Iraqi Kurd nature reserve looks to shed violent legacy

Updated 22 September 2013
0

Iraqi Kurd nature reserve looks to shed violent legacy

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-kilometer 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 organizations work to de-mine the entire reserve.
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.
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 toward local environmental protection.
“The goal in establishing this nature reserve is to protect the environment, and revert the civilization and culture of the area to the way ancient peoples lived,” said Abdulwahid Kuwani, head of a council supervising Halgurd Sakran.
He is also the mayor of Choman, the largest town in the area.
“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.
“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.
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 national park 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.
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.


The Phoenicia: A still-seductive reminder of Beirut’s golden age

The hotel was named Lebanon’s leading hotel for 2018 at the World Travel Awards. (Photo supplied)
Updated 21 July 2018
0

The Phoenicia: A still-seductive reminder of Beirut’s golden age

  • For those in search of glamor, almost every night the wealthy, the stylish and the overdressed can be seen exiting luxury cars
  • The hotel’s immediate interior is dominated by marble pillars, plush armchairs, fountains and chandeliers

BEIRUT: Of all Beirut’s hotels it is the Phoenicia that looms largest in the imagination. Opulent, brash, sexy, seductive, it is a reminder of what was and what could have been.

It’s hard not to look favorably upon its delicately perforated façades and its shimmering blue and turquoise tiles. It somehow manages to maintain a sense of mystique, a sense of otherworldliness, despite the chaos that frequently unfolds around it.

Much of this, of course, is down to nostalgia. Opened in 1961 at the dawn of Beirut’s Golden Age, the singer Fayrouz performed here in 1962, as did the Egyptian dancer Nadia Gamal. Brigitte Bardot, Claudia Cardinale and Omar Sharif were guests, while the Lebanese beauty queen Georgina Rizk was photographed by the hotel’s oval-shaped pool in 1971.

In many ways the Phoenicia still clings to the remnants of its pre-war heyday, living as much in the past as it does in the present. When the hotel was resurrected from the ashes of civil war in 2000, it clutched much of its original design and character close to its chest, with a further $50 million refurbishment undertaken to mark the hotel’s 50th anniversary in 2011. It is the end result of this later refurbishment that is primarily on display today.

The hotel’s immediate interior is dominated by marble pillars, plush armchairs, fountains and chandeliers, and hovers dangerously close to the ostentatious. Elsewhere it borders on the dowdy or the old-fashioned. Yet a grand and elegant staircase continues to welcome visitors, while lanterns and geometric patterns lend a slight but satisfying sense of location.

Outside, the swimming pool — once an oval-shaped beauty — is set against a backdrop of cascading waterfalls. It is more politically correct than its 1960s predecessor, under which could be found a subterranean bar called Sous la Mer, but it is nevertheless at the heart of much of the hotel’s continued appeal.

From the shade of the pool’s colonnades you can see the old St. Georges Hotel, designed in the 1930s by Parisian architect Auguste Perret, while Zaitunay Bay and the edge of the Mediterranean are a stone’s throw away. It is because of this location and these views that the Phoenicia retains much of its appeal, regardless of its 446 rooms and suites, spa, shopping arcade and banqueting area.

Of the hotel’s three buildings, it is the original, designed by the architects Edward Durell Stone and Joseph Salerno, that is the hotel’s aesthetic pinnacle. Combining elements of high modernism with Mughal and Muslim architecture, it is where you should stay if given the choice.

You buy into many things when you stay at the Phoenicia, which was named Lebanon’s leading hotel for 2018 at the World Travel Awards. History, of course, and location, but also a level of abundance that is not readily available elsewhere in the city.

Breakfast is a fabulous affair. Manakish are freshly cooked on a dome oven, eggs are prepared in front of you, while separate stations serve everything from a dizzying array of olives and salads to cheese, labneh, foul, sausages, honey and smoked salmon. There’s even Oum Ali and kanafeh.

For those in search of glamor, almost every night the wealthy, the stylish and the overdressed can be seen exiting luxury cars and heading to all manner of social gatherings. They dine at the Mosaic and Amethyste restaurants, or at Eau De Vie, a lounge bar and grill situated on the 11th floor. None of this, of course, is cheap. If nothing else, the Phoenicia experience comes at a price.