The Kurdistan Region of Iraq
THE KURDISTAN REGION
Population: 5.2 million
Area: 40,000 square kilometers
Capital: Erbil (known in Kurdish as Hawler)
Official Languages: Kurdish and Arabic
The Kurdistan Region is an autonomous part of Iraq which borders Syria to the west, Iran to the east, and Turkey to the north. The people living in the Kurdistan Region include Kurds as well as Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkmen, Armenians, and Arabs. The Kurdistan Regional Government protects people’s freedom to practice their religion and promotes inter-faith tolerance and the region is known for a peaceful cohabitation of people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds. The region is geographically diverse with hot and dry plains as well as cooler mountainous areas, and semi-arid continental climate with very hot and dry summers and cold and wet winters with snowfall at higher altitudes.
The ancient Erbil Citadel, an 8000-years-old settlement that is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, makes the city one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world (UNESCO, 2015).
The contemporary history of Kurdish people is defined by a continuing struggle for autonomy. A 1920 treaty creating the states of Iraq, Syria, and Kuwait included a clause for an independent Kurdistan which was never implemented. The effort that followed by the Kurds to achieve independence failed and during the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein their situation worsened. The era was marked by oppression, persecution, ethnic cleansing, and genocide of the Kurds. Iraqi government campaigns killed an estimated 180,000 Kurds and destroyed 2000 Kurdish villages. After an uprising, a brutal retaliation, and a civil war, the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the 2005 referendum created the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq and recognized the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
During the decade following 2003 change of regime the Kurdistan Region witnessed rapid economic growth that improved the standard of living and changed the position of Iraqi Kurdistan in the Middle East. Extensive business opportunities attracted international investment and transformed the region into a growing economic ‘hub’ of Iraq.
The development of the region was, however, interrupted again in 2014 by the rise of the Islamic State (IS) who seized great swarths of territory in northern and western Iraq and led to a deteriorating political situation. In 2017 the Iraqi government declared victory against IS and the country started a process of recovery once again. Presently, the Kurdistan Region strives to continue its journey of developing a tolerant, democratic society that ensures peace and prosperity for all its citizens.