The study of crime and criminality can be fascinating to those who ask “why”. Most criminologists have studied this phenomenon for centuries. The focus is primarily on why a person would commit a crime in a specific environment at a particular time. These criteria are often used in evaluating the crime triangle (Offender, Victim, and Location) when implementing crime-prevention strategies.
During a recent trip to Kurdistan (June 2020), I was curious about the crime issues that may plague a post-conflict region and how “safe” a community such a Erbil, the capital city would actually be. My observations and inquiry led to some motivating findings about the people, culture, and relationship between a community and law enforcement. They also provided a depiction of some of the nuances surrounding traffic enforcement, quality of life issues, and street crime.
Areas unfamiliar with most people convey fallacies and misconceptions. The Kurdistan region in Iraq is an autonomous zone that was primarily established in 2003 with the removal of Saddam Hussain. While it includes parts of Iran, Syrian, Turkey, and Iraq, the focus of this illustration is on Erbil, the capital of the region within Iraq. This area is independent of Iraq and provides separate and distinct political policies, a detached parliament, and cultural differences. Each of these plays a noted role in the types of crime that are apparent as well as the violent crime that is nearly non-existent. In my inspection of this phenomenon – no crime– it led to more questions, specifically, how is this possible?
There are places in the world that are simply not portrayed accurately. The perception of a post-war area is besieged with some truths and many misconceptions. The lens on the city of Erbil is clouded with the idea of violence and rampant lawbreaking. This is merely erroneous and quite the contradictory. The region is overwhelmed with challenges. Child labor issues and human trafficking is prevalent. The mistreatment of animals is obvious and inhumane. The lack of traffic enforcement makes driving for those unfamiliar with the streets and laws to be virtually unbearable. Surprisingly however, is the lack of street crime in the largest and most populated urban district in the region. The populace does not face theft, robbery, or other violent crimes that are prevalent in many global urban communities. The reasoning is multifaceted. Kurdistan is one of the poorest areas on the globe. Although poverty is closely aligned with street crime, there is little evidence of lawbreaking of this form in Erbil. Conversations with some of the populace provided some insight as to the almost non-existence of non-violent crime.
First, Erbil is a city where most of the population is familiar with one another. The city is ancient and dates to the 5th century, BC. The inhabitants have remained steady with very little mobility. Meetings occur daily among family and friends. Those, who are not known to the residents are easily identified. Because of the very friendly nature of the people, “outsiders” are welcomed by store owners, street vendors, and the locals. People get to know one another and engage in a sense of community.
Secondly, all commercial establishments are required to have CCTV security systems. Cameras are everywhere; both inside and outside each business. Because businesses are so closely aligned with each other in the market areas, the identity and path of individuals is easily captured and recognized. Coupled with the familiarization of most people, the inability to identify someone is unlikely.
Lastly, the culture of the people in that region does not accept crime of this nature. It just isn’t tolerated. The notion of violence toward another is inconceivable and looked upon as being against their values as a society. The Kurdistan region is an autonomous zone that strives to be independent and chooses to avoid turmoil. Its idea of having a diverse population has led to the investment of human capital. Local police officials are seen as part of the populace. Positive interface between the police and the people is commonplace.
As many see the growth of violent crime in many US cities, Kurdistan provides a small concession that violence doesn’t exist universally as many would suspect. Can communities learn from this example? Perhaps. The area is not void of social concerns, but what may be equally as important is that street crime can be diminished if total societies deem it to be unacceptable and take measures to curtail its existence.