The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Rural Heritage Recovery and Post-Conflict Development in Kurdistan Regional Government

The Case of Erbil’s Rural Periphery

16 September 2020

The projectRural Heritage Recovery and Post-Conflict Development in Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG): The Case of Erbil’s Rural Periphery' is sponsored by Nahrein Network Large Grant funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) at the University College London (UCL).

The grant supports collaborative, interdisciplinary research on themes that encourage the sustainable development of history, humanities, and heritage in Iraq. Also, it supports the raise of the profile of local expertise, a better understanding of the current situation, helps heritage organizations better serve local needs, improves the job prospects of the region's youth, and helps post-conflict healing and reconciliation.

The research is led by the Beirut Urban Lab at the American University of Beirut (AUB), in collaboration with the DPU, and the Architecture Department, College of Engineering at Salahaddin University-Erbil.

Project outline and aims

This project targets the understudied rural periphery of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in north-eastern Iraq. Erbil is known as one of the oldest continuously inhabited landscapes in the world (Akram et al., 2016). Erbil’s rural-urban heritage includes tangible, intangible, and natural heritage. Erbil’s rural periphery exemplifies the rural-urban heritage[1] problematic. The phenomenal urban growth following the designation of Erbil as the capital of the KRG has resulted in unbalanced development, one that prioritizes urban expansion at the expense of the peripheries and singular ethnic heritage at the expense of a pluralistic cultural heritage. Rural-urban heritage is thus left without economic growth and preservation and lacks stability, sustainability, and development.

Accordingly, this project poses the following question: How can rural-urban heritage recovery operate as a catalyst for sustainable development in a post-conflict context? To answer the question, we approach heritage recovery as a catalyst for socio-economic development in a post-conflict environment. The position taken is that heritage should remain linked to the cultural context to which it belongs, be defined beyond the physical and visible, and be recognized as an open process of production and transformation sustained by its rooted links to the community and its local identity (Al-Harithy, 2005). Recovery, in this project, is a people-oriented process where physical development is not independent of the social, economic, and environment.

As such, rural-urban heritage recovery is culture and place-specific and likely to foster development strategies that are contextualized rather than generic. This project expands the recovery discourse temporally and spatially beyond the built fabric of villages to embrace environmental, socio-economic, and cultural developmental objectives. Rural-urban heritage recovery recognizes the exceptional natural and cultural wealth of the marginal landscape. It capitalizes on ecological and environmental assets and the rural-urban heritage as a dynamic entity whose living heritage is produced every day by diverse spatial practices and sustained by events.

This project will zoom in on three inhabited representatives of the 23 villages inside the EIGB as early pilots, which are Gazna, Kany Qrzhala, Qareatax. Collectively, the three villages exemplify the rich rural-urban heritage of Erbil, such as landscape features, ancient archaeological practices (qanáts), and vernacular building techniques.

The project aims to put in place a framework for heritage recovery that is long-term, bottom-up, participatory, socially just, and inclusive. The envisioned approach is people-centered, heritage-led, and place-specific. The objectives of the project are accordingly:

Co-design a framework with the local communities for rural-urban heritage recovery; Build local capacities for implementation and long-term monitoring of the framework;



  • Recognize and recover vernacular building and ancient and traditional irrigation and agricultural practices that are sustainable and accessible to rural communities;
  • Create job opportunities and enhance livelihoods while facilitating bottom-up approaches for the displaced to return;
  • Reconnect peripheral rural communities and core urban inhabitants equally with the land;
  • Build awareness about bio-cultural rural heritage and historical linkages with the ancient world.



PI: Dr. Howayda Al-Harithy (AUB)

CoI: Dr. Jala Makhzoumi (AUB)

CoI: Dr. Salahaddin Yasin Baper (Salahaddin University-Erbil)

CoI: Prof. Camillo Boano (UCL)

Research coordinator: Ms. Najmeh Viki (AUB)