Weaving Project Revives Traditions, Empowers Kurdish Women

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17 June 2008

The Kurdish Textile Museum in Irbil has launched a new program aimed atcreating job opportunities for women, while reviving traditionalKurdish weaving skills. VOA's Suzanne Presto in Irbil attended theopening ceremony for the program that gives elderly tribal weavers thechance to teach their skills to younger women and create textiles tosell.  

Shiler Hamadamin Aziz passes the yarn between the loom'sthreads with ease, her feet working the wooden pedals. She is makingwhat appears to be a shawl, and it lengthens millimeter by millimeterwith each pass. The 28-year-old Kurdish woman looks as if she has beendoing this for years.

But Aziz has only been at this for twoweeks, under the attentive eye of Zara Qadir Hussein, a Kurdish womanwho has been making traditional textiles for more than 30 years.

Azizis one of 16 young weavers participating in the Women's IncomeGeneration Training Project at the Kurdish Textile Museum in Irbil'sCitadel.

The program was conceived by Lolan Cipan, the museum'sfounder and director. Cipan's passion for Kurdish textiles began whenhe was child, watching his grandmother as she would weave rugs.

"Ihave been working to revive Kurdish handicrafts, particularly textiles,for many, many years," said Cipan. "So, I have these nomadic old women,they have been working for me for many years at their homes.  And Ithought because they are very old and they get sick very often, so Ithought to bring them here to Citadel and to transfer the weavingskills to younger generations."  

He says the goal of theproject is two-fold, to give women income-generating opportunitieswhile reviving traditional Kurdish weaving. Cipan says the art oftextile making is vanishing from Kurdistan, and master weavers aredifficult to find.

"Actually, very very few. You can say it has totally died out now," he said.

Cipan'sproject is being funded by the United States Embassy through theRegional Reconstruction Team in Irbil, which gave almost $80,000 to theprogram. Cipan says that money will provide salaries for the novicesand the experts through the end of this year.  

Ultimately, hesaid, the goal is for program to become self-sustaining with therevenue generated from selling the finished carpets, blankets, andwoolen socks and hats in the Textile Museum's gift shop.

TheU.S. Regional Coordinator, Jess Baily, says insecurity and SaddamHussein's ethnic cleansing campaign known as Anfal, played a major rolein the demise of weaving.

"Sadly, the decades of civil strifeand Anfal in the region have uprooted much of this tradition, destroyedthe economic basis for it, and left it, if you will, down to adwindling few who know how to weave and carry on the crafts of theirancestors," said Baily.

Baily added that similar programs thatpreserve culture and provide income to women from non-urban areas havebeen successful in neighboring countries.

Irbil's Governor,Nazhad Hadi, said from an economic standpoint this project will notgenerate a lot of money. But he emphasized that from a culturalstandpoint, the project is an excellent step toward reviving Kurdishtraditions.

But in Cipan's efforts to revive traditional weaving, he encountered some cultural traditions that hampered his efforts.

"Someof the families, they would not allow their daughters or mothers to goto weave in a public place," he said. "So, now I see them, and they arevery happy and they work."

New weaver Aziz says she is veryhappy at work. She says she was drawn to weaving at the massive woodenloom only because she liked the brightly colored yarns her teacher,Hussein, had skillfully strung out. But now the pretty brunette in herdeep-red Kurdish dress says weaving is a skill and tradition she cansee herself carrying on for a long time to come.  

Aziz says she finds satisfaction in carrying on her history while learning a marketable skill.

Hussein says it is a skill that has been, and must be, passed down through the generations.

And,as an expert who has been weaving alongside her husband for decades,who also passed that skill on to her own two children, Hussein says itis a skill that will always be in demand.

So the two womenreturn to their centuries' old work. Aziz goes back to her loom asHussein spins and twirls a red spool of yarn until it is fine enough tobe woven into Aziz's piece.