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Machko Café: Bridging The Past And Present

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You can’t visit Erbil without this famous café catching your eye. Bituated beneath the citadel for around 80 years, Machko teahouse (chaikhana in Kurdish) has been a part of the recent history of the city, and the life stories of its residents and visitors.

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While some of those visitors have been coming for many years, it’s not just a place for Erbil’s seniors; young people are attracted to the stories told within, that have “aged like a head full of grey hair”. Stories aside, the clatter of backgammon and dominos emanate from the corners.

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Yalla interrupted a game and asked the players why they go to this chaikhana. Shivan, a university student, said he goes there to have a good time with his friends. “I prefer this chaikhana to new places because it is like a platform between the past and present, and it takes us on a journey in time every time we visit.”

Even studying has a place here; Yalla met four university students sat around a table covered with books and notebooks. They said that they study at Machko because of its peace and the friendly atmosphere. One of them claimed, “The taste of the tea at Machko opens hearts”.

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You can’t visit the chaikhana without meeting one of its oldest visitors, Mama (a Kurdish honourific best translated as ‘uncle’) Hassan Ahmed. “This café means a lot to me because I spent the most beautiful days of my young life here and got to know many of my dearest friends between its walls,” he told Yalla.

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The grandson of Machko’s founder now manages the chaikhana. The rich mix of people who visit delights Mustafa; young people, tourists and women.

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He attributes the enduring popularity of Machko to the well-known visitors who work in the fields of art, literature and politics and its connection to poets, journalists and intellectuals.

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Yalla ended its tour by talking to two French journalists whose faces beamed with delight as they drank tea in the charming chaikhana.

“This is my first time in Erbil, but when I came to the bazar the café immediately grabbed my attention. I actually don’t have a lot of information about it, but from its looks I realised that it is a historic place, so I am enjoying sitting here and love the taste of the tea,” one of them said.

His friend added: “I came to Erbil two years ago, at that time I came to drink tea, smoke shisha and talk to the Kurdish journalists for many hours, I prefer this experience so much more than going to a newly built place, I come here to feel the history and the spirit of the place.”

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Since it was established in 1940 by Majid Ismael Maaroof (known as Machko), the chaikhana has grown from a simple place to sip tea, to a vital arena for political and cultural activities in the city. It is a symbol of the history and spirit of Erbil.

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