Dressing Bakhdeda

Anisa travels to Bakhdeda, Iraq

By Anisa Mehdi / August 12, 2023

Dressing Bakhdeda

Sliwa Abba (left) and Anisa Mehdi (right) at the Bakhdeda Heritage Museum

I arrived in Bakhdeda (also known as Al Hamdaniya, or Qaraqosh) in early April to meet with partners on our cultural heritage preservation projects. Written ܒܝܬ ܟܘܕܝܕܐ in Syriac, Bakhdeda is an Assyrian city in the Nineveh Governorate, located close to the ruins of the ancient cities of Nimrud and Nineveh, and only about 32km southeast of Mosul. 

In Bakhdeda, we explored the Syriac Catholic culture in which women wore an apron-like overlayer called a shal, that with time became more and more ornate with hand-embroidered symbols of family, faith, and most recently, representations of streets of the city that were stormed by Daesh (ISIS), as a way to remember the past. The annual Palm Sunday parade is a show of civic unity: women garbed in historic and modern embroidered shals that proclaimed resilience. 

Everywhere are memorials of the Daesh invasion. Every church has a display case. The belfry of the Church of Sts. Behnam and Sarah was toppled and the church chose to leave it down, symbolizing the fragility of life. The courtyard of the Immaculate Church, where Pope Francis spoke in March 2021, is pocked with bullet holes. Daesh took up target practice there using mannequins. 

Heritage has helped the community heal. Small museums have sprung up in houses that survived the assault. Immaculate Church, the largest Syriac Church in Iraq, was rebuilt in time for the Pope’s visit, and was gussied up for Palm Sunday. The church has supported much of Bakhdeda's rebuilding and repaving, stepping in where the government has not.

With funding from the ALIPH Foundation, API is partnering with the Assyrian Aid Society - Iraq, a non-profit organization based in Dohuk researching and producing a series of short films focused on Syriac Catholic embroidery in Bakhdeda. Featured in the films will be interviews with textile workers highlighting their family history, the evolution of designs, the role of the market and agriculture in production, and the impact of the Daesh invasion on this piece of heritage.

For more information about this project, take a look at our June 2023 webinar where we’re joined by project manager, Baraa Jabbo!

Mannequins wearing old shals from the Syriac Heritage Musem | Photo by Anisa Mehdi
The townspeople of Bakhdeda celebrate Palm Sunday in traditionally embroidered garb | Photo by Anisa Mehdi