“ISIS isn’t the main reason why Christians are leaving Iraq now,” says Elizabeth Sana. “It’s lack of work.” She is the supervisor of a women’s project in Aradin, a picturesque Christian village in Kurdistan, northern Iraq. Mosul, only 93 miles away, seems another world in this pure mountain air.
Since 2003, when Christians became a target for al-Qaeda, this village with hills that each spring are clad in emerald green, has provided a haven for Iraqis, whether Chaldean Catholics or Orthodox. “It is paradise,” says our taxi driver, as a rosary jangles over his windscreen mirror. There’s one problem, he adds glumly: “No jobs.”
Local men, sustained by handouts from Iraqi relations abroad, scrape by with odd jobs. Since July, however, a portion of Aradin’s 170-odd women have been earning $150 a month – equivalent to four weeks’ rent – for stitching aprons and hemming handbags.
Chatting in Neo-Aramaic, they ply their needles in a one-storey house on a hillside, sitting on red plastic chairs below an image of the Holy Family. “I asked the women what they wanted to do,” says Dr Amal Marogy, the founder of the Aradin Charitable Trust, sponsor of the workshops. She has been selling their wares in England. “Now they want to open a shop.”
Marogy is a blue-eyed linguist who left Iraq aged 18. Her father was from Aradin. Now she is a researcher in Neo-Aramaic at Cambridge. “Aradin is Aramaic for the Garden of Eden,” she says. It is easy to see why. Walnut trees dot the churchyard, a riot of cherries, apricots, and figs grow here each summer. This fertile beauty caught the eye of Saddam Hussein, who, shortly before invading Kuwait in 1990, began to build a palace here. When he was deposed in 2003, violence erupted against Christians. Priests were killed and girls snatched off Baghdad’s streets. “We left after my brother-in-law was kidnapped and a ransom of $70,000 requested,” says Sana.
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