Russian Landmarks Disappearing: In Iraqi Kurdistan, The End of an Era For Soviet-Made Road Warriors
The Iraqi city of Kalar, south of Sulaymaniyah, has an odd nickname: “the Moscow of Iraq”. And some locals say that it got this name because there are so many Russian cars in the city. One of the most prominent of these is the UAZ-469, a sort of Russian military utility vehicle.
The utility vehicle, which arrived in the country during a time of particularly good relations between Iraq and Russia – at the timealmost every Iraqi household had Russian-made products – was particularly suitable for travelling on the plains and highlands here.
And as a result of its suitability for the terrain the UAZ-469 and its predecessor, the GAZ-69, were popular among locals for a long time, which was also the reason they continued to be sold here.
At a recent ceremony to celebrate renewed Russian-Iraqi Kurdish cooperation in May, Russian attendees were surprised and pleased to find the 70-year-old relics still on the roads.
But now, after being one of the only means of transport between various villages in this area for years, the Russian cars are disappearing. Local officials in the traffic department cannot confirm how many UAZ-469s or GAZ-69s are still on Kalar’s streets but dealers say there are now only a few dozen left – the ones that are still here are still being bought and sold by locals. Prices vary but have been known to go as high as US$10,000 for one of the best kept examples in Kalar.
The cars hold a lot of memories for locals. “We used to all get in the car and drive around the city, singing out the windows,” says Araz Faeq, a teacher in his forties from Kalar. “When we were students we used to ride on the boot,” he recalls. “And there were a lot of these cars bringing guests to my wedding in my village.”