Rafting enthusiasts hope to develop water sport tourism in Kurdistan

“In the winter, if there is no snow, we will go to the mountains for camping.”
author_image Kurdistan 24
Rafting on the Chama River in the Barzan area of Erbil Province, July 2021. (Photo: Dilan Qadri/Kurdistan 24)
Rafting on the Chama River in the Barzan area of Erbil Province, July 2021. (Photo: Dilan Qadri/Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – As the temperature spikes in the Kurdistan Region, the Darban group for mountaineering and environmentalism, hopes to develop Kurdistan as a destination for water sports.

Aziz A. Shekhani, one of the group’s founders, said they hope to market rafting as a sport to attract foreign tourists.

“We have kayaking in Kurdistan like in Dukan, but water rafting is very different,” the 40-year-old said. “It's more exciting and adventurous. We will be the first official group to do rafting in Kurdistan and we also registered with the Federation of Mountaineering Kurdistan.”

Before the pandemic began in 2020, Shekhani and his friends were active in mountaineering, hiking, and rafting. “The first time we did it was in 2020, for 23 kilometers,” he said. 

The Darban group found that the best place is the Chamma River near Rezan in the Barzan region.

Shekhani said he hopes to organize hiking and rafting trips professionally. 

“Before we would go as volunteers, but now we also want to attract foreign tourists and develop the private sector in Kurdistan,” he said.

“In the winter, if there is no snow, we will go to the mountains for camping.”

Shakhani’s brother Yahya Dolamari said the Darban group are mainly from Erbil, Soran, Maseef and Akre. “We have no foreign members but hopefully they will join if they like it.”

“As you know, the nature in Kurdistan is very beautiful with rivers and mountains,” he said, explaining that the group hope to develop tourism around the region’s nature. “All equipment for hiking and rating is ​​available in the Kurdistan Region.”

A Dutch tourist, Stephan, came to the Kurdistan Region by motorcycle and spent four days traveling.

“One of the days we spent was in a water park to cool down, but I think that the [rafting] is much more authentic and unique, and also you can see the environment,” Stephan told Kurdistan 24.

Dutch tourists Koen Rocour (left) and Stephan Weenk came to the Kurdistan Region by motorcycle in July 2021. (Photo: Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Dutch tourists Koen (left) and Stephan came to the Kurdistan Region by motorcycle. (Photo: Wladimir van Wilgenburg)

His companion, Koen, said the pair were “always looking for something to do during the heat of the day” and rafting was a good activity.

The Dutch government considers Kurdistan high risk, he explained, but all of Asia is also designated high risk.

A German traveler in Turkey told them the Kurdistan Region was safe, “​​so we were quickly convinced,” he added.

There are security challenges, mainly when hiking around the region’s borders. Thousands of landmines remain near the Iran-Iraq border, and there are occasional attacks from Iran and Turkey in mountainous areas due to the conflicts with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI).

Around 200 hiking groups already exist in the Kurdistan Region, most of which avoid risky areas. But spending time outdoors has become increasingly popular, particularly with women, despite social barriers.

Shekhani insisted the Barzan area is safe, and said the group has an agreement with local police and the governor to inform them of trips ahead of time.

He said the fighting between the PKK and Turkey is far from the places the Darban group travels to, which “are safe for hiking and mountaineering.”

Additional reporting by Dena Fariqi.