Amid violent Iraqi-Kurdish tensions that have displaced many in recent weeks, a shortened Erbil Marathon took place 50 miles east of Mosul. Race officers announced the cancellation of the full marathon event on October 27 due to security concerns, citing a clash between Iraqi officials and a Kurdish resistance militia nearby.However, the 10-kilometer and 5-kilometer events proceeded in the face of danger.
Defying predominant gender roles and inequality in the region, the Erbil Marathon allows men and women to compete in the same race. Some were unable to start the race because military activity complicated transportation from nearby areas. The Iraqi government closed Erbil’s airport after the September 25 referendum for Kurdish independence, which incited riots, protests, and significant security concerns for local Iraqi leaders.
Nonetheless, the Erbil Marathon allowed Iraqi citizens to show unity and bravery in a time of conflict. Amal Khidir, a female from Kirkuk, won the gold medal in the 10-kilometer event, finishing first out of 1,700 people. On the medal podium, Khidir waved the Kurdish flag. In the male event, Mohammed Abdullah, a Sunni Arab and former refugee from Rumadi, won the race.
The annual marathon draws international crowds—both spectators and competitors— from the United States, Japan, Canada, and the United Kingdom. After local hotels and airports shut down, however, the event was mostly comprised of locals who sought to make a statement.
Still, some feared for their safety. “For local people, these clashes and the recent security situation is the main reason for not taking part in the event,” Marathon organizer Abdulsattar Younus told reporters at Al Jazeera. “In the past, we had hundreds of people coming from all regions in the north, but now it is just tens,” explained Younus. In light of Kurdish-Iraqi violence, public events have faced numerous challenges, but still the race in Erbil persisted.