The Kurdistan Region is an autonomous region in federal Iraq. It borders Syria to the west, Iran to the east, and Turkey to the north, where fertile plains meet the Zagros mountains, and is traversed by the Tigris, Big Zab, and Little Zab rivers.
Area: 40,643 square kilometres
Capital city: Erbil (also known as Hawler)
Languages: mainly Kurdish; Turkmani, Arabic, Armenian, and Assyrian in some areas. The Kurdish language is distinct and is in the family of Iranian languages, such as Persian and Pashto. There are two main dialects, Sorani and Kurmanji. Kurdish, the most widely spoken language in the Kurdistan Region, is in the Indo-European family of languages. The Kurdistan Region's official languages for government purposes are Kurdish and Arabic. The Sorani Kurdish dialect uses Arabic script while the Kurmanji Kurdish dialect is written in Latin script. Sorani is spoken in the cities of Erbil and Suleimaniah, while Kurmanji is spoken in Duhok. As the Region's Kurdish-language media has developed and the population has moved, today nearly all people in the Kurdistan Region can speak or understand both of the major dialects. The Kurdistan Regional Government's policy is to promote the two main dialects in the education system and the media. Arabic is also an official language and is widely spoken or understood. Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic and Turkmani are also spoken by their respective communities. The Kurdistan Regional Government promotes linguistic diversity and rights, and schools have been established that teach mainly in Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Turkmen and Arabic.
Currency: Iraqi Dinar (IQD).
The Kurdistan Region has seven universities, including the English language University of Kurdistan-Hawler in Erbil which opened in September 2006, and the American University of Iraq in Suleimaniah which started its first programme in autumn 2007.
The Kurdistan Region has fertile soil and a hot summer climate ideal for growing grapes and orchards such as pomegranate, fig, and walnut. The Region's honey has a clear light taste and is often sold with the honeycomb. Kurdistan also produces excellent sheep, goat and buffalo dairy products. Fresh herbs are the essence of Kurdish cuisine. People also love to cook with an abundance of vegetables. Lamb and chicken are the primary meats. Savoury dishes are usually served with rice or flat bread. Lamb and vegetables are simmered in a tomato sauce to make a delicate stew that is usually served with rice. In the spring and summer, salads and fresh herbs are often on the dinner table. Kurds also make many types of kofta and kubba, dumplings filled with meat. During Nawroz, the Spring Equinox New Year, Kurds celebrate by dressing in their finest clothes and setting off to the countryside for picnics, often taking a large pot of yaprakh. Also known throughout the Mediterranean as dolma, yaprakh is a dish of freshly picked vine leaves stuffed with rice, meat, herbs and garlic, and then simmered in a large pot. Black, sweetened tea is Kurdistan's favourite drink.
The majority of people in the Kurdistan Region are Sunni Muslims, mainly of the Shafi'i school. Some Muslims in the Region follow Sufi orders. There are also a large number of Christians of different churches, such as Syrian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Armenian, and Catholic Chaldean. A religion that is practiced only in Kurdistan is Yazidism, which has tens of thousands of adherents. The Kurdistan Regional Government protects people's freedom to practice their religion and promotes inter-faith tolerance.