Iraqi Kurd nature reserve looks to shed violent legacy

Updated 22 September 2013
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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.


King Salman’s support vital to national heritage achievements

The program aims to protect, promote and develop cultural heritage and make it part of the life and memory of citizens. (Supplied)
Updated 4 min 35 sec ago
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King Salman’s support vital to national heritage achievements

  • The Saudi leadership made key decisions to protect antiquities and historical sites
  • Saudi Arabia aims to conduct awareness campaigns, establish museums and develop them in a modern way to attract citizens and visitors

JEDDAH: The achievements made in Saudi Arabia’s national heritage sector, and the prizes and awards that have been won as result, are thanks to the support and efforts of King Salman, said Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH).
His comments came as the king received the Sharjah International Award for Cultural Heritage, which was awarded in recognition of the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques cultural heritage program.
King Salman oversaw the creation of the antiquities and heritage sector 50 years ago and stood firmly against the elimination or extinction of archaeological and heritage sites, Prince Sultan said, and has made historical and important decisions to protect antiquities since the era of the late King Saud.
This support culminated in the adoption of the innovative Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques for the Care of Cultural Heritage program, implemented by the commission to bring about a qualitative shift in projects and programs devoted to national cultural heritage.
Prince Sultan said: “The award is a result of King Salman’s follow-up and support to the program, which the SCTH and our team have translated into projects and initiatives carried out in cooperation with highly professional partners, in order to preserve, restore and develop the national heritage and make it a reality that connects citizens to their country’s history and heritage.”
He said the SCTH has built upon the great efforts of the institutions that preceded it in taking care of the nation’s antiquities, as well as individual efforts to preserve national heritage.
“Today, we reap the fruits of these efforts: The culture we have learnt from King Salman and previous leaders, which has taught us to complete the work and loyalty of all those who built and achieved before us,” he said.
Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi, a member of the Federal Supreme Council and ruler of Sharjah, announced that the Sharjah International Award for Cultural Heritage had been awarded to the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques Program for the Care of Cultural Heritage during a ceremony on April 22, 2018.
The program aims to protect, promote and develop cultural heritage and make it part of the life and memory of citizens. It also conducts awareness campaigns, establishes museums and develops them in a modern way to attract citizens and visitors, prepares Islamic historical sites to welcome visitors, and preserves culturally important buildings and towns to showcase the role of the Kingdom as a crossroads for civilizations through the ages and achieve a qualitative shift in the field, contributing to economic growth.