Iraq Women Treasure Map-Shaped Necklaces

Iraq Women Treasure Map-Shaped Necklaces
September 3rd, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Iraq Women Treasure Map-Shaped Necklaces

Iraq Women Treasure Map-Shaped Necklaces
Media: The Associated Press
Date: 02 September 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq_Roba al-Asaly fingers the sliver of gold on her necklace and
explains that it reminds her of a place "that's not there anymore."

The gold is shaped like the map of Iraq, and at a time when sectarian
violence has fanned fears of civil war, it has become a gesture of defiance
and of yearning for national unity.

It is seen on the streets and on television. Anchorwomen wear it while
reading the news on Al-Iraqiya and Al-Sharqiya, Iraqi TV stations that are
secular and more tolerant of women's jewelry.

"I hold on to it with my hand as if I'm holding on to the country I once
knew," said al-Asaly, a 26-year-old Shiite Muslim accountant. "A place where
people were not identified by their sect, a place where bombs didn't go off
every other minute."

The map necklaces, in gold or silver, were on sale here even before the fall
of Saddam Hussein in 2003, but gained popularity in the months after the
U.S.-led invasion. Now, as sectarian violence intensifies, jeweler Rafaa Ali
says his shop in central Baghdad makes about 3,000 a week and can barely
meet demand.

"It's like the more abnormal the situation becomes, the more demand
increases," Ali said.

The necklaces cost the equivalent of $15 in silver, and $100 in gold. In
neighboring Jordan and Syria, where hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have
fled to escape the violence, they serve as beacons bringing exiles together.

The pendants took on greater meaning after the slaying of 30-year-old Atwar
Bahjat, a correspondent for the Arab satellite news network Al-Arabiya.

Bahjat, a Sunni, wore a veil on the air, along with a map necklace. She was
abducted along with her cameraman and technician Feb. 22 while reporting on
the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.
Their bullet-riddled bodies were found the next day.

Many women started wearing map necklaces in tribute to Bahjat's memory.

Some fear that with the country sliding toward possible division, their
necklaces may become collectors' items.

"Who knows how long Iraq will remain looking like this?" said Asmaa Hassan
Ali, a Sunni 24-year-old graduate of Baghdad University.

"Frankly, it's a pretty piece of jewelry," she said. "It's also my way of
showing how I love my country the way it is and I want it to stay like that:

Basma al-Khateeb, who used to run the Iraqi operation of the United Nations
Development Fund for Women, said, "It's the threat that everyone senses is
coming _ tearing the land and people of Iraq apart."

She always wears her map necklace, and talking about it sets her off on a
long discussion of what's wrong with Iraq and its newly elected leaders, and
her conviction that wherever there is conflict, women are the natural
victims, "trying hard to secure their family's land."

For Santa Michael, a correspondent for Ashour, the Christian TV broadcaster,
wearing the map is her way of making a political protest.

"Officials now speak in the name of their sects, not in the name of the
country," she said. "Whenever I say my name and people say, 'Oh, you must be
Christian,' I show my pendant and say: 'I'm Iraqi.'"

Michael says when people see her necklace they give her a thumbs-up and say
"Afiya," which loosely translates as "Bravo."

Her mother urged her to stop wearing it after Bahjat's slaying and after the
February kidnapping of another woman TV correspondent, Reem Zaeed, who also
was wearing a map necklace when she was snatched. Her whereabouts remain

"But I refuse to take it off," Michael said. "They will be taking it off my
body after I die."

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