Christmas in Erbil for Iraq’s Christians

Lindsey Hilsum
Father Christmas was dancing outside the clothes shop. A gaggle of small children were watching, entranced. When the electricity was switched off, he drooped and they drifted away. All over Ankawa, the Christian enclave in Erbil, you can see signs of Christmas: outside one house we saw an orange tree with tinsel and baubles hanging amongst the fruits.
The family invited us in – their Christmas tree lights blinked on and off, and a Father Christmas stood under a continuing shower of polystyrene snowballs inside a see-through plastic bubble.
A young woman from the family told us she was studying web design at a local college. They had lived in the Kurdish capital all their lives, but dozens more Christian families arrive every week. I’m here to meet Christians who’ve fled Baghdad, because of the campaign of bombing against them. They feel safe here, and they can get jobs.
Erbil’s shiny airport, and the dozens of construction sites which litter the town, are signs of the prosperity and peace which eludes the rest of Iraq. I spotted the Hi Modern VIP shop selling wedding dresses, and an emporium boasting shoes and bags from ‘Dolce and Gabbana’. We had dinner in a vast restaurant in a new shopping complex, all shiny marble and glimmering windows.
Our driver tells me that Turkish, Kuwaiti and Egyptian money is pouring in here. Many signs are in English as well as Kurdish and Arabic. We saw people hanging baubles off Christmas trees up a small street so stopped to film and talk. As we drew closer, I could see they were Chinese. One of the women explained that they worked for a Chinese construction company, but were doing some extra work providing trees for the church. She was from Zhejiang, just near Shanghai.
I meet Chinese people like this all over the world now. They are hard-working and excited to see new places. It occurred to me that all the Christmas decorations I’ve seen here were made in China. Erbil is a safe haven for Christians, and a new frontier in the globalised world.
Christmas in Erbil for Iraq’s Christians