Interviewer: We would be glad if you tell us anything, or about any event.

Samiramees: Those from Iran?

Interviewer: Anything that you would like to talk about; for instance the differences between now and then, or things you have done, anything you would like to say.

Samiramees: I got married in 1974, and in the same year we immigrated to Iran. Before reaching Iran, we stayed in Shekhan village for a month, then after Saddam bombed the Korek Mountain, we were obliged to go to Kazhak village. After a month and a half there, Baa’s forces had occupied Diana. Again, we had to go to Garwabesh village on foot or via horses. There we stayed for a day and because there were Peshmaga forces there, we were told that we had to leave because the aircraft wanted to bomb the village. We moved to Haji-Omran at the Iran- Iraq border. Then the Red Cross organization helped us to go to Iran.

At first we stayed in Maragha village for four days, then the Red Cross helped us to go to Babek camps and we stayed there for a year. We got all the supplies that we needed from the Red Cross. Then the Baa’s regime issued amnesty and we returned home via Qasir Shireen. There we settled in Kathr and our place was surrounded by fenced wire so no one could get in or out. We stayed there for a day then they brought us to Hawler. Then we returned to our village.

At that time, the government had given us some materials to construct a room, the materials consisted of some wood and a window frame. At that time Diana village had been destroyed, burnt and plundered by soldiers and strangers. We started to reconstruct our village with the materials we got, but after a while, because of the Iran-Iraq war, many people emigrated to Iran, Turkey and other countries. Some of them returned after the Iran-Iraq war and some still stayed there.

Our misery did not end there, though. In less than few years, the Gulf war occurred and we went through economic sanctions that lasted several years. Therefore, many of our relatives emigrated and went abroad again. We have been through a lot during the rules of the past Iraqi regimes.

Our happiest days were after the Autonomy Accord on 11 March, 1970 which lasted only four years. On that day, people were extremely happy. Men, women and soldiers were celebrating together in the streets. During these four years we lived very securely and happily. Four years later, the government rejected the Accord and they started oppressing people. Also Baa’ths men were in Diana and we could not go out from our houses because of the soldiers and their followers. And now, thank God, we and other minorities are living restfully, freely and happily in Kurdistan.

During the eighties and seventies, we as Assyrians lived in harmony with the Kurds, the Christians and the Muslims. Whether rich or poor, we shared each other’s happiness and sorrow.

Interviewer: You mean things are different from past?

Samiramees: Yes, of course things are different. Now living is not pleasant. Now, with my respect for some, rich people look down on poor ones. In the past people were equal. But now there are religious and class distinctions. In the past there were no such differences; for instance, during Eid or feasts people all celebrated together and wished each other happy feast. At that time, there was a mullah called Mullah Othman who used to visit the Bishop, Abuna MayuKhna. They were calling each other using respectful words. The mullah was calling the Bishop Sir Abuna and he would answer Mulla do not call me sir, I have to call you sir. This shows that there were no such differences, people treated each other equally, life was excellent. But nowadays these distinctions can be noticed. We cannot go to mosque. They will say that we are Christians and are not allowed to go there. But in the past, things were different.

I remember that in the past, each woman used to lead a group of women who visited people’s houses during their happy or sorrowful occasions. Whenever they wanted to go to a wedding party, they would collect money for the bride and the groom and give it to the oldest member of the group. The oldest person would then give it to the bride as a gift, but now this tradition no longer exists. Can I talk about my wedding party?

Interviewer: Yes, of course.

Samiramees: A day before the wedding party, the bride had to go from her father’s house to the house where the wedding would be taking place. The groom had to stand on the roof with some of his friends and welcome the bride and those who were invited to the party. The groom would hold an apple, make a cross sign, then throw it to the crowd. At first one of his friends would catch the apple. Then the groom had to pick another apple, make a cross sign, then throw it among the invited people. According to the old tradition, the person who catches the apple first will marry soon. After the celebration, the bride had to go to the house of the bridesmaid and spend the night there. The day after, along with dancing and singing, the bride had to go to church to attend the holy ceremony of marriage that had been arranged by religious men in which many relatives of the bride and the groom participated. After the ceremony, everyone had to go to the groom’s house. Along the way, they would be singing and playing drums and flutes, Kurdish dol and Zurna.

On the same day, the bride’s relatives had to come to the party. People welcomed them by singing and applauding. They brought with them the bride’s bag, which was called Jahaz, and was full of clothes and make-up and a tray. They usually put sweets and gifts on the tray. After they were warmly welcomed, they were taken into a comfortable place and they had to be served. People themselves had to prepare food for the party. On the third day, the religious men had to come to the party with the presence of the bride’s relatives and again they would have a party, which was usually more amazing than previous days. When seven days passed, the bride would be invited to her parents’ house.

The wedding parties were really amazing, because things were done fairly and equally without differences. But now these traditions no longer exist. Now wedding parties happen in a day and take pace inside a hall.

When I got married, my wedding party lasted for three days.

Interviewer: Was it a love marriage?

Samiramees: Mine was a love marriage. In our culture, girls usually chose the boys they wanted to marry without being forced to marry someone else. When I stepped out of my parents’ house, I started crying and all the people started crying too. At that time, men and women sat in separate rooms. I was wearing a white dress and I kissed my uncle’s hands because he was a Bishop, then I kissed my father’s hands. My father asked me to stop holding a stick, because at that time I was still a child and I was a very disobedient child. I used to beat children. We used to be a group of children and we went to people’s gardens and stole stuff like fruit. I also beat people’s children.

When they walked me out from my parents’ home, they walked with me all the way to the house where the party was and they were dancing and playing zurna and drums until we reached the place. The groom threw the first apple, his friend caught it, then he threw the second and the third ones, other people among the crowd caught them.

According to tradition those who caught the apples would marry earlier. Before I got married, I caught the thrown apple from one of my friend’s wedding party and soon I got married, and a man nearby told me that the apple should be given to him, but I refused, I said ‘I got it first and I was the owner’. Then I had to sleep at the house of the bridesmaid for one night, it was like a tradition. Then, the next morning I woke up and I prepared myself and wore the wedding dress and went to church, then to the bride’s house.

In the past, Peshmargas could not come to Diana. My husband was Peshmarga with Nerwayi. At my wedding party, all Peshmargas came to a square, which was an empty place and danced there. I went with a female friend to see the dancing. The second day, I was prepared and we went to church and then we returned to the groom’s house. Because my mother was dead at the time, my relatives came with me.

Interviewer: Can you talk about your family, your mother, how she died? Your childhood? What was it like?

Samiramees: Children then are different from children nowadays. There were not many houses around in those days, especially in the surroundings of Diana town. After breakfast, children would go out and play outside. But now children have nowhere to play, because houses are built everywhere. Besides, our children are afraid to get bullied and beaten by Muslim children.

When I was a child, we used to go to the surroundings of Diana and played together until lunchtime. After lunch we would go out again and play until the evening. Finally, we would return home, then we would wash our faces and take some rest and the next day we would prepare ourselves to school. But nowadays children are kept at home and even if they want to play indoors they will be asked to keep quiet.

Interviewer: You said that your mother died at a young age, can you tell us who raised you?

Samiramees: I remember I was a teenager when my mother died of cancer. My younger brother, who is now living in Sweden, had not started walking yet and I did not know how to raise him, but I raised him anyway until he grew up. I had another brother who was mentally disabled. When we fled to Iran, to Shaqlawa and to other places, he was with me; I took care of him. Then he passed away. Apart from them, I have two other brothers whom I adopted and I also helped them in arranging for their marriages. When I was given the responsibility of looking after the disabled child, I did not know anything about adopting a child, because I spent most of my childhood playing and picking fruits with children my age, but there was a woman in our neighborhood who came and taught me many things, I was only about 14 years old.

One of my brothers was studying in Erbil and then finished college in Baghdad. The other brother reached high school, and another one was just about to finish high school when he was asked to join the armed forces and he was sent to Ahwaz region. When he returned home, I did not let him go back to duty again. He fled to Iran and then to Sweden. Thus, I have raised all my brothers.

I’ve been really tired throughout my life. After I got married, my father-in-law let me out from their house and a year after my marriage we went to my father’s house. I was with my husband and we had a son and the same year we fled to Iran. I have been through a lot, taking care of my family. After I got married, we lived with our in-laws for a year then they asked us to leave the house. At that time I had only a son. We left and moved to my father’s house, then, as I mentioned before, we emigrated in 1974.

Interviewer: Thank you very much. Can you explain about yourself, your bravery, what it means to you? What do you want to tell other women?

Samiramees: I hope that women will be brave and active so as to be able to overcome the difficulties of life and raise a successful and educated generation for their country.

In Diana, there were Christians and they used to grow crops. But now Kurdish people who came and settled in Diana took those lands and built houses on them. We used to grow stuff on those lands and we did not need to buy things from the bazaar. We got most of our food supplies from those fields; we only bought meat from the bazaar. There was a man called Azad, we usually bought meat from him. Also Kurds from Sidakan village hunted partridges and we bought these partridges and cooked them, they were really delicious. Thus, we grew everything like tomatoes and aubergines, and harvested them by ourselves.

Back in our days, we did not have electricity. We used kerosene and gas lamps for weaving and knitting. We also used them for making dough. We had a tandoor clay oven and made tandoor bread early morning. This was the way of life then, but unfortunately all the lands and properties that we owned have been taken from us by the Kurds and nothing is left for us. Nowadays, we buy all our supplies from the bazaar and things we buy are tasteless, this is due to losing our lands.