The Oldest City

A great treat this week was to be out and about in an increasingly normalised London. I spent a glorious hour in conversation with Karwan Jamal Tahir, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s High Representative to the UK. I’m engaged in research for my forthcoming book on ‘Women Warriors‘ and was keen to understand more about the origin of the legendary all-female units of the Peshmerga. Along with their male counterparts, these soldiers have played a critical role in defeating ISIS in the region.

We also talked of one of the Kurdistan Region’s great cities, Erbil, which I was privileged to visit a while back. Amongst the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, there is evidence that the citadel of Erbil, which still rises above the plains below, was already occupied in the fifth millennium BCE. Centuries later it was to Erbil, or Arbela, that Alexander the Great pursued Darius III and it was here, after his adversary had fled, that Alexander achieved perhaps his greatest ambition and assumed leadership of the Persian Empire. 

This is the place where Ishtar, the goddess of love, fertility and war had her temple. It once rose above the walls of the citadel, its electrum coating flashing across the land like a beacon. Rulers and warriors came to her for guidance, and the temple drew offerings from across Mesopotamia as Arbela became home to people of all races—Babylonian, Assyrian, Scythian, Palestinian.

Erbil remains as cosmopolitan as ever, and counts amongst its citizens Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Turkmens, Assyrians and is equally diverse in faith and language. The basic recipe of Erbil’s enduring appeal can be found at pilgrim sites and great cities throughout the ages – temple, trade, power. I cannot wait to return.

Hats off to the Kurdish Textile Museum! – Image V.Preston

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