Duhok mountaineers promote sport and environmental protection
Climbing high on rugged peaks has always been part of Kurdish life, especially in Duhok where mountains make up much of the terrain.
Although a necessary venture for much of history, with urbanization and the development that the Kurdistan Region has witnessed, including new roads infrastructure after 2003, it is no longer a necessity to travel on foot.
But the connection Kurds have with mountains, which they often call friends, has attracted a new generation to embrace mountaineering.
Ten years ago this sweeping landscape and call of the old lifestyle inspired four amateur mountaineers to establish a group focused on the outdoors and the environment.
Gara Mountaineering and Environment Group is based in Duhok and officially part of the Kurdistan Mountaineering and Climbing Federation.
The group is named after Gara Mountain, one of the highest mountains in the Kurdistan Region, which reaches an altitude of 2,010 meters.
Diyar Bakir, a founding member of the group, told Kurdistan 24 that it was one of the first such organizations in Duhok province, and opened the door for six others to form.
“We were only a few members at the beginning, but with time the number grew and took in many new members of various ages and professional backgrounds, including engineers and teachers,” Bakir said.
“We mostly do hiking and camping in the mountains. We participate in different activities not only in Duhok but elsewhere in the Kurdistan Region,” he said.
These nature lovers also promote protecting the environment they love. In one event they hosted, dozens of people planted hundreds of trees around Zawa mountain.
They also have campaigns for cleaning up plastic and other harmful waste.
Good relationships with other groups in Erbil and Sulaimani provinces and inviting them to Duhok is another element of their success. They are also eager to get more women involved, and feel the recent participation of women in mountaineering a good sign for Kurdish society.
Recently, members of the Gara group set up a center to bring together mountaineers from all over Duhok so that their activities can be coordinated and carried out safely.
Bakir said he sees freedom in mountaineering, and being in nature gives him a feeling of serenity, mixed with strength and even the feeling he could just fly right off the mountain into the sky.
To avoid such misadventures, the group always screen future destinations before visiting for the first time.
Mountaineering in Duhok province has some challenges. The presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party has created no-go areas that adventurers need to avoid, as well as the presence of old land mines in some areas.
Turkey’s recent operations against the PKK in some mountainous areas, especially in border areas in Duhok and Zakho districts, has prevented mountaineers from going back to many of the high mountains they used to visit.