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Weaving A Brighter Future Written By Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018

Khazal, Ibtisam and Flous were total strangers before ISIL attacked their villages near the Yazidi town of Sinjar in 2014. Four years later, these internally displaced persons live in Khanke, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where they work together in Khanke’s Carpet Factory. They have formed strong bonds of friendship, sharing their joys and sorrow while weaving carpets for a brighter future.

“We take comfort in each other’s company here. We work together. We laugh together, and sometimes we pour out our hearts out to each other,” says Khazal, a 57-year-old woman from Til Ezeir, south of Sinjar, who fled in 2014 with her family. “We all come here to work and earn money to support our families.”
Khazal was one of the trainers who trained the other YAzidi women on wool processing. Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018

Established in 2018 by IOM, the UN Migration Agency, with the financial support of the German Federal State of Baden-Württemberg, the aim of the carpet factory is to increase economic and social opportunities for vulnerable women and to contribute to sustainable local economic development.

“The project aims to integrate Kurdish wool and carpet products into the local value chain and to facilitate the distribution of manufactured products in the local market. We are focusing on Kurdish carpets for now, but we hope to produce kilims [flat-woven carpets] at the factory in the future,” said Bradly Mellicker, IOM Iraq’s Return and Recovery Coordinator. “In addition to the women working in the factory, the project will also benefit local farmers, weavers, wool-spinners and other entrepreneurs dealing with raw wool and wool products in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.”
Some of the women process wool only, while others weave the threads into carpets. Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018
Yazidi women during a vocational training. Sarah Ali/UN Migration Agency, 2018
Wool is processed and spun by hand at the Khanke Carpet Factory. Sarah Ali/UN Migration Agency, 2018.

Having fled Sinjar, the women had escaped the fate befallen thousands of other Yazidi women at the hands of ISIL from slavery to sexual abuse; but not the trauma, nor the difficult reality of unemployment. Yazidi families are in urgent need of employment opportunities because they are unable to return home due to ongoing security concerns, damage to their homes and public infrastructure and the lack of adequate services.

Damage to homes and infrastructure caused by heavy fighting is one of the main reasons why many Yazidis from the Sinjar area cannot return home. Nima Tamaddon/UN Migration Agency, 2018
Damage to homes and infrastructure caused by heavy fighting is one of the main reasons why many Yazidis from the Sinjar area cannot return home. Nima Tamaddon/UN Migration Agency, 2018
“Each married woman here has seven to nine children. These children have expenses, they need clothes. They need to go to school. I come here to support my family but also to get out of the house and engage in an activity that helps me forget the painful memories of being forced to leave our homes, and the trauma of losing loved ones,” says Flous, who fled from Tel Qassim, a village north of Sinjar.
Flous goes to the carpet factory five days per week to process and spin wool, and to socialize with the other women. Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018
Flous goes to the carpet factory five days per week to process and spin wool, and to socialize with the other women. Sarah Ali/UN Migration Agency, 2018

A childcare area is available in the factory for women while they work and a recreational centre and a café provide members of the displaced and host community with safe spaces to meet and socialize.

Nasma enjoys playing with the building blocks while her mother works at the carpet factory. Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018
Sarah Ali/UN Migration Agency, 2018

The women are part of a 30-member all-female team who were trained in wool processing, carpet manufacturing and business development. Many are internally displaced. Out of the 30, eight are sole breadwinners for their families.

“In three months of training, I learned a lot and I really enjoyed it,” says Ibtisam, a mother of five, who was displaced from Khanasor village, northwest of Sinjar. “I earn an income from this carpet factory, and this has improved the living conditions of my family. We are comfortable here. We are working and we are safe.”
Ibtisam, a mother of five children, has been living in displacement since 2014. Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018.

Safety is particularly important for Yazidi girls and women because they live with the psychological trauma of the 2014 attacks on the Yazidi communities in the Sinjar area, where many female Yazidis were captured by ISIL and forced into slavery, sexual exploitation and violent abuse; many of them also lost loved ones.

Ibtisam and her family took refuge on Sinjar mountain for seven days in August 2014, surrounded by ISIL from all directions. They finally managed to cross over to north eastern Syria; from there, they entered Iraq again and made it to the city of Duhok. There, Ibtisam managed to generate some income for her family by making sweets to sell in the camps and by working as a cook, but it wasn’t enough.

Yazidis girls in the traditional Yazidi outfit performed during the carpet factory opening ceremony. Sarah Ali/UN Migration Agency, 2018
During the 2014 ISIL attacks on Sinjar, thousands of Yazidis fled to the mountain. Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018
Thousands of people are still too afraid to leave the mountain, preferring living in tents on Sinjar’s plateau, rather than returning to their villages. Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018
Many have nothing at all; their savings have been depleted, their homes looted and destroyed, and their livelihoods, wiped out, and are in need of support. Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018

The factory opened in mid-July and the women are producing their first carpets. As an initial phase, IOM will be supporting the women with a US$300 monthly salary for six months until the factory is efficient and fully running, before handing it over to a private partner. A bazar will be organized in December to showcase, and sell, the products the women have made.

Khanke Carpet Factory was opened on 25 June 2018. Sarah Ali/UN Migration Agency, 2018.
Layla is one of the 15 members of the host community of Khanke who were trained alongside 15 displaced women on wool processing and weaving. Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018.

Most of the women selected for the carpet factory project had some previous experience with wool processing or weaving. Yazidi women are known for producing unique handicrafts.

“Yazidi women are skilled in tailoring, weaving, knitting, and producing crafts by themselves,” says Flous. “This is what makes this factory a good project. We do what we do best.”
“I always wanted to do something different, something that is a craft,” said Shayma, a Yazidi girl from the host community in Khanke. “I learned how to design and weave carpets during the training sessions. I have just finished a carpet with the picture of Lalish temple. I’m very proud of it.”
Shayma, another girl working at the factory is very proud of making her first carpet; she is looking forward to making more. Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018.
Samples of small carpets that the women and girls made at the carpet factory. Sarah Ali/UN Migration Agency, 2018.
On the right, the carpet depicts the image of the Yazidi temple of Lalish - made by Shayma. Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018.

The facility provides a safe space for women to engage in commercial and social activities, assisting in their psychological recovery from the trauma they have suffered.

“Most of the displaced persons are mentally exhausted because of what they have gone through as well as their displacement, especially with nothing to do in the camps,” said Flous. “My mind can relax a little when I come to the factory and work.”
The women can take a break and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee at the cafeteria. Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018.
The women can take a break and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee at the cafeteria. Raber Y. Aziz/UN Migration Agency, 2018.

While most of the women long to return to their home villages, their current priorities are to provide for their families, send their children to school, and address their own psychological needs to alleviate stress resulting from living in displacement. The carpet factory has become the sanctuary where these needs are met.

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Raber Aziz
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Written by Raber Aziz. Photos by Raber Aziz, Sarah Ali and Nima Tamaddon

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