I wrote before that Kurdistan has experienced enormous economic growth in recent years. And that’s true, but it’s also true that the conflict with Daesh (Islamic State, or ISIS) over the past year has halted that growth for the time being.
I spent today taking a day trip out of town. My driver, host, and tour guide was a young man named Saleh, recently graduated with a degree in English. He filled me in on a few things.
Many new buildings are being built, but many others stand unfinished. Unfinished roads and half-built overpasses litter the landscape. The latter are a casualty of the government budget: Erbil is entirely dependent on Baghdad for its revenue, and Baghdad has defaulted on payments to the Kurds. (Remember, the Kurdistan region is still officially part of Iraq.) As for the private sector, some foreign investors were scared off by Daesh; there was also the problem of foreign laborers absconding with their advance pay and fleeing to Turkey.
The Daesh attacks further strained relations between Arabs and Kurds, too, leading to Arab families being delayed and harassed at Kurdish checkpoints and vice versa. This doesn’t do anything to make Korek an attractive destination for a family from Baghdad.
Saleh took me to the Korek Mountain Resort where we took the Teleferic (aerial tram) for a magnificent, though cloudy, view from the mountains. (A word of caution: if dangling hundreds of feet over rocky terrain isn’t your idea of a good time, you might want to skip this.) It looked like a mountain resort anywhere in America, and a year ago it was packed, he told me. But now it’s almost completely deserted.
We also stopped at Bekhal, a waterfall where you can take off your shoes and climb several sets of very slippery, wet stone steps to view the source of the mountain spring. I made the climb, somehow overcoming my fear of slipping and breaking my neck. The mountain tram was exciting enough, but the climb at Bekhal was absolutely terrifying. And this site, too, looked like it was built for huge crowds who had simply forgotten to show up.
I think things are starting to take a turn for the better. Foreign businesses are starting to realize that the Kurdish territory is, after all, very safe; just now Lufthansa has announced that it is resuming flights to Erbil.
We’re still in the off-season, so maybe things will pick up there soon. I hope so. And I hope the good times return soon for Kurdistan.