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Kurds of Irbil are Living On A Hill Of Undiscovered Treasures


News Category: Cultural

 19 December 2005


Irbil Citadel.jpg (35613 bytes)The plains of the country that is today known as Iraq are dotted with giant mounds, sites that have grown higher and higher over the millennia, as people built new homes upon the ruins of older ones.

But Iraq's archeological sites -- some of the richest in the world -- attract few researchers today. Although the problem is security, but officials in Kurdish-administered northern Iraq say their region is safe enough for excavation work. And one fascinating place to probe is the 36-meter-high tal in the center of Irbil, a citadel that historians and archeologists say has been continuously inhabited for 6,000 years. Below the homes that now stand on the hill are the remains of ancient civilizations still waiting to be explored.

Kanan Mufti, general director for antiquities in the western Kurdish region, says that probes sunk deep into the hill have shown evidence of layers of successive civilizations. Not enough work has been done to be able to identify who exactly those inhabitants were, but among the peoples who have lived in the Irbil region are Akkadians, Sumerians, Iranian Medes, Persians, Parthians, as well as Greeks and Arabs invaders. All have been attracted by Irbil's location, on a fertile plain at the junction of two rivers and in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains.

Mufti says the successive names of Irbil give some idea of this history. Sumerian scripts refer to it as Urbylon. The Assyrians called it Arbaillo and considered it one of their most important cities. The Iranian Medes knew it Hadeap. A historian accompanying Alexander the 3rd century BC Macedonian warlord named it Arbella. And the Kurds still call it Hawler, probably meaning "the place where the sun is worshipped" since the name is thought to derive from the ancient Kurdish word "helio" (sun).

International interest in the citadel as an archeological treasure could help make that a possibility.

The UN's cultural agency, UNESCO, is financing preliminary studies into the possibility of renovating parts of the citadel. Many in Irbil hope the result will be a well-restored old town and some careful excavations of the site.

Irbil’s citadel is just one of numerous potential archeological sites throughout the Kurdish region. A study carried out decades ago by Baghdad catalogued more than 3,000 sites. Mufti, the director of antiquities, says fewer than 25 have been excavated, because former regime in Baghdad generally forbade archeological digs in the Kurdish region in an effort to deny Kurds and their Iranian evidence of a cultural heritage distinct from that of Iraqi Arabs.





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