With a small population of around 400,000, Dohuk is one of the smallest cities in Iraq. The city of Dohuk is located in the North of Iraq and is part of the autonomous region called the Kurdistan Regional Government, or short, KRG. The official language in Dohuk is primarily Kurdish, which has two different dialects, Bahdini and Sorani. The city has a quite unique society that mainly consists of Kurds, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Yezidies, Arabs and Armenians. Dohuk is the only city that is surrounded by three mountains and – from a geographical perspective – is indirectly the bridge between Iraq and the West. Throughout the war in 1991, Dohuk was the beacon of hope for most Iraqis. The city, while significantly underdeveloped compared to the rest of Iraq, provided the most important factor: guaranteed safety. With the city experiencing an economic boom after the 2003 war, Dohuk was expected to become the new ‘’Dubai’’ in Iraq.
The other parts of Iraq faced many challenges like the access to electricity and clean water, as well as underdeveloped infrastructure and sanitation. In the north, Dohuk proved to be the pull-factor for Iraqis in the south and also for international organizations. The city was destined to be a safe-haven. American troops were mostly deployed in Dohuk first because they did not have to fear car bombs going off. In addition, large foreign investments and the discovery of new oil fields contributed immensely to Dohuk’s rapid change. People could afford to buy the newest car models imported from the U.S, Europe and South Korea. The most luxurious SUV’s like the Toyota Land Cruisers, Lexus and Range Rovers were seen as a must-have. It soon became a status symbol: owning a large new SUV meant that you were part of the wealthy elite.
However, in spite of the rapid globalization of this small city, it still maintained an old habit: the rule of family and hierarchy. Tribes dominate the city and the sense of belonging to a certain tribe has an impact on your social status. It has replaced the identity of every individual. If you belong to a large tribe, you will be easier to ‘’recognize’’. This form of patronage played an important role in stabilizing the community. This kind of hierarchy and tribal rule is slowly fading but it is still exerting its influence to this very day.
Dohuk has a very rich ancient heritage dating back to the times of Mesopotamia. More than 40 different historical ruins which date back to 700 B.C have only been recently discovered. There are many historical and tourist sites to visit in Dohuk. There are still numerous places in Dohuk that are yet to be discovered and show signs of ancient civilizations. The most prominent examples of these ancient artifacts can be found in a small village called Khanis. It is believed that the multiple artifacts are around 2700 years old. One of the most fascinating sights of Dohuk is the town of Amedi. It sits on top of a hill 1,400 meters above sea level. According to historians, Amedi was a town inhabited by Jews, Arabs and Christians during the 14th century.
Thanks to the large 4-by-4 SUV’s, the younger generation tends to spend their free time driving deep into the mountains called Zawita. Their aim is to enjoy what nature has to offer, a waterfall and ice-cold water to swim in since temperatures can reach almost 50°C. One of the most beautiful natural resorts I have seen is called “Galy Sherana” translated as “The Valley of Sherana.” Found between two mountains you will find an excellent place to swim, have a barbeque and smoke hookah.
For the outside world, Iraq is seen as a dangerous place to live in. The image they have is mostly negative because the media primarily focuses on the negative parts. However, the city of Dohuk is a prime example of how the life conditions have changed over the past two decades. It can also be a unique experience for everyone who wants to see the positive side of Iraq and Kurdistan. After all, the safest way to travel in Iraq is via Erbil International Airport which is also part of the Kurdistan Regional Government. The construction of a new international airport in Dohuk means that in time it will become a self-sufficient city. Lastly, the words peace and stability describe the city of Dohuk best, something that cannot be said of most parts of Iraq.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that Mosul, the town which was overrun by ISIL last June, is only one hour away, yet Dohuk has maintained its security and stability. Thanks to its military personnel, the Peshmerga and intelligence services called the “Asayish” and “Parestin,” the city of Dohuk has kept its status as the safe-haven and beacon of hope of Iraq.
By Omar S. Al-Melka