Sitting at Frankfurt airport waiting to board Lufthansa flight LH696, one could have mistakenly thought that passengers around me were waiting to board a flight to London, Shanghai or New York. The passengers at Gate 30 were businessmen, and women, reviewing power point charts; younger travelers, sporting the latest hair styles listening to music on their iPhones, as well as an eclectic mix of other travelers keeping their children in check while ensuring they have collected their duty free purchases. No friends, these were not passengers waiting to fly to one of the worlds bustling metropolises; these were passengers waiting to board a flight to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
I have frequently mentioned Kurdistan’s economic progression and development; but just seeing so many non-Kurds on board this flight to Erbil made me realize how far we have come, in such a short period of time. I remember a time, not too long ago that a visit by a ‘foreigner’, be they a reporter, an NGO worker or a foreign government official, would create such a buzz that almost all leading officials and local journalists would know about their visits and would try to meet with them. Nowadays, thousands of travelers, from all over the world visit Kurdistan and go about their business on a monthly basis, with no fuss from anyone.
I also remember a time, again not too long ago, when travelling to Kurdistan seemed daunting. If we tried to go through Turkey, we would have to endure the hours of waiting at the Xabur-Zaxo crossing, only to be infuriated by mundane and at times insulting questions from Turkish border guards.
If we tried to go through Syria, after arriving in Damascus, we would have to board this ancient plane from the rear, look in horror at the patchwork of duct tape and string holding the plane door together and experience the petrifying flight from Damascus to Qamishli (I would not wish that experience on my mortal enemy). Then we would take the pleasant, yet unsteady ‘boat ride’ across the river and across into Iraqi Kurdistan–again after being held up and questioned by Syrian security agents on the border.
And last, and definitely not least, the ‘interesting’ experience one faces traveling to Kurdistan via Iran. If you survive the questioning from Iranian “airport security officials” upon arrival in Tehran, and the subsequent flight from Tehran to Kermansha, you may not be so lucky surviving the treacherous drive from Kermansha to the Parwez Khan border crossing (A Taxi playing ‘Chicken’ with an 18 wheel truck grows old very fast). Then comes more infuriating –and again –insulting questions from security officials at the border (does anyone see a pattern here?) until you finally cross into Iraqi Kurdistan.
Thankfully, we are now able to check in at airports all around the world, hand over our luggage and fly over those borders and touchdown in our beloved homeland. Unless you have experienced one (or more) of the experiences I outlined above, you cannot appreciate how pleasant travelling to Kurdistan – by plane -has become.
As our Airports continue to develop, more flights will connect the Kurdistan Region to the rest of the world. As more airlines enter our emerging market, competition will drive down prices opening up Kurdistan to even more passengers, including tourists who wish to see Kurdistan’s natural beauty and experience our hospitable culture.
This progress would not have been possible were it not for the KRG’s progressive development policies, the diligence of the Region s security services in keeping Kurdistan safe and of course, our brave peoples warm and embracing welcome.
As we prepare to celebrate the opening of the new terminal at Erbil International Airport, we also celebrate the world getting that one step smaller.