Stumblin' over History
by Joe Scarangella
We don't usually think about just how much the places we grow up in fundamentally shape even the most basic of concepts. Growing up in Canada, history is something that began in 1492. We use words like "old" and "heritage" for buildings and monuments that are a whopping 100 years old. But living in Iraq, "old" has taken on a whole new meaning. Scattered throughout the country are sites older than history itself. So when you get a chance to check out something that's more than 2,500 years old, you jump at it (not literally of course as it's too old to jump on)
About half way between the Kurdish cities of Erbil and Dohuk is one of these sites. Khenis (also Kherusa, Khanas, Khans...) dates back to the reign of the Assyrian king Sanhareeb (691 BC). In a nutshell, the site was an ancient "pumping station" feeding part of an elaborate irrigation system which led to the Assyrian capital of Ninavah (modern day Mosul) some 35KM south. There certainly would have been a time when Khenis was something great. A number of reliefs, etched into the hillside, were once quite elaborate. Everything from images of the King and Gods to Lamasu (winged bulls) to lion-shaped gargoyles. There are cuneiform inscriptions and water collecting basins. But, time has not been good to Khenis. While the wearing of time has played a major role in the deterioration of the site, Saddam's forces using the images as target practice didn't help much. This is one of those places where you need a lot of imagination to picture the site.
On the bright side, like most other similar sites in the region, Khenis is free of charge. However, a major difference between this one and others like it is there is a tour guide on hand to show you around. Although his English is very basic, he points out images and reliefs that would otherwise be rather difficult to spot on your own. As an added bonus, they even have little souvenir maps to take home, again free. The site is easy to navigate, however; there is some tricky climbing necessary if you want a close up of the cuneiform inscriptions. Generally, there is little to no information about Iraqi Kurdistan online. But there is a good write up on Khenis in Zinda Magazine. Frankly speaking, unless you're a die hard Assyrian history fan, Khenis is hardly worth the money or effort to visit. That said, it can be tied in, quite nicely, to a visit to the nearby Yazidi village and temples at Lalish.
Getting to the site can be tough. Firstly, you'll need your own car (or hired taxi) as there is no public transport in the area. As you leave the town of Shekhan (Ayn Sufni on maps) heading north, there is a definite fork in the road about 10 km out of town. Taking the left fork will bring you to Lalish. Taking the right fork will take you to Khenis. There is a sign (facing the wrong way) at the fork and another one about 7km along the road, pointing to entrance of Khenis.
In a region not exactly teeming with amazing sites, Khenis is alright. If combined with Lalish, it could actually make for a good stop. But it's hardly a life changing event.
You can read more by Joe here: http://www.joestrippin.blogspot.com/.
More by Joe ScarangellaIraq (Kurdistan Region)
Goin' without Knowin'
Fallin' in Northern Iraq
Charmed by Koya
Doublin' Up on Dohuk
Za-kho, Za-kho, Off to the Bridge I Go
Divine Lunchin' (Mar Mattai)
Shaqlawan Sugar Coatin'
Al Kosh, of Course!
A Day at the Museums (Erbil)
Parkin' it in Erbil
Suly the Sequel (Sulaymaniyah)
Duckin' into Dukan
Crackin' the Citadel (Erbil)
Takin' the High Road (Dohuk - Erbil)
Iraq's B-Side (Amedi)
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