Amidst the chaos and violence that ensued in north Iraq following the fall of Mosul in June, an ancient city in the heart of Iraqi Kurdistan remains completely untouched by the war. Cradled between steep hillsides, the city of Akre (or Aqrah – meaning ‘barren’) has a population of approximately 23,000 - with a majority of Kurds and a substantial Assyrian minority.
Like most cities in Kurdistan, Akre was once home to large Jewish and Christian communities, the remnants of which can be see in the city’s little stone monastery and the Zarvia Dji (Kurdish for ‘land of the Jews’), a flat plateau that overlooks the entire city.
Today Zarvia Dji is famous for hosting Newroz (Kurdish New Year) on 21 March. Akre is particularly popular for having grand celebrations, with bonfires, fireworks, Kurdish dancing and a parade of local men and women descending the hill with blazing torches.
“Akre was once home to large Jewish and Christian communities”
In the main city square visitors can find the derelict but picturesque building that once belonged to the central administration during the Ottoman Empire. To it’s right the bazaar and the imposing mosque are the heart and soul of the city. On Friday morning the call to prayer reverberates through the little alleys, bouncing off the hillsides in hypnotic harmonies.
Akre’s 30m-high waterfall is popular among locals who flock to the cool and shady oasis during the summer months, when temperatures reach 50 degrees Celsius. Cafes and restaurants around the natural springs serve tea and kebabs and are the perfect spot to sit and cool off with the locals.
178,000 tourists are estimated to have visited the city in 2013 and while there are plans to build new hotels and resorts, most tourists choose to sleep out in the open, next to the water.
An old Ottoman government building.
The small city appears to be slowly opening up to visitors and realizing the potential it has to appeal to foreign and local tourism. It is arguably one of Kurdistan’s most beautiful locations and offers an array of historical sights as well as fun activities.
The people of Akre, like most Kurds, are welcoming and curious to meet and chat to any foreigner who might pass by their hometown, giving the city an even more genuine feel to it.
While the Kurdistan Region has been drawn into war with the Islamic State, Akre feels as though it exists inside a bubble – a must-see for anyone travelling Iraq’s Kurdish enclave.