"While it is good to appreciate the weaving, there is another aspect to highlighting the art from this region. The Kurdish people face the threat their culture may disappear altogether. Iran-Iraq war in Kurdish land, Arabization [moving the Kurdish people out of communities and Arab people in] and Anfal (the genocidal campaign waged against Kurdish people by the ex-Iraqi regime) destroying more than 4,000 Kurdish villages, forcefully resettling nomadic and settled tribes as well as millions of mines planted throughout Kurdistan, banning of agricultural planting and breeding herds, have all contributed to the devastation of this culture and its economy.
This extermination of a way of life continues due to the bombing and shelling that is happening in the border regions from Turkey and Iran. Villagers are leaving the villages as internally displaced persons during the bombing season (from planting to harvest). Many do return to their homes but many give up and leave for good, heading to the larger centres and cities.
But, when we visited the small Christian Assyrian village of Merkagia , near the Turkish border, I spied a tattered patchwork quilt in an empty house that the female team members were staying in. I grabbed it and asked a neighbour about it. She said that the old women used to make such things, but now everyone wants store bought blankets so no one makes them anymore. Our host, N, overheard our conversation and asked me if I would like such a blanket. He went into his cupboard and brought out a much nicer specimen and offered it to me. I was very excited and gratefully received it. Technically, it is not a quilt, as it only has 2 layers, but I think that it is beautiful.
The first patchwork blanket that I found
The blanket that I was given by N.
Then, a few days later I spent a week in Ranya. There I had time and quiet to work on my Kurdish. I discovered that my friend Nishtiman has a sister who has been a seamstress for 12 years. Her main income comes from sewing traditional Kurdish dresses. When I said that I had been looking for a way to get a traditional Kurdish dress for my daughter she volunteered to cut out the dresses for me (they do not have patterns, but know how to cut the fabric according to measurements). So I went out to find fabric for two dresses and she cut it out for me one evening.
Sharaban measuring the main part of the dress.
Sharaban also makes the informal dresses like she is wearing.
I think that she and other Kurdish tailors and seamstresses are very talented in saving the traditional ways of sewing their traditional clothes. She does use a sewing machine but all cutting is done with a measuring tape and scissors.
Then, a week later I was invited to visit an agricultural exhibition. Most of the exhibitions were of honey, but there was an example of salmon fishery, grains and fertilizers and in one stand a loom was set up with goats hair to weave the traditional fabric for men's suits. The cloth is around 6-7 inches wide and these strips are sewen together to create very traditional suits. He said that they cost $1,200 to buy as they are so labour intensive.
Finally, in a mountain village, Sunneh, that has experienced shelling this summer and fall, I saw an example of a student's handwork. This is an example of the kind of embroidery that has been done in the past. May this kind of learning continue.
PS. To my sewing friends. I will be making a bag for Sharaban to give her on my next trip. However, I would also like to bring her some sort of sewing item that she would be not able to get here. This would have to be something that would continue to be useable (eg. not a cutter and mat as she would not be able to get new blades here.) Any ideas?