The big names like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Riyadh likely stand out when considering cities that act as centers of business and innovation in the Middle East, especially for most Americans, Europeans, or other Westerners. However, the rising commodities, business, investment, and innovation tides of sand and sea in the East seem to have helped lift more than just a few hubs.
After being in glittering and futuristic Dubai for nearly a week I set out to visit Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region in Iraq, expecting a very different picture than the complex, thriving, and beautiful canvas I arrived to.
Erbil is a city that has experienced much in history, with its central Citadel believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on Earth. A cursory glance on YouTube points to numerous recent videos of travelers (which also could point toward increasing tourism) being surprised at the level of advancement, business, investment, and technology in this ancient city, and I was certainly in this group. After experiencing economic hardship, corruption, oil dependence, conflicts, and more, is it ripe for a bigger place on the global stage?
A major advantage for the city and Kurdistan region as a whole was relative stability after 2003 until the rise of ISIS, which drove hundreds of thousands from the north to find refuge in Erbil. With a massive influx of refugees in a short period, the city’s resources were reportedly strained to a breaking point — but as the situation returned closer to normality, and with the eventual defeat of ISIS in the region, Erbil became an even larger hub and melting pot.
In the years since not all has been perfect, but with wealth, education, internet access, computer ownership, and health all trending in the positive, more people, institutions, and investments have risen in the “City of Citadel and Minaret”.
Significant Investments Helping The Luxury Market
Rendering of completed project by Pavillion Erbil
Looking to be “the largest and most luxurious residential development in Iraq”, Pavillion Erbil is a recent example of perhaps the most ambitious little-known project in the Middle East.
“Pavilion Erbil transforms more than 170 hectares of land into a luxurious residential and commercial district with one of the largest artificial lagoons and shopping malls in the Middle East. The project intertwines villas, apartments, islands, canals, and generous open green spaces that will be rich with both commercial and community amenities such as world-class sports facilities, an international school, 5-star hotels, restaurants, and much more.“
With all of the project’s residential villas rumored to have already sold out, the area could become significantly more attractive to additional foreign investment in residential, retail, and luxury amenities as residents begin to flow in and the ambitious undertaking becomes closer to the finish line. However, projects of Pavillion’s size and scope can be prone to major setbacks and difficulties — it will remain to be seen if construction and completion can stay on schedule.
Grassroots Organizations Also Sprouting Innovation
However, large projects and outside investments are not the only drivers spurring Erbil on to what could be a crucial comeback for the region — smaller business groups, venture capital and incubators, and even minority initiatives appear to be gaining traction in a long-difficult landscape. One example is the Apostolic Work Fellowship, a young working people’s fellowship within the Chaldean Archdiocese in Ankawa, the Christian sector of Erbil. The Fellowship acts in both a community setting for bringing young people together to assist at faith-based and cultural events and as a hub of ambitious locals willing to put effort into revitalizing business, innovation, and a good life for future generations.
I spoke with multiple members who were already starting or looking into starting new business ventures in the city, ranging from software and technology to restaurants, consumer and business services, and more. A potent and infectious optimism was a hallmark of the conversations, made all the more striking by the long shadows cast by the disasters of war, ISIS, and a population diaspora across the previous decades.
An additional example is the Maryamana Hospital, “a non-profit organization leading the improvement of health care throughout Kurdistan and Iraq”. The hospital is a relatively new institution that employs hundreds and is reportedly one of the first places where Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis have worked together in a long time — a powerful example of unity and mutual opportunity for a region that has seen far more than its fair share of violence and persecution.
Will Erbil be in the next group of cities in the Middle East to make a global splash? Only time will tell, but this visitor is highly optimistic, and can’t wait for the next opportunity to go back.
Featured photo by Saad Salim on Unsplash
Image and article originally from www.benzinga.com. Read the original article here.