Anjci All Over | Travel Blog

Iraqi Kurdistan proved to be a perfect place for a passionate photographer.

When I visited the Kurdistan Region of Iraq recently, I did not know what to expect in a place vastly portrayed as dangerous in the media. Multiple things were a pleasant surprise to me in reality: I found Iraqi Kurdistan not only safe, but also one of the most welcoming countries I have ever visited.

I have already written about why I found Iraqi Kurdistan so intensely special, enough so to make me start planning my next visit soon. I have also written about practical matters of travelling in Iraqi Kurdistan, in particular the safety situation.

However, what are words without photos? I really want to show you more photos from the Kurdistan Region to inspire many of you to visit this unique part of the world. With glorious (albeit less colourful in the summer heat) landscapes, historic bazaars and locals eager to have their photo taken, Iraqi Kurdistan became one of my favourite places for photography ever.

I hope you enjoy this photographic journey through the region with me, in 40 selected photos with captions.

SULAYMANIYAH

I had dozed off on the 3-hour flight from Doha to Sulaymaniyah, when I suddenly woke up to this amazing sight! Sulaymaniyah is surrounded by striking mountains, though, to my shame, I have no idea what range exactly is pictured. All planes from the Gulf to Sulaymaniyah route over Iran, effectively passing Iraqi Kurdistan and turning back into the region over Turkey – the reason such flights take longer than a direct route would imply.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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The official flag of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is seen by many as the symbol of the Kurdish independence movement. It is banned in Iran, Syria and Turkey, but is very much on display everywhere in Iraqi Kurdistan (unlike flags of Iraq proper, which I only spotted half a dozen or so times).

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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I was initially scared to take photos of locals in Iraqi Kurdistan. This fine gentleman walked past me at Bakhi Gshty Park three times before I stepped over myself enough to ask to take his photo. Amazingly and despite his smileless looks, he was most happy to have his photo taken.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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I visited this tea house near the Sulaymaniyah Bazaar on two consecutive mornings, and was pleased to see the same locals drinking tea over a conversation every time. I wonder if they will still be there when I come back?

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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Amna Suraka (“Red Prison”) in Sulaymaniyah functioned as a detention and torture site for the Kurdish population during the Saddam Hussein regime. It was liberated by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in 1991 and is now a museum.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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Outside Amna Suraka, the handsome gentleman on the right was reluctant to pose for a photo, but finally agreed when his non-uniformed friend joined him. This is the only photo of an armed soldier I took in Iraqi Kurdistan, but I hope to take more in 2018 (for obvious reasons: just look at him!).

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

HALABJA AND AHMAD AWA

These tombstones at the Memorial Cemetery in Halabja commemorate the victims of the chemical attacks on the city by the Baath regime in 1988. Each tombstone represents a family, with several family members’ names recorded on each plaque. However, this is not a graveyard: the victims have been buried elsewhere, and the site serves a commemorative purpose only.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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These gruesome exhibits at the Halabja Memorial Monument enact actual events during the 1988 chemical attacks and represent moments captured on well-known photos in the events’ aftermath. The attack killed between 3,200 and 5,000 people and injured 7,000 to 10,000 more, most of them civilians.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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At Ahmad Awa waterfall site not far from Halabja, some locals had scaled the mountain to spread out a gigantic Kurdish flag. This was not the first time I saw a Kurdish flag decorate the side of a mountain, though it is usually painted, rather than hung, on the rock.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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Ahmad Awa waterfall site is popular with visitors from southern (non-Kurdish) parts of Iraq. These ladies had come all the way from Baghdad and struck brilliantly theatrical poses for my photos – in the meantime doing their best to convince me that Baghdad was a “no problem” safe place for me to visit. Hmm, maybe next time.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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The mountains around Ahmad Awa are strikingly beautiful. In 2009, three US citizens hiking in this area crossed an unmarked border with Iran (which is not further than 1-2 km away) and were detained by Iranian border officers. When we arrived in the area, the armed soldier jokingly told my guide Sardar to “keep her safe from the Iranians”.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

SULAYMANIYAH TO ERBIL VIA LAKE DOKAN AND KOYA

Mount Goyje (گۆیژه‌) to the east of Sulaymaniyah is a popular spot for locals to watch the sunset. Many bring food and drink and set up picnics with a glorious view. Sardar and I were invited to share a meal with a local family, and had a fantastic time.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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On my last morning in Sulaymaniyah, I took another walk around the busy bazaar area. At this stage, many stall owners and tea house regulars were recognising me; many more posed for photos.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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The Qazqapan (قزقاپان) cave is located 60 km from Sulaymaniyah, off the road to Lake Dokan, and is cut into a mountain a few meters off the ground. I found little information about it online. Like most tourist sites in Iraqi Kurdistan, the cave hasn’t been well maintained, with visitors freely leaving “memories” behind until recently; now though, the cave is out of reach.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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Unbelievably, this was my first time ever to see a baby donkey. When we stopped to take this photo on the way to Chami Razan resort, two shepherd boys asked Sardar for a ride to the nearest village. We gladly obliged: the boys’ first question was whether I was from Iran as Iranian tourists are not uncommon in the area.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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Lake Dokan is a popular time for locals and visitors to cool off on a hot summer’s day. Unfortunately, women typically do not join in the bathing and stay ashore, some covered from head to toe. I was wearing modest 3/4 shorts (not a problem in Iraqi Kurdistan), and the child in this picture was clearly not used to the sight.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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The largest lake in Iraqi Kurdistan, Lake Dokan is actually man-made. It was created with the construction of the Dokan Dam in the 1950s, flooding the nearby valley. These days it is one of the region’s star attractions, and a popular location for a holiday home for the wealthier part of the population.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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We stopped at Cafe Lara a short distance from Dokan town for yet another cup of sweet Kurdish chai. Needless to say that the view was simply spectacular (you can see Lake Dokan in the upper left corner). You will notice how much greener the scenery looks thanks to the availability of water.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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At the local bazaar in Koya (Koysinjaq), we visited an old caravanserai. That itself was in a sorry state: while most structures are still standing, some serious maintenance is required to turn it into a tourist attraction. On the plus side, I loved the sight of this boy playing an electronic game at a table where adults had only recently been playing a much less modern game of lotto.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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We then headed to the Ottoman-era Koya fort. Although it had been better preserved, most renovation works have obviously focused on patching up old materials with concrete. My highlight at the Koya fort was witnessing a wedding party, including this adorable little guest (bride and groom are in the background).

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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While the bride was a little reluctant to appear in my photos, other guests gladly fuelled my portrait mania – among them this handsome gentleman wearing traditional Kurdish dress. Kurdish clothes for men consist of a rank (wide trousers) and a chogha (jacket), and are commonly worn on a daily basis, not just special occasions.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

ERBIL TO AMEDI VIA ALQOSH, RABBAN HORMIZD AND LALISH

The town of Alqosh 130 km northwest of Erbil has a mainly Christian population. The entry to Alqosh is marked by a massive cross and many local businesses display Christian religious images. Being Christian also means tolerance towards alcohol consumption (though many Muslims in Iraqi Kurdistan also enjoy a drink), and alcohol shops line the entry road into Alqosh.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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The Rabban Hormizd Monastery is an important monastery of the Chaldean Catholic Church, founded about 640 AD. Carved into the mountains, it enjoys a stunning view of the valley below.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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Not far from Amedi, Sardar and I stopped at Saddam Hussein’s abandoned hilltop villa. Since the dictator’s fall, the building and the surrounding gardens had been heavily looted, and nothing remains of their former glory. Nobody is guarding the villa, but we found some Forest Police officers inside hiding from the heat.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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The Enishke Cave restaurant near Amedi is hugely popular with Kurdish locals and visitors from southern Iraq. It is set up in a natural cave, with water dripping from the ceiling into a basin in the middle of the establishment. My highlight was seeing Iraqi Arabs perform a traditional dance there.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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I had been looking forward to visiting the fortress city of Amedi near the Turkish border. The famous shot of Amedi has been taken from above, giving a spectacular perspective of the plateau on which the town is located. This was the first view of Amedi I saw from the road approaching from Dohuk.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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The Badinan Gate was an ancient entry point into Amedi. These days it remains an important heritage site, with even locals coming down to take a few photos and enjoy a spectacular mountain view.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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Sardar and shared a meal of chicken and rice in Amedi. It came accompanied by more side dishes than we could count (or eat!): a quintessential welcome to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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We searched for the spot from which the iconic birds’ eye view of Amedi was taken, but got turned back at the first checkpoint from Amedi to the Turkish border, as PKK had been reported in the area. Oh well – on the way back I met several friendly local gentlemen, including this retired Peshmerga fighter.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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In Yazidi faith, the black snake is revered as a saviour of Yazidi people during a flood: when their boat ran into a rock and started sinking, the snake curled itself into a ball and plugged the hole. Today, the Yazidi temple in Lalish has an image of a black snake at the entrance.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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Believed to be 4,000 years old, Lalish is the key pilgrimage site of the Yazidi faith followers. Following the ofensive against the Yazidi people by Daesh, Lalish has seen Yazidis permanently relocate to the village from the occupied areas. The flare in the photo is from an oil processing site.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

ERBIL (HAWLER)

Back in Erbil on my final day in Iraqi Kurdistan, I headed straight to Qaisery Bazaar near the Citadel. Same as in Sulaymaniyah, the locals were visibly happy to have a foreign visitor and happy to pose for my photos, including this extremely photogenic gentleman.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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I came across some Kurdistan memorabilia (undoubtedly made in China) at Qaisery Bazaar in Erbil. Eager to display my newly found love for the region, I bought a bracelet, a couple of stickers and a key ring. I need to remember to leave them at home when I travel to certain countries.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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The Citadel of Erbil, locally known as Qalat, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a prime attraction of Erbil. Many religions and ethnicities have inhabited the Citadel since the earliest evidence of settlement, dating back to 5,000 BC. The Citadel is undergoing a major renovation at the moment, with about half of passageways closed off to the public.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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I briefly entertained an idea of getting a Kurdish rug inside one of the local shops near the Erbil Citadel, but couldn’t find an agreeable enough combination of design and size. I did enjoy the old photographs of Kurds inside this shop.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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Inspired by the Muhammad Ali mosque in Cairo and the Blue mosque in Istanbul, the Jalil Khayat Mosque in Erbil was inaugurated on 19 January 2007, after many years of construction by a wealthy local family. Apparently the same family owns a modern shopping mall across the road from the mosque.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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Tea house (“chaihana”) Mam Khalil is a true institution at the Qaisery Bazaar in Erbil. Sadly the namesake founder, Mam Khalil (“Uncle Khalil” in Kurdish), has passed away, but his memory lives on as his son now runs the place. I could spend hours going through the old photos of the tea house’s famous customers.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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Sardar and I couldn’t get a seat in the most famous kebab restaurant at Qaisery Bazaar, but we were sure to get into the second most famous one. Sardar volunteered to show me around his home city on my last day, and we visited “Najar”, a superb kebab place, where I tortured Sardar by having his photos taken over heaps of fantastic food.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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My last stop in Erbil was at the gun repair shop at Qaisery Bazaar. Somehow it seemed perfectly normal to me that a gun owner would want their gun repaired, but many of my friends found this photo shocking. Entry and photography of the establishment is absolutely unrestricted.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

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This adventure certainly flew by! I shed a few tears while flying over the distinct circular shape of Erbil in the direction of the very different world of Doha. However, I am staying optimistic and planning my next visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, hopefully as soon as next spring! Stay tuned for more updates from this wonderful region.

Anjci All Over | Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan in 40 photos

VIEW ALL PHOTOS FROM IRAQI KURDISTAN HERE

IRAQI KURDISTAN: QUEEN’S WELCOME IN THE LAND OF THE KURDS


IRAQI KURDISTAN: WHY IT WAS SO SPECIAL


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Hey, I am ANJCI ALL OVER

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I work full-time in London and spend most of my free time travelling the world and taking pictures. My favourite countries visited to date include Chile, Greece, Myanmar, Norway and Oman. I am a major fan of remote territories pretty much anywhere in the world and have visited the likes of the Falkland Islands (where my marriage was registered), Greenland and Svalbard. I hope you will enjoy my stories and photos... Read more

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