Syria’s last weavers aban­don looms with­out thread

‘Ariha is the most well-known in mak­ing this prod­uct’

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

With the deft­ness of decades of ex­pe­ri­ence, Abu Mo­ham­mad wove thick green thread with a wooden loom in north­west Syria, cre­at­ing a vi­brant geo­met­ric pat­tern renowned among Ara­bic tex­tiles. It was the last day be­fore the weaver in his 50s would be forced to close the work­shop, leav­ing the last five re­main­ing looms in his home­town of Ariha in Idlib prov­ince to gather dust. “This trade is dead now... To­day is our last day of work on the loom, as we don’t have any more thread,” the bald­ing man told AFP.

Weav­ing has been dev­as­tated by Syria’s five-year civil war, with thread be­com­ing too dif­fi­cult to pro­cure from Alep­poonce the coun­try’s ar­ti­sanal hub but now rav­aged by fight­ing and bom­bard­ment. The bat­tered city, 70 kilo­me­ters (45 miles) north­east of Ariha, was the main provider of the rough thread needed to weave Ara­bic tex­tiles, ver­sa­tile fab­rics turned into rugs, fur­ni­ture cov­ers, and other house­hold items. But now Aleppo’s rebel-held east­ern dis­tricts are be­sieged by gov­ern­ment forces, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to ob­tain thread from there, and ma­te­ri­als from the regime-con­trolled west are too ex­pen­sive, Abu Mo­ham­mad said. On his last day, he worked as en­thu­si­as­ti­cally as he had since his teenage years, pulling down wooden levers to lay down col­or­ful acrylic fi­bre across a white base. The sound of the pan­els smack­ing against each other was in­ter­rupted only by Abu Mo­ham­mad’s nasal singing, or a brief tea break with fel­low weavers re­clin­ing on a shabby couch.

‘All we have left’

“Ariha, in Idlib prov­ince, is the most well-known in mak­ing this prod­uct,” said Abu Mo­ham­mad, ges­tur­ing to the green-and-red blan­kets and pil­low cases hang­ing on the wall be­hind him. “We make all house­hold items, from rugs for bed­rooms to cov­ers for the Qu­ran. We would fur­nish en­tire houses.” “Be­fore the war, there were more than 100 looms in Ariha, but the only ones left are the ones in this shop,” he said. As the siege on Aleppo’s east tight­ened and ac­cess to thread be­came more dif­fi­cult, only three looms in the Ariha work­shop re­mained ac­tive. “Be­fore the war, our trade was boom­ing. We could buy thread for pen­nies from Aleppo,” Abu Mo­ham­mad said.

He pulled out a small box con­tain­ing dozens of spools of col­or­ful thread: “This is all we have left.” To­day, a kilo­gram (around two pounds) of the blend of cot­ton and polyester used for the tex­tiles costs 3,500 Syr­ian pounds ($7), up from 175 pounds be­fore the war. Abu Mo­ham­mad points to a rug hang­ing on the wall: “Be­fore, I could make this whole rug with just 200 Syr­ian pounds.” An­other life­long weaver, 40year-old Abu Mostafa, said he be­gan work­ing a loom when he was about 12.

He tried to find sta­ble work in a dif­fer­ent field but never felt com­fort­able do­ing any­thing ex­cept weav­ing, he said, as he pumped the wooden pan­els be­low his loom. “I went to Le­banon and worked in con­struc­tion and then to Turkey for a few months, but I couldn’t hold any job that kept me away from a loom for too long.” ‘It’s a shame’ Abu Mostafa beamed with pride as he rem­i­nisced about the robes and pil­low cov­ers he would pro­duce. “No one else could make the pieces we made. They looked as if they were printed,” he said. “I chal­lenge any com­puter to make some­thing like this!” The prod­ucts from rebel-held Ariha were once sold across Syria. Even as the war raged on, they were ex­ported to ar­eas con­trolled by regime forces like Da­m­as­cus and Hama, as well as re­gional mar­kets like Le­banon and Saudi Ara­bia.

But to­day trans­port­ing the wo­ven goods-whether in or out­side Syria-takes be­tween two and three months and is ex­or­bi­tantly ex­pen­sive. “We used to send our prod­ucts to Da­m­as­cus at 10:00 am and they would get there by 2:00 pm,” Abu Mo­ham­mad said. De­spite the pres­sures, Ara­bic tex­tile pro­duc­tion will re­sume even­tu­ally, the vet­eran weaver in­sisted. If there was enough thread, “we could work 100 looms at once. The looms are all ready, we just need the thread.” “It’s a shame it’s go­ing to end like this.”

‘I chal­lenge any com­puter to make some­thing like this!’

A Syr­ian weaver works on a loom at a work­shop.

Syr­ian weaver Abu Mo­ham­mad dis­plays an un­fin­ished car­pet at a work­shop in the vil­lage of Ariha. — AFP pho­tos

Abu Ahmed works on a weav­ing loom at a work­shop in the vil­lage of Ariha.

Syr­ian weavers work on looms at a work­shop.

A Syr­ian weaver spins thread at a work­shop.

Syr­ian weavers work on looms at a work­shop.

Syr­ian weaver Abu Mo­ham­mad (left) works on a loom at a work­shop in the vil­lage of Ariha.

Abu Mo­hammed (sec­ond left) sits with his col­leagues Abu Mostafa (sec­ond right) and Abu Ahmed dur­ing a break at a weav­ing work­shop.

A gen­eral view shows threads at a weav­ing work­shop in the vil­lage of Ariha.

A gen­eral view shows a weav­ing loom at a work­shop in the vil­lage of Ariha.

Syr­ian weavers Abu Mostafa (front) and Abu Mo­ham­mad work on looms at a work­shop.

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