Iraqi Kurd nature reserve bids to shed violent legacy

Sep 12, 2013 by Abdel Hamid Zebari
A view of the Halgurd Sakran National Park, 170km northeast of the Iraqi city of Arbil, on September 1. Near Iraq's northernmost point, close to Turkey and Iran, a national park of snow-capped peaks and forested valleys is drawing tourists and researchers keen to explore a hardly touched land.

Near Iraq's northernmost point, close to Turkey and Iran, a national park of snow-capped peaks and forested valleys is drawing tourists and researchers keen to explore a hardly touched land.

But this region of outstanding natural beauty has also been scarred by war, and local officials are grappling with the problem of minefields left over from years of conflict.

The 1,100-square-kilometre (425-square-mile) reserve, known as the Halgurd Sakran National Park, encompasses Iraq's highest peaks along the border with Iran.

It has been listed as a national park by the northern autonomous Kurdish region for a year, but has inherited a legacy of violence in the region.

There are still minefields left from the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, and until recently Turkey and Iran shelled the nearby area, targeting Kurdish separatists from those countries who maintain rear bases in north Iraq.

The shelling may have stopped, but the minefields that remain have been cordoned off as non-governmental organisations work to de-mine the entire reserve.

Visitors making the trip to Halgurd Sakran pass a series of , and a historical town, and on arrival at the park are greeted by lakes, springs and greenery.

Officials say the park was established as part of efforts to boost tourism, and that it has attracted the interest of researchers while also raising awareness towards local .

"The goal in establishing this is to protect the environment, and revert the and culture of the area to the way lived," said Abdulwahid Kuwani, head of a council supervising Halgurd Sakran.

He is also the mayor of Choman, the largest town in the area.

Graphic map of Halgurd Sakran National Park in northern Iraq. Visitors making the trip to Halgurd Sakran pass a series of waterfalls, mountain ranges and a historical town, and on arrival at the park are greeted by lakes, springs and greenery.

"In addition to that, this is a scientific project, so that universities in Iraq and Kurdistan can carry out research and study the environmental and zoological varieties found here.

"We also want to make this national park a tourism region for Kurdistan, Iraq and the Middle East to come and see wild animals."

Kurdish officials have sought to help locals who live within the national park's boundaries with breeding sheep and promoting cottage industries such as the sale of local handicrafts or dried pomegranates, figs and nuts to tourists.

They have barred hunting within the reserve, which contains species of wild deer, bears and tigers, and they have also banned the felling of trees.

"It is astonishing," Gunther Loiskandl, an Austrian wildlife expert, said of Halgurd Sakran.

Valleys in the Halgurd-Sakran National Park, 170km northeast of the Iraqi city of Arbil, on September 1. Officials say the park was established as part of efforts to boost tourism, and that it has attracted the interest of researchers while also raising awareness towards local environmental protection.

"The region is rich in animal and plant varieties—it has all that is required of a nature reserve," he told AFP.

"We must work for future generations: it is going to take time to restore the environment and animal life."

The three-province region of Kurdistan in north Iraq is widely seen as more successful than the rest of the country to the south, and often trumpets its reputation for better security, faster economic growth and increased stability.

In addition to vast oil reserves, which are the subject of a dispute with the federal government, the Kurdish region has its own parliament and enforces its own visa regime under which it is markedly easier to obtain a tourist visa.

A village in the Halgurd-Sakran National Park, 170km northeast of the Iraqi city of Arbil, on September 1. It has been listed as a national park by the northern autonomous Kurdish region for a year, but has inherited a legacy of violence in the region.

Although there are no figures available for the number of visitors to the park itself, tourism numbers to the region are rising.

About 2.27 million domestic and foreign tourists made the trip last year, and already in the first six months of 2013, the region has welcomed 1.2 million visitors.

But those responsible for administering the are well aware that they not lacking in challenges, in addition to the danger from mines sewn long ago.

In August, officials found a dead tiger, but could not determine how the great cat died.

Shortly afterwards, another tiger was accidentally killed by villagers who put out poisoned meat in an attempt to kill wolves that had attacked their cattle.

Sheep graze in the Halgurd-Sakran National Park, 170km northeast of the Iraqi city of Arbil, on September 1. This region of outstanding natural beauty has been scarred by war, and local officials are grappling with the problem of minefields left over from years of conflict.

On both occasions, park officials issued strong warnings to residents.

The park remains crucial to Iraqi Kurdistan's tourism strategy, which includes as one of its goals highlighting the beauty of the autonomous region's natural vistas.

Nadir Rosti, a spokesman for the region's tourism directorate, said there are now plans to expand Halgurd Sakran farther north, as well as creating new national parks and dedicating greater funding to existing nature reserves.

Explore further: Norfolk Island's endangered Green Parrot numbers on the rise

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Russian national park to bridge US-Russia divide

Jan 17, 2013

Russia on Thursday decreed a national park in its remote Far Eastern Chukotka region, paving the way for a joint US-Russian nature reserve spanning the Bering Strait, an idea first proposed by the last Soviet ...

Russia declares 'Land of the Leopard' National Park

Apr 13, 2012

The Wildlife Conservation Society commends the Russian government for creating a new national park to protect critically endangered Amur (Siberian) tigers and the world's rarest big cat: the Far Eastern leopard.

Report: NPS hantavirus response followed policy

May 20, 2013

(AP)—Federal investigators probing the hantavirus outbreak blamed for three deaths at Yosemite National Park recommend that design changes to tent cabins and other lodging run by private concessionaires first be reviewed ...

Recommended for you

Preserving crucial tern habitat in Long Island Sound

12 hours ago

Great Gull Island is home to one of the most important nesting habitats for Roseate and Common terns in the world. The estimated 1,300 pairs of Roseate terns that summer on the 17-acre island at the eastern ...

California's sea otter numbers holding steady

12 hours ago

When a sea otter wants to rest, it wraps a piece of kelp around its body to hold itself steady among the rolling waves. Likewise, California's sea otter numbers are holding steady despite many forces pushing ...

User comments : 0