictions
If you are visiting in colder months, it is recommended you bring heavy socks (or wear two pairs of regular socks at once) so you do not get your feet overly cold or wet if it has rained or snowed
Ask questions! There are a lot of misconceptions about Yezidi people and their religious beliefs.
Lalish is one of the most unique destinations in the entire Kurdistan Region. It is a cultural and religious experience, as well as a place of calming, serenity, and natural beauty. This small mountain town is the holiest place for the heterodox ethno-religious Yezidi (Yazidi) community. It is the resting place for some of the most important figures in the Yezidi faith such as Sheik Adi (1070s-1162), who essentially codified Yezidi theology and balanced previously disparate teachings. Yezidis are expected and encouraged to make a six-day pilgrimage to Lalish in their lifetime in order to visit the tomb of Sheikh Adi and other sacred places in the small mountain village. Yezidis living in the region attend the autumn Feast of the Assembly. The village is easily recognizable due to the famous conical structures (shrines).
In more recent years, and particularly since Yezidis have recently made the headlines, the holy village has become somewhat of a tourist attraction for Kurds and international visitors alike in order to understand and gain insight into this persecuted minorities' faith, culture, and traditions. There are only a few yearlong residents of Lalish who are tasked with maintaining the beauty of the place, though there are many Yezidis living in surrounding towns and villages who visit often, particularly on weekends. Most are quite willing to share their religion, culture, and traditions to outsiders. Lalish is open to people of all faiths for visits and there are usually tour guides that have been officially tasked by the Yezidi community to assist and educate visitors.
Since the entire village is sacred, everyone must remove their shoes (you may wear socks). It is not a terribly large village, and the grounds are meticulously cleaned so visitors should not worry too much about stepping on anything that would be harmful. At every doorstep Yezidis believe there are angels waiting, so special care must be taken when entering any threshold—you must step over them.
Erbil (also known as Arbil, Irbil, ancient Arbela, Hawler, Hewler) is the largest city and regional capital of the Kurdistan Region. It is also the name of the Governorate. The city is 90 km (56 mi) northeast of Mosul (an hour and a half drive, 355 km (221 mi) or nearly five hours north from Baghdad, 190 km (118 mi) or almost three hours north of Sulaymani, 160 km (99 mi) or two and a half hours southeast of Duhok, and 107 km (67 mi) one hour and forty-five minutes due north of Kirkuk.
Erbil International Airport, which opened in 2005, the first in the Kurdistan Region and maintains relations with over 30 different carriers from all over the world.
In 1997 the population of Erbil governorate was roughly 750,000; as of 2015 its population was nearly 2,000,000.
Settlement in Erbil can be dated to at least 6000 BC and is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. During the Middle Ages the Seljuk and later the Ottoman Empires, ruled the city and remained until the end of the First World War,
In the center of the city one finds the ancient Citadel (Qala), a main focal point and one of the main centers for tourism. In July 2014 UNESCO named the Citadel of Erbil (Arbil) a World Heritage Site. A multi hundred million dollar renovation of the site is underway with the aim of meticulously returning the site to its original splendor. Many ancient and modern empires have left their mark on this city; Assyrian, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, and Romans all played an important role in molding and shaping its identity. As the renovation proceeds the restorers are constantly discovering amazing archeological treasures from the past.
Northwest of downtown Erbil, this area used to be a village suburb that has largely been swallowed up by the municipality, though it mostly maintains its unique characteristics, namely the various churches, Christian schools and institutions. In recent years it has become a popular residency for the growing expatriate population and many teachers and international workers and developers choose to live in the area known for its many popular restaurants, bars, hotels, and nightclubs that serve alcohol as well as the multitude of shops that sell alcohol.
As a whole, the Kurdish people are adherents to a large number of different religions and creeds, per- haps constituting the most religiously diverse people of West Asia. The region is well known for its moderate religious practices and re- ligious tolerance and it is not unusual to find Muslim and Christian or Yezidi vil- lages that have coexisted in proximity for thousands of years. The Kurdish Region- al Government enforces re- ligious freedom and there is no mandatory religious ed- ucation in schools. Radical practices such as honor kill- ings are outlawed although there are still isolated inci- dents in some—mostly re- mote—village areas.
The dominant religion is Sunni Islam, adhered to by the majority of its in- habitants. These include Kurds, Iraqi Turkmen, and Arabs, belonging mostly to
Jalil Khayat Mosque
the Shafi’i school of Sun- ni Islam. There are also a number of Shia Kurds often referred to as Fey- li who reside primarily in border areas with Iran and in southern cities such as Khanaqin in the Garmian Administrative region. Most Assyrians in the region (of which there is a consider- able minority) adhere to an orthodox form of Christian- ity. Chaldeans are another prominent Christian sector
representing the Eastern Rite Catholic Church. They are related to Rome but enjoy a great deal of liberty in the appointment of local Church hierarchy. There is a smaller minority of Ar- menians in the region but a fairly large number of Kurds who reside in Armenia it- self.
Yezidis make up a signifi- cant minority; Kaka’i (Yar- san), Mandaean, and Sha- bak religions are also followed to a lesser extent. While the claim is some- times disputed, the Yezidis are often li
Choman is a town and district of Erbil Prov- ince near the Iranian border and is one of the most breathtaking areas in Kurdistan. The area attracts many tourists due to the wide range of scenery; parks, rivers, green pastures and waterfalls are plentiful. The area includes an important agricultural and cattle breeding region located in the sub-district of the Halgurd-Sakran Park and Mountain chain. The town is located 45 km east of Soran (28 mi) or 30 minutes, 155 km (96 mi) from Erbil or two hours, and 258 km (160 mi) or three and a half hours from Sulaymani.
In 1970 it became its own district though thirteen years later, in 1983 Saddam Hus- sein destroyed it during the ongoing Iran- Iraq war. After the famous Kurdish uprising (Rapareen) in 1991, townspeople recon- structed their city. As a result of this dedi- cation, its population now stands at more than 11,000.
While the area was once considered dan- gerous as it is near the Iran border and disputes between Iran/Iraq hindered the development of the region in the past, to- day it is a peaceful and accessible region and the beauty is unparalleled. For the first time investors are exploring development of the area for tourism. Adequate hotels are limited but this is soon to change. There is even serious discussion of devel- oping the area into an International ski re- sort, as there are snow-covered peaks the year around in the nearby Zagros Moun- tains. It is strongly recommended that you have a local guide when you hike the
area as several of the near- by mountains are heavily mined as a result of the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988). Also anyone inadvertently wandering into Iran can be arrested, as was the case with a group of hikers in 1991.They were released after fourteen months im- prisonment upon payment of a $465,000 fine. That said, many do hike in the area and it is perfectly safe to do so with proper guidance, which is readi- ly available in the nearby towns and cities. It is truly a visually astonishing area and worth the effort.
As part of the development activities of the Kurdistan regional ministries, the Ministry of Health has allo- cated the amount of 701m (IQD) Dinars ($600,000 USD) for the construction of a general hospital in Choman. The hospital will be built on an area of 5,000 square meters (54,000 sq. ft.) using modern meth- ods suited to the weather conditions of the region. It will be a class-A hospi- tal with surgery, maternity and emergency sections/ wards. More than eighty percent of the work has al- ready been carried out.
Typical Meals of The Day...
Breakfast is typically flat bread called naan. We use yogurt, honey, cheese, eggs, and black tea with the naan. You will find the same breakfast menu on Kurdish tables (called sofrah in Kurdish) everywhere regardless of where you are in Kurdistan. In the mountainous provinces, they prefer fresh butter, yogurt, and cheese. In the cities and urban areas, breakfast foods are often industrially processed and packaged, resembling the foods found in Western supermarkets but traditional families still make the effort to obtain locally grown fresh ingredients. Kurds usually prefer to eat handmade hot bread rather than the commercial or mass-produced breads, which are common parts of the West.
In Kurdistan, there are bakeries everywhere, and the bakeries specialize in certain kinds of bread, such as lavash, dorik, and samon. Each morning, these bakeries provide freshly baked bread for the customers who frequent them daily.
Following Are A Few Recipes Of My Favorite Kurdish Dishes:
Stuffed Vegetable Dolma (Yaprakh)
4 cup uncooked rice
1 pound chuck beef or lamb (finely chopped washed and rinsed)
1 jar grape leaves (remove from jar and pour hot water over to rinse off the excess salt)
2 onions (makes about six once the leaves are separated)
2 eggplants (skinny Italian, cut in half and core each one )
2 zucchini (chose the long ones cut in half and core each one)
2 round tomatoes (cut the top and core inside)
1 cup olive oil (or vegetable oil)
4 cloves garlic chopped
1 small can tomato paste (6 oz.)
1 bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 small onion finely chopped
1 cup lemon juice (or 1 table spoon citric acid)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups water (you may need to use more to cook through)
Ribs, chicken is optional to use in the bottom of the vegetable.
Newroz means “New-day”. It is the Kurdish New Year, a pre-Islamic holiday and the most important festival in Kurdish culture. It is a time for entertainment, games, singing, dancing, family gatherings, eating special foods, poetry readings, fireworks, music, and wearing bright, colorful, and traditional clothing. Historically the day celebrates the deliverance of the Kurds from a tyrant, and it is seen as another way of demonstrating support for Kurdish nationalism. The celebration coincides with the Vernal Equinox (20-21 March).
Celebrations go throughout the evening in every place across Kurdistan from Sulaymani to Zakho and every place in between; one can always see and often join the colorful vibrant celebrations along roadsides, in parks and city centers.
The festivities in Akre in Duhok Governorate is perhaps the most well known throughout Kurdistan. Young boys climb up Mount Qeli every March 20 and light torches on this mountain as well as the one adjacent to it Mount Qeli behind the old city and directly behind the former Jewish neighborhood. Every Newroz, people climb up the mountain and the fires are lit next one of the old synagogues (now a residence), which is also next to an old Assyrian church. On top of the mountain are ancient archaeological remains and a short walk north across the plain is the Zervia Dji, the land of the Jews, where they (the Jewish community) used to celebrate many of their holidays.
Today fire plays a predominant role in the Newroz (New Year) celebrations. Kurds celebrate the recounting of this story by lighting fires to show that it is safe and that good (light) has defeated evil (darkness)
Story of Zahhak
An evil king who had serpents growing from his shoulders and whose rule lasted 1,000 years. During this time, two young men were sacrificed daily and their brains were offered to Zahhak's serpents. As a result of this evil, there was no spring each year. However, the man who was in charge of sacrificing the two young men every day would instead kill only one man a day and mix his brains with that of a sheep in order to save the other man. As discontent grew, a nobleman planned a revolt named Kawa, a blacksmith who had lost six sons to Zahhak. The young men who had been saved from the fate of being sacrificed (ancestors of the Kurds) were militarily trained by Kawa and marched to Zahhak's Castle (Mount Qeli) where Kawa killed the king with his hammer and he became a good ruler. The day of this victory (March 20), Kawa and his men set fire to the hillsides to celebrate the and spring returned the next day.