Duhok- I’ve arrived in this damp, green mountainous city in northern Iraq as part of my ongoing journey toward the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. After a few days getting with Erbil and the Sorani Kurdish & Iraqi Arabic the flows through its streets Arriving in this ancient Assyrian settlement in Iraq’s far north, I immediately noticed the difference as the Kurmanji dialect is spoken here much more than Sorani (with some Badini dialect speakers adding to the mix). Checking into a hotel I stayed in last year, I was eager to drop some of my refreshed Sorani phrases when I immediately realised the words spoken here are more akin to those just over the border in Syria than back down in Erbil. Its a far less cosmopolitan environment than Erbil with very little Arabic spoken here and far fewer people from other parts of Iraq. It is also more lush and quiescent north of the Tigris than the more dusty, arid landscapes below.
While Erbil is a mostly flat, sprawling urban centre where seemingly everyone is driving everywhere save for the bazaar/souq, hilly Dohuk seems comparatively quaint in that its a more compact space suitable for walking around exploring its back streets. I stopped in a small tea house for a glass of chai, almost having forgotten how friendly people are here. In a mishmash of Sorani and Kurmanji I asked for glass of chai and an older patron insisted on paying 500 dinars for mine, thanking me for coming in. As he stood up we exchanged pleasantries, I noticed he casually had a weathered kalashnikov dangling from his shoulder as if to remind us where we are. He certainly didn’t have the outward appearance of being a member of the local security forces. The other gentleman in the shop proudly displayed emails to me from the International Organisation for Migration-indicating that he was either an internally displaced person or a refugee (I didn’t ask) and instructions on how to line up at the American embassy in Baghdad to apply for (I suppose) a resettlement visa.
There are plenty of IDPs in this governorate following the IS genocide in August 2014 when the salafi-jihadi outfit laid waste to Sinjar district in Ninewah governorate before being repelled by the PKK, YPG, and US air strikes. I wondered how he intended on getting there as the drive through southern Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din governorates is high risk, especially around Suleiman Bek. Flying from Erbil is a far safer option. I wished him the best of luck.