Beekeeping In Kurdistan

In 2013, during one of my many trips to Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) I encountered some old traditional hives. Kurdistan isn’t a country but an autonomous region of Iraq, with its own culture, language (with 7 dialects), army (Peshmurga), and government (KRG based in Erbil). It is a land locked place which borders with Iran, Turkey and Syria.

Beekeeping in Kurdistan was severely and violently curtailed, decades ago, with the oppression of Saddam’s regime, and the resulting genocide of the Kurdish people. During this period there was wholesale bull dozing of Kurdish villages, and the destruction of the means to support themselves, including bee hives. When I was in the mountains there, in 2009, the only bees I saw were ones which lived in the many caves on the limestone cliffs in the region. Some villagers in the mountains were very keen for me to abseil down a huge cliff just to get some honey. I wasn’t a beekeeper then, and besides I had caves to explore. Also I didn’t want to die.

The Kurds have recently re-started beekeeping, as we would know it, with courses provided by NGO’s, and using Langstroth hives, which they simply call ‘boxes’. 2012 saw the formation of the Kurdistan Beekeepers Association in a town called Shaqlawa (50km north east of Erbil, the capital city of Kurdistan).

It really is an adventure for them all. Some of them have no idea about queen cells, or predicting swarms, or drone laying workers, so they are all literally learning from scratch and watching to see what happens. It makes you appreciate just how good it is to be a member of an association, and a culture, which contains so many experienced people, and to be part of a unbroken tradition which goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years.

There is a great demand for ‘pure’ honey in Kurdistan which people will pay up to $60 per kilo for (£40), if they know the source is good, because there is so much adulterated stuff around. One of my favourite breakfasts is freshly made Kurdish flatbread, sheep yogurt and honey. I often make it at home, or at least the nearest I can get. Obviously the bread is never as good, but good enough to transport me back to the mountains for a minute or two. On the plus side my honey is lovely with anything.

Most of Kurdistan’s honey currently comes from neighbouring Turkey but they are seeking to eradicate imports, and to eventually export.

Interestingly some of the Turkish honey arrives in dinner plate sized plastic tubs, which are about 4cm deep and contain a huge slab of naturally constructed comb floating in the honey.

The old hives I saw in Kurdistan are basket weave construction, about a metre long, and are tubular in design, but slightly wider at the back than the front, presumably to allow an arm and shoulder to fit into it. The hive is used horizontally. Some of the insides were lined with mud and fine grass, but I found one hive with comb directly attached to the basket work, suggesting it was once mud covered, like an English skep, rather than lined. The entrance end of the hive has a plaster finish, about 2cm deep, and painted white, with the circular entrance carved through the plaster. The back of some of the hives had a removable basket woven ‘lid’. In others the entrance end was also the lid.


These hives I saw were empty, stacked in a yard, so I have no idea how or where they were used, and I couldn’t find anyone who could tell me, but I hope to find out one day. But like a skep, our woven equivalent, their hives could not be inspected, which explains why queen cells are a bit of a mystery. With their new ‘boxes’ they now have access to the inner workings of the bee hive, just like us, and all the worries resulting from that detailed knowledge.

Looking into the hive


The end block with entrance is made of mud brick material



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