This is a historic and protected Christian village which used to be separate from Erbil, but which is now effectively a neighbourhood of the broader Erbil metropolitan area.
All Iraqi Christian denominations are represented in the demography and churches of Ankawa.
Ankawa is a melting pot of different Iraqi Christian denominations, all of which are represented and which have grown increasingly united: Chaldeans, Eastern Assyrian, Eastern Ancient Assyrian, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, and Armenian Catholic. These denominations carry influences from the Romans (who brought Catholicism), Caucasians (who brought Russian Orthodoxy), and Byzantines (who brought forth Nestorianism). Yet all share Siryani as their common language, the modern vernacular of ancient Aramaic -- the language of Jesus. Different communities, cities, towns, and villages will carry slight dialectical differences, but all are mutually intelligible. The exception to Siryani is the Armenians, who speak Armenian instead.
Ankawa is at the junction of several Christian heartlands: Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, and Armenian.
Legend says that Ankawa was founded in the second century by Saint Thomas the Apostle, who evangelized across Iraq and all the way to India and to China. Formerly an independent small town apart from Erbil, today Erbil has grown enough to encapsulate the former and render it a neighbourhood.
It is one of oldest Christian settlements in Iraq, a land with deep roots for Chaldean, Assyrian, Syriac, and Armenian denominations. Chaldeans are Catholic, with their head of church being the Pope in the Vatican. Their heartland is a few hours to the south, based around the cities Baghdad and Hillah (ancient Babylon). Assyrians have the Eastern Assyrian and Eastern Ancient Assyrian churches, each with its own Patriarch, both based in Baghdad. The Assyrian heartland is based around Erbil and Mosul (ancient Nineveh, the former capital of the Assyrian Empire). Syriacs (Siryani) originate a few hours to the north and west, with their heartland orbiting around Malula, Qamishli, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Nusaybin, and Silopi -- cities spanning modern-day Turkey and Syria. The Syriac Orthodox Church is an independent church headed by a Patriarch, currently based in Malula. Its name stems from its closeness to Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox liturgies. Syriac Catholics are part of the greater Catholic Church headed at the Vatican.
The various churches exclude themselves from politics, but maintain an organisational structure.
All the churches have their own head of religion -- the Patriarch -- who lives in Iraq or Syria. However, the Catholics also follow the papacy as supreme over the Patriarch; and the Armenians have a Bishop in Iraq but their Patriarch is in Armenia. The various Patriarchs and their Iraqi communities have coalesced together around, fundamentally, a shared Christianity and usually shared language. On some matters their collective spokesperson is a Chaldean official (sometimes accompanied by officials from the other churches) as their community comprises a majority of Iraqi Christians.
The women, with unveiled faces, were attending to their domestic duties. The husbands were aiding in the care of the children, and conversing freely and kindly with their wives. It seemed something like Christianity, and, though but a slight token, I could not help feeling it deeply. Southgate 1840, p 213
The primary languages are Aramaic and Arabic, along with Kurdish. It has narrow streets with plenty of shops. Ankawa Road, Duu Side, and Montezuh Street are the three main roads.
Ankawa Road splits as it enters Ankawa, so there is an inbound and an outbound Ankawa Road (each is one-way-only). In addition, on the east side of Ankawa is Duside. There are lots of cafés on Montezuh Street. Duu Side has bigger establishments. Ankawa Road has the Consulate etc.
The fine, relaxed cafe-restaurants are safe for a woman to sit un-bothered, either alone or with friends. Also, there are bars and liquor shops. Many of the cafe-restaurants have very good food, such as at Lavazza or Barista. In addition to these europhile cafes, the American chain Hardees (aka Carl's Jr) has two locations.
Foreigners and some locals cherish the relative freedom.
Ankawa is a popular place for foreign companies to base their offices. Here, it is easy to find alcohol to enjoy over a tasty meal. Men and women can walk together -- even if unmarried -- without garnering unwanted attention. Remittances from abroad have further enriched the community, with thousands from Ankawa living abroad in Sweden, Australia, and Canada.
Ankawa has absorbed successive waves of Christian refugees.
Although many families would want to return to Baghdad or wherever they lived, some have given up hope.
In an attack on the Catholic Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad last year, more than 50 people were killed in a hostage-taking by Al Qaeda-linked gunmen. Erbil absorbed more than 830 displaced Christian families after the attack, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Many more Iraqi Christians have also moved to Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah. The National, 2011 06 23
"People here say, 'Rather Ankawa than Baghdad,'" said Father Tariq Choucha, another Chaldean priest in the town. "But what they really want is a visa to go abroad and stay there." Houston Chronicle, 2005 08 21
There were several Kurdish families in the village, and about sixty Christian. The latter had a Churc, which I visited just at the close of the evening service, shortly before sunset. Two of the three priests of the village were present, who showed me the interior. It was very plain, and I observed no pictures. The building was more than a century old, and altogether rerespectable for a village Church. It was surrounded by a high wall, the door to which was so low that it could not be entered without almost getting upon one's knees. Southgate 1840, p 213
A large number of the villagers were blind, or had diseased eyes. Having some sulphate of zinc with me, I prepared it, and delivered it to the Kiahya of the village, with orders to administer it to al who might make application. This gave me at once the name of Hakim Bashi, and patients began to flock in. One of them was the third priest, whom I had not as yet seen. His complaint was, according to his own description, of a very novel character. He had been carried away by Ravendouz Bey, in one of his excursions a year and a half before. At that time he had been affected with a great trepidation, and ever since, he added, on every alternate day, he had been seized by a violent shivering just as when he was taken. Upon further inquiry, I found that the fits had all the symptoms of the fever and ague, and administered accordingly. Southgate 1840, p 213
Duu Side is the main road through Ankawa.
Monteza Street goes between Duu Side and Ankawa Road, and is more pedestrian friendly.
The formal entrance to Ankawa has a sculptured boulevard to welcome people entering.