It’s 2012 and Secret Compass is challenging you to do something different in March this year. In less than 8 weeks you could go on another skiing holiday to “Val” and get inebriated for a week or you could take on the challenge of a lifetime with us and learn a little bit more about the world you live in…
In March 2012, we will be heading east to take on Iraq’s highest mountain-the 3611m Cheekha Dar.
“Iraq! For a holiday!?! Not a chance!” would be most people’s normal response.
Thankfully Mt Cheekha Dar is not anywhere near the dangers of the recent conflict zone in Iraq. This stunning 3,611 m mountain can be found in Iraqi Kurdistan in the Zagros mountain range near the border with Iran.
Iraqi Kurdistan is the part of the Kurdistan region which falls within Iraq’s borders. Kurdistan is a roughly defined geo-cultural region wherein the Kurds form a prominent majority population, and Kurdish culture, language, and national identity have historically been based.
Contemporary use of Kurdistan refers to parts of eastern Turkey (Turkish Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), northwestern Iran (Iranian Kurdistan) and northern Syria inhabited mainly by Kurds. Iraqi Kurdistan first gained autonomous status in 1970 agreement with the Iraqi government and its status was re-confirmed as an autonomous entity within the federal Iraqi republic in 2005.
Shannon Skerrit of Kurdistan Adventures recently highlighted the difference between Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq in a recent interview with Secret Compass:-
“The distinction between the Kurdistan region and the rest of Iraq cannot be understated. The Kurdistan region has its own government, flag, border control and security forces. Since March 2003, not a single coalition soldier has died nor a single foreigner been kidnapped in the areas administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Petty crime and violence is very low and I would argue virtually unheard of against foreigners. I believe that the vast majority of Kurds welcome Western visitors including business people and tourists alike.
It is true that the media tends to focus on negative reporting including the horrific violence almost seen on a daily basis in the rest of Iraq. This is non-existent in Iraqi Kurdistan but is an on-going challenge for us as we attempt to differentiate between the two. I believe if we are able to do this, visitor numbers will increase as more intrepid travellers are willing to discover this hidden world…The KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) continues to highlight the fact there has not been a single security incident against any foreigners in the Kurdistan Region since the initial invasion in 2003.”
One of our main visions here at Secret Compass is to raise awareness of countries that desperately need to move on from decades of war into stabilizing industries such as travel and tourism with the employment and beneficial economic fallout it provides, by showing that it is possible to safely visit these countries and see the unknown wonders they have to offer.
We as an organisation have also decided that we would like to contribute something to every country we visit. Even if we can offer only a small contribution, it may be enough to save a life which is a start. For this particular expedition we have decided to partner with MAG (Mines Advisory Group). MAG are a neutral and impartial humanitarian organisation who work in current and former conflict zones to reduce the threat of death and injury from remnants of conflict.
On top of clearing mines MAG also educate people living, working and travelling through contaminated areas, to minimise the risks of them, their friends and families being killed or maimed.
MAG is an organisation that helps countries such as Iraq move on from the ongoing devastation of landmines left over from historical conflicts. In the 1980’s war between Iraq and Iran, thousands of landmines were planted in Iraqi Kurdistan, the region between the two countries, at the rate of three for every inhabitant as the warring countries retreated.
Regions like Iraqi Kurdistan can never really make that vital transition into other developing industries until these mines are cleared by companies such as MAG and the fantastic support to the people they provide.
There are still places left on this unique expedition. So forget Meribel and come to Kurdistan…in fact, you can bring your skis! (We already have one taker with a snowboard!)
To register your interest for this expedition please visit our website at:-
 M. T. O’Shea, Trapped between the map and reality: geography and perceptions of Kurdistan , 258 pp., Routledge, 2004. (see p.77)
 Iraqi Constitution, Article 113.
 Gino Strada. (2004). “Green Parrots: A War Surgeon’s Diary.” Milan: Edizioni Charta.