Will Anyone Dare to Use Kurdistan’s First Long-Distance Hiking Trail?

Before we delve into this new hiking trail, let’s explain where Kurdistan is and the problems that this ambitious project faces.

If modern Middle Eastern history had broken differently, Kurdistan might exist as a country. Instead, 30-45 million Kurds live in a mountainous swathe of Asia spanning Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Only in Iraqi Kurdistan have the Kurds gained autonomy.

The Kurdish population is split between Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Photo: The Kurdish Project

 

There, the struggle for some level of independence took the best part of a century. It culminated in Iraq’s 2005 constitution, which formally recognized the region as autonomous. Iraqi Kurdistan even became something of a tourist draw. It was safe (at least compared to most of Iraq), stable, and beautiful.

But the tourist years were short-lived. Syria’s collapse and ISIL’s rise brought renewed fighting. The Kurds found themselves on the front lines. The region remains volatile.

The Zagros Mountain Trail

The return of tourists might sound unlikely, but Iraqi Kurdistan has lost none of its appeal for more adventurous travelers. A new 240km hiking trail could be the thing that tempts them back. Lawin Mohammad, a Syrian refugee, and Leon McCarron, an Irish writer and presenter, are stitching the route together. They connect fragments of village paths, herder’s trails, and ancient mountain passes.

“We’re not ‘building’ any trails that don’t already exist. Nobody owns it; no one person builds it,” McCarron explained to The New York Times.

Kurdistan Region, Iraq. Photo: Shutterstock

 

Mohammad and McCarron make an odd couple. Mohammad had never hiked and McCarron had little knowledge of the region’s politics and dangers. But the partnership has worked.

The Zagros Mountain Trail is not yet complete, but it is taking shape. The duo are walking the trail repeatedly, honing each segment and building up a network of contacts in the villages and towns. There are plans for a system similar to that of the Jordan Trail. Opened in 2016, the 675km Jordan Trail is run by an association that provides maps, maintains the path, and can facilitate connections between tourists and local guides.

Kurdistan. Photo: Shutterstock

Martyr minesweepers

Mohammad and McCarron envisage a similar organization in Iraqi Kurdistan, but there will be additional complexities. Iraq is heavily mined, with most dating from Saddam Hussein’s rule and the Iran-Iraq war. During the war, Iraqi mines were so numerous, and Iran’s mine-sweeping capabilities so poor, that the Iranian army used young men on foot or on motorbikes as “martyr minesweepers”.

Despite recent, less horrific de-mining efforts, wandering off a well-worn track could prove fatal. Another big risk is airstrikes from the Turkish army targeting members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK), which they designate as a terrorist organization. Clearly, independent hiking is extremely unwise and a good guide will be essential.

These threats have shaped the trail route and could prove its downfall if the region slides back into conflict. However, for now, with the trail half-complete, the project looks bright.

Martin Walsh is a freelance writer and wildlife photographer based in Da Lat, Vietnam. A history graduate from the University of Nottingham, Martin's career arc is something of a smörgåsbord. A largely unsuccessful basketball coach in Zimbabwe and the Indian Himalaya, a reluctant business lobbyist in London, and an interior design project manager in Saigon. He has been fortunate enough to see some of the world. Highlights include tracking tigers on foot in Nepal, white-water rafting the Nile, bumbling his way from London to Istanbul on a bicycle, feeding wild hyenas with his face in Ethiopia, and accidentally interviewing Hezbollah in Lebanon. His areas of expertise include adventure travel, hiking, wildlife, and half-forgotten early 2000s indie-rock bands.


Subscribe
Notify of
guest
10 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
bridlehorseblue
bridlehorseblue
18 days ago

Wow! All the best to Mohammad and McCarron. Such an ambitious project, brings a whole new perspective to “objective risks”.

ScruffyBT
ScruffyBT
18 days ago

I lived and worked in that area for five years. Sorry, there are too many ‘what ifs’. Going hiking is about being close to nature and challenging yourself, not if you are going to step on a mine taking a shit, being kidnapped for ransom by renegades or worse, encountering ISIS or any number of their splinter cells. There are also a lot of feral dog packs in the area that would enjoy having you for a snack. They can smell a cooking pot five kilometers away. Don’t get me wrong. Turkey and Jordan are amazing countries and I would… Read more »

J Karim
J Karim
16 days ago
Reply to  ScruffyBT

It’s not like the area has just been discovered and no one knows about where everything is. MAG has been working in Kurdistan for almost 40 years in that area, they know where still is a risk and where’s safe. So, as a Kurd growing up in Slemani and Halabja and a passionate hiker, in my opinion, the mine part is not a major issue to impede this beautiful and very much promising project.

Dr e.khodadoust
Dr e.khodadoust
18 days ago

Is it ur Kurdistan building project or simply a trail building one?! It seems it’s the first one and then a million mothers and wives will be left widows! Huh? Go find urself another trail!

Kaywan
Kaywan
17 days ago

سپاس بۆ ھەموو شیکردنەوەکانت، بەس ئەمەوێت ئەوە بڵێم عەرب،فارس وە مەغۆلەکان ئەوانەی ئەمڕۆ لەم سەردەمەدا بەخۆیان ئەڵێت تورک خاکو نیشتمانەکەی ئێنەیان داگیر کردووە.

Thanks for your explanation, but I have to say that our homeland been occupied by Arab, Fars, and mangolian I mean those who call themselves Turks. ( and they are always making trouble in the area just to make us look bad)

Andreas Kaufmann
17 days ago

I’m living almost 16 years in Kurdistan. With great joy I have witnessed many outdoor groups popping up like mushrooms. Among hikers, there is a growing number of mountaineers and even rock climbers emerging. Some have cycled the region from Slemani to Zaxo an back again. Due to poor driving habits, that’s probably riskier than hiking the Kurdistan trail.

Kannout
Kannout
14 days ago

There is nothing called Kurdistan country in the middle east ! If there is show me it in any map in the 1800 or 1900 world map all this are collony west county agenda nothing else .

Jagar
Jagar
12 days ago
Reply to  Kannout

Maps don’t matter! We decided that Kurdistan is a country, and we don’t care about anything else. Call it “my dream” but it is surely “your nightmare” 🙂

Gregory Stegman
Gregory Stegman
13 days ago

Seeking new adventures and if you answer yes, then this looks ideal. I’ve walked many long distance trails in Portugal, Spain, Norway, Japan and Israel. I can’t wait for this to officially open.

James Alvernaz
James Alvernaz
9 days ago

What could go wrong?