The Erbil Party International Circuit – or EPIC as it is known – may have started as a party finder for party fiends.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Want to know where to party in Erbil, the economically booming capital of the calm and autonomous Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq? You could ask Jeremy Oliver. Or you could just join the Facebook page he set up three years ago.
The Erbil Party International Circuit – or EPIC as it is known – may have started as a party finder for party fiends. But it has grown into something much more, connecting the growing number of foreigners who have been gravitating to Erbil for jobs and businesses, with a swelling crowd of locals who had fled war and violence but are now returning home.
EPIC is the place where expats meet locals who speak English, a closed-group Facebook page where people help each other with advice and information, such as where to find a vet for a sick dog, the best place to shop for musical instruments, look for a swimming teacher or learn English.
There are also comments like, “when are the next elections going to be?” or “when America strikes Syria, how safe are we going to be in Kurdistan?”
EPIC has just picked up its three thousandth Facebook “friend,” and according to Oliver is still picking up about 100 members a week. Membership is expected to grow to 10,000.
Companies are asked to post their information. In addition, Oliver and his admin Jimmie Collins go to events and restaurants and report on them on EPIC. “When a place changes, we write about it. And for a new place, when we get invited, we will make a small review for EPIC.”
There are more Facebook pages like this (Expats in Erbil, Foreigners in Erbil), but none as active and popular as EPIC. That seems at least partly because of the many postings by the admins. “I collect the advertising material that I find on my doorstep and post what I think is interesting for the group”, Oliver explains.
The admins are also strict on online etiquette: No harassing, no verbal fighting. “Weekly. we delete tens of people because they do not abide by the rules. Some of them will be back if they promise to behave.”
Oliver has lived in Kurdistan for five years, and works in the security business; Jimmie Collins came to teach English and has recently found a job with a foreign company. Together they run a Thursday afternoon radio show on local radio, Babylon FM. “We talk of all the events in town there and point back to the EPIC page”, she says.
The page already has a number of spinoffs. One of the most important is RISE, a non-profit organisation in Erbil that is providing support to the Syrian urban refugee population. It started when EPIC members wanted to do something for the Syrian refugees. RISE helps about 400 Syrian families in Erbil. As all its activities are conducted by volunteers, all the donations end up with the refugees.
“We organise fundraisers with companies in Erbil”, says Collins. A juice bar, for instance, donates 20 percent of its Friday proceeds to charity. “In the beginning we gave the proceeds to the orphanage in Ainkawa. But now most of it goes to RISE.”
And they are not small amounts, averaging $1,000 per month, and at Christmas time going up to even $500 a week.
Another spinoff is a women’s page, WINE (Women International Network Erbil), which has almost 500 members and discusses women’s issues. The members also meet once a month for coffee.
The newest spinoffs, born in August, are DICE and SPICE. Oliver is trying to bring the success of EPIC to Duhok and Sulaimani by giving them the same kind of Facebook group. But one of the problems in those cities, he says, is that the expat communities are smaller and activities are less. Similar group pages in these two Kurdish cities are not very active.
Oliver stays optimistic. “I hope we can put all the ICE pages together, eventually. And when we have 10,000 members, it will be a very valuable tool in Iraqi Kurdistan.”