Anisa Mehdi’s remarks, October 30, 2023, at the launch of the Zagros Mountain Trail, Rotana Hotel, Erbil, Iraq.
The event was attended by more than 100 people who were diplomats, academics, government representatives, hikers, Zagros Mountain Trail homestay families and guides, and the news media. The event was emceed by Kurdish television anchor Ms. Chawan. Attending were Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, special advisor to the Prime Minister on foreign affairs and climate change, Sherko Mohammad Sharif, also an advisor to the Prime Minister, Amal Jalal, head of Kurdistan’s Tourism Board, and Awad Husam Uddin, representative of Zoroastrians in Kurdistan. The event was sponsored by the Governorate of Soran.
Miran Diyazee, Laween Mohammed, and Leon McCarron, co-founders of the Zagros Mountain Trail, spoke to the audience. McCarron debuted the trail website. Abraham Path Initiative executive director Anisa Mehdi spoke thereafter. Later, the ZMT team screened a film about the trail. Here is coverage by K24.
“Thank you for your warm welcome. I am delighted to be back in Kurdistan. I am Anisa Mehdi, executive director of the Abraham Path Initiative. We are very proud of our friends and colleagues Miran Diyazee, Laween Mohammad, Leon McCarron, and their team, for their persistence and hard work in creating the Zagros Mountain Trail. Congratulations!
I am delighted to see all of you here, to learn about the important contribution a long-distance walking trail may make to Kurdistan’s economic diversity and cultural visibility. I’m especially glad to see my friend Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman. You’ve been a cheerleader for this project for two years. We are happy for your new position, and we miss you in America.
Abraham Path has supported the development of the Zagros Mountain Trail since 2018, with expertise and funding. Since 2007, our approach has been to work with local partners to develop world class walking trails. So far we’ve catalyzed the creation of more than 2000 kilometers of trails in Southwest Asia (aka “the Middle East”). API focuses on creating trails where hospitality is essential to the culture. Kurdistan is a perfect fit. We specialize in places where tourists don’t usually go. Like mountains, deserts, the countryside, and farmlands. And always we see that when people walk from town to town together, we get to know one another better. We celebrate what we have in common, and learn to appreciate our differences with respect.
Our work together with the Zagros Mountain Trail, is at the forefront of a new industry in the tourism sector: community-based, experiential tourism. This sector brings job training--like guiding, and homestay hosting--to generations of families. From jobs, income may grow.
This kind of tourism also brings hope “off the beaten path.” It brings new friends. For example, in Jordan and in Sinai, Egypt, where Abraham Path was previously involved in trail development, some families have earned sufficiently from guiding and hosting visitors to improve their property, or build a guesthouse. Some send their children to university. Wouldn’t we like to see that in Kurdistan? With support from all of us, the Zagros Mountain Trail could generate those kinds of positive results.
In April, my husband and I walked on parts of the Zagros Mountain Trail with Miran and Laween. We were inspired by Kurdistan‘s diverse landscapes and its rich cultural, linguistic, and religious history. All of this deserves to be seen, understood, and appreciated more broadly. In Kherdas village, we ate fresh rhubarb with Jawad Ibrahim Meer, his lovely wife, Fatima, and his dignified father, Ibrahim. We drank tea with Tarik Akrawi in Akre, and slept well in his guesthouse. And it was lots of fun watching Miran in ferocious games of dominoes with Ahmed Rezani in Razan village. [As I named each family, they cheered and waved from the audience.]
My own father was born south of here, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. I know it’s a long way away, and there’s a different culture and language, but as an Iraqi-American I feel connected to you, here in Kurdistan. I am excited for what’s ahead for all of us as Kurdistan Trails for Development grows, and as the Zagros Mountain Trail becomes a destination for more and more travelers from home and abroad.
If you’d like to know more about the Abraham Path Initiative, please take a brochure from the back table. As this great project moves ahead, I will assist in any way that I may. I hope that you will, too. Thank you.”