"Those rocks had stood there since before the birth of the first Kurdishman, would they not stay yet another thousand years? 'The ... engineer is just a little mad,' they said, 'but otherwise harmless; let him alone and see what happens.'" - the opinion of the local tribesmen on Hamilton's labors to build his road
"I looked and was satisfied that all was as it should be, and signaled to the men that it was done. And up from the depths of the canyon there arose the exultant roar of men's voices that reached almost to the mountain-tops." - Hamilton's recollection of the moment when the Rowanduz River Gorge was successfully bridged
After the First World War, the League of Nations assigned the subject territories and overseas colonies of the vanquished nations to the governmental administration of the victors. Such lands were known as "mandates." Mesopotamia (Iraq), formerly a province of the Ottoman Empire, was given to the United Kingdom as a Class A Mandate, and the U.K. administered the area from 1920 to 1932, when Iraq itself became a member of the League.
In 1927, New Zealand-born and trained civil engineer, Archibald Milne Hamilton, was sent to Mesopotamia as part of the Public Works Department. Soon after his arrival, he was given sole responsibility for completion of the Arbil-Rowanduz road through the mountains of Kurdistan, an area heretofore inaccessible by motor transport and barely so by animal caravan. The most daunting obstacle to the road's completion was the dramatically rugged Rowanduz River Gorge, through which the paved highway needed to be constructed. It took Hamilton four years to do it, but it was ultimately a miracle of contemporary engineering.
ROAD THROUGH KURDISTAN is Hamilton's personal account of the project's undertaking and achievement.
Written in the matter-of-fact, detailed, markedly lucid (and always engaging) style that one might expect from a trained engineer, Hamilton's narrative is of a job well-done with a multinational workforce drawn from historically antagonistic factions and amidst terribly difficult terrain and always-dodgy tribal support. Occasionally - and all too infrequently by my mind - the author displays a dry wit, as when he describes the process of calculating his workmen's pay:
"I sat in my little tent, and computed the amounts due to each man according to his attendance and his rate of pay, while scorpions and large brown beetles clinging to the sides of the tent took stock of my columns of figures."
Though arguments can and will rage over the benefits, or lack thereof, of imperialism in general to the lands and societies of the ruled, there can be little argument, I think, that Hamilton and his road represents British imperialism at its finest. The King could never have stood prouder than after the service of this fair-minded, generous, and extremely capable servant of the Empire. Honor is due.
ROAD THROUGH KURDISTAN contains thirty-three photographs and two maps.
And, for those so interested, the author's observations about the Kurdish people will perhaps serve as the beginning of an appreciation for the nature, strength, and resilience of their independent spirit which has proved so problematic for their neighbors - the Iraqis, Iranians and Turks - who even today would wish to bring them to heel, but can't.