When you walk on the streets of Arbil, Mosul or Sulaymaniyah, you would think you were in Diyarbakır, Sanlıurfa or Antalya. As you walk around, you realize that what you see is different from what you hear about this geography, which most people in Turkey associate with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Northern Iraq is closely watching the settlement process on the ground in Turkey. This region is viewed as an important part and leg of the settlement process and has been seeking peace within itself for many years. A region unfamiliar to most people in Turkey, northern Iraq is in fact a region that was detached from Turkey years ago and handed to foreign powers. Despite some problems, it has been visibly transformed and made huge progress.
While taking a stroll in the streets of Arbil, Mosul and Sulaymaniyah, you see a familiar scene that encapsulates you and your emotions. You get emotional -- signs and traces of Anatolia are everywhere. When you are on the streets of Arbil, it is like you are walking around the streets of Diyarbakır or Sanlıurfa; when you take a rest in a coffee shop in Sulaymaniyah, you feel like you are in a coffee shop in Çorum taking a sip from your cup of tea.
You may not believe it, but the bazaar is not that different from the marketplaces of Sinop, Antalya, Izmir or Agrı. The narrow streets are full of small stores, crowded with people. Cheese is sold in some of them, and honey in some others. When you take a look at another one, you will find everything you need. And you should pay particular attention to the fruit markets; they are the exact replicas of those set up in any part of Turkey. You will find the same visual electricity and spirit all around.
Turkish products and items on display windows
Photos of Turkish arabesque singer İbrahim Tatlıses and ads of “Kurtlar Vadisi” (Valley of the Wolves), a famous Turkish soap opera, on the cars and display windows make you smile. You would think how you've never taken such a long time to look at the Beko or Vestel ads. And the stores in shopping malls are full of Turkish brands -- LC Waikiki, Vakko, İpekyol and Suvari. Mesut Ozil posters, Barcelona flags, the kids playing soccer barefoot on the streets and the soccer fields where youngsters play at night show that soccer is indeed loved in this place.
Among the top historical sites in northern Iraq is Arbil Castle, around which the city was built. The castle is included on the World Heritage List of UNESCO and is undergoing renovation. At the entrance, you are welcomed by a souvenir store; a short distance from the entrance, a historical mosque along with its minaret greets you. You would have a better understanding of the history of this geography by learning more about the demographics of the neighborhoods within the castle. The Arabs, Kurds, Turks and even Christians in these areas lived together here for many years in peace. The castle also hosts the house where Prof. Dr. İhsan Dogramacı, whose father served as Arbil Mayor in the Ottoman times, and who founded Bilkent and Hacettepe University, was born.
Like a huge construction site
You realize that what you see is in extreme contradiction with what you hear about this region, which many people associate with disorder; above all, northern Iraq is like a huge construction site. There are many buildings, roads, big houses and infrastructure units under construction, reflecting an ongoing transformation. It should be noted that 75 percent of the construction projects are being handled by contractors from Anatolia.
There are many luxury cars on the streets. But there are also many checkpoints on the roads; your passport is checked at the city gate. You also realize early on that reference to Kurdistan is pretty normal, despite its controversy in Turkey. Fridays and Saturdays are official weekend days. The weekly work schedule begins on Sunday.
The citizens and authorities of northern Iraq have many things to say about issues such as tensions between Arbil and Baghdad and the settlement process in Turkey. A bit of resentment from the past, the legacy of Britain, Russia, Iran and the US and the interventionist approach of these actors due to the oil resources and geopolitical significance of the area.
There are so many intricate and interrelated issues in the region. The people want to see the PKK issue, which is just one of many, resolved. The people in northern Iraq are fine with the solution. Their common concern, however, is how the states holding ambitions in the region approach this matter.