Transformation of place identity; a case of heritage and conflict in Iraq


  • Avar Almukhtar Oxford Brookes University



Throughout history, war and conflict have caused fundamental political, economic, and social transformations around the world, spatially impacting urban form. Nowhere is this more evident than in cities with distinctive identity and a rich historical landscape. Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region and the forth-largest urban area in Iraq is such a city. Increased political and economic stability after the 2003 invasion of the country has led to a period of reconstruction as a part of the recovery process from decades of war. This has attracted an array of urban actors including international investors and NGOs that have influenced the transformation of Erbil’s place identity. 

The city’s citadel, a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, dates back to nearly 5000 B.C. and is thought to be one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited settlements, which has gone through layers of different civilisations. It now stands as a symbol of Kurdish history and identity. The study focuses on the transformation of Erbil’s historic identity through urban form during the reconstruction process of a post-war city through a morphological analysis of the city’s historic core and contemporary urban areas. As government and policy-making system are trying to globally promote the city as the heart of the emerging Kurdish Nation, key informant interviews with local residents, policy makers, and stakeholders were used to explore the intensive urban development and recovery process. The resulting analysis of Erbil’s urban form has shown that post-war urban transformation has strong negative impact on place-identity. Therefore the study highlights the need for a resilient approach for cities to respond and recover from war and conflict. An approach that guides the development process in a way that allows for the evolution of place-identity to be rooted in history but open to future possibilities and modernisation.


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How to Cite

Almukhtar, A. (2016). Transformation of place identity; a case of heritage and conflict in Iraq. International Planning History Society Proceedings, 17(3), 403–416.