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A Kurdish wedding celebration in Iraq.

Saturday 15th March 2014

The morning of the wedding in Kurdistan was a hazy one. The hookah still clung to my throat from the night before and the wine did a sloshing dance in my head. The wedding wasn’t due to happen until later in the afternoon so I took a long shower and Alex went to the barbers.

Hanging out party animals

It was a risky business, there is no easy way to get your hair cut in any foreign country, even if you can speak a little of the language the styles are most definitely different to what you are used to. We had made arrangements for haircuts in Dubai…however, that had not happened. Luckily the barber in Erbil didn’t go crazy, it paid off and Alex looked a little smarter for the wedding.

Hair cut

Afooki and Haidar had been keeping everything under their hats about what was going to happen at the wedding so we just went with the flow and started to get ready in our hotel room as instructed.

My dress was in 3 pieces, an under-dress, an over dress and a long cardigan to go on top of the other two. I had 2 layers on and found that the sleeves tapered at the end and trailed all the way to the floor, it was such a pretty dress, yet as impractical as any wedding dress.

Kurdish wedding

Everything was going smoothly until we unfolded Alex’s trousers, known as Shalwar. To say they were a little large around the waist was an understatement.

We laughed and wondered if we had collected the wrong pair, then realised that regardless, they were the only pair we had so we would have to make do. I emptied a handful of hotel sewing kits and started collecting safety pins to fasten him into them.

Large shalwar

Afooki arrived and saved the day, once he had also finished laughing at our confused faces. Both Afooki and Haidar are from Iraq, rather than Kurdistan and had only a vague idea how to fasten the apparently appropriately sized Kurdish shalwar. We had to call on the assistance of the hotel and they happily sent someone up to help us, it turned out we had misplaced the rope that threads through the trousers to hold them up at the waist!

Help arrived

Finally ready and running behind schedule as always we piled into the car and set off to the park. We were warmly greeted by several of Afooki and Haidars friends and as we walked to the chosen area we passed several other wedding parties. They were huge affairs with everyone dancing and singing and loud music playing. No chairs or tables, no decoration or fuss, just families celebrating. One bride wore an enormous red dress and was being lifted in the air to the beat of the music.

All Afooki’s friends helped us carry crates of colas and boxes and boxes of cakes from the cars and the large speaker came last between Haidar and Afooki. It was soon blasting music for everyone to dance to, and dance we did.

Kurdish dancing
We learned the difference between Kurdish and Arabic dancing…or at least we were shown the difference in the steps. We recognised the dance as the same as the dance at the lake that everyone was taking part in.
It involves everyone clutching hands really closely in a tight line and following the steps of the first man or woman, called ‘Serchopí’ who is tasked with swinging a string of beads or a scarf to the beat to lead the way around in a large circle.
The man or woman on the end has to also wave their free hand.

dance like you mean it


Alex, as we all know has two left feet but did well to catch on with the energetic men in the line all in their Shalwar Kameez.
I can usually manage but my dress was just too long, the long sleeves I mentioned earlier had been tied as per tradition by one of Afooki’s friends, Hajer, at the wedding. Hajer tied them behind my back which meant that literally my hands were tied together and could only move as one.

Hands tied During the dance my arm was gripped tightly and the lady next to me kindly held my dress up off the floor for me but I was still tripping over my sleeves, I may as well have had my feet tied I was so useless at keeping up.

Plus, all we could do was smile and laugh, we were so pleased to be there and happy so many people had come to celebrate with us and some even brought us gifts of a watch, a beautiful golden belt and a bunch of sweet smelling miniature daffodils, but no-one else smiled in the pictures.

wedding gifts

Everyone seemed happy to be there but as soon as the camera came out everyone took on a rather serious stance, everyone in their place. I didn’t notice until I looked back at the images. No-one seemed bothered about us grinning like fools but I can’t help but wish I had looked as cool and calm as everyone else in the pictures…how cool would this shot be if we weren’t smiling like the proverbial Cheshire cat?

stop smiling

Anyway, we all had great fun dancing, chatting and making friends but there wasn’t a ceremony as such. As we ate cake we asked Afooki if there would be a ceremony of any kind but he explained to me that in Kurdistan the only ceremony was the one at the legal offices and then the family would go to the park to celebrate and dance together.

I have tried to look further into the Kurdish traditions revolving around marriage but can’t find much relevant information and with Afooki and Haidar being from Iraq rather than Kurdistan they had very little idea.

Regardless of the lack of ceremony we had a great afternoon with everyone, we spoke with everyone and had pictures with everyone, we loved the dancing and the fact that we were so warmly welcomed regardless of our obvious inability to follow a simple sidestep.

Wedding iraq

The whole experience was an incredible end to our visit in Kurdistan, we had learned so much about the country, the people and the way of life there, but still had barely scratched the surface. There were so many questions I wanted to ask but felt it inappropriate to actually voice them, I felt like each question I had was a stupid one, I wanted to ask about how the couples had met? why they hung out separately socially? when would the kids go to school, if at all? how did they view marriage? was it about love or family or both?

iraq weddingfriends

Kurdistan had been such an eye opener but had also raised so many questions for me, I wanted to know more about the culture and traditions of the middle east, all we have had to go on in the past is modern western media, and that seems to be complete propoganda most of the time. My inquisitive side had been prodded and I was excited to get further in to this vastly mis-interpreted part of the globe.

If you can help us to understand more about the culture and traditions surrounding Kurdish or Arabic weddings please do, we would love to know more and always love to receive your comments.

Great friends, great memories.

Great friends, great memories.



  1. Shila Husein says:

    I intend to try to answer some of your questions the best I can.
    First of all there is a ceremony a couple of days before the actual wedding. It is called mara and only people who are very close to the couple attend the ceremony. Also a mala attends the ceremony to wed the couple.

    Really old people in kurdistan have probably been forced to marry each other by their families.
    Old people have probably met each other at for example a wedding or college. The guy likes the girl and starts to ask around about the girl and so on. When he has gotten his families approval his family (usually the mom) contacts someone the girls family and the boys family knows (or just directly the girls family). Then that person lets the girls family know that their is this guy who is interested in the girl. After that the guy visits the girls home together with his family. The first time the families don’t really bring up the whole marriage thing, they only get a sense of each other and most importantly the girl and the boy get to know each other. If the guy and the girl approves another meeting is set and they continue to see each other like this and more privately (they do not go on dates though) intill they have decided that they want to marry each other and they become officially engaged. Now that the families know that they are going to marry each other and no one is playing around the couple can start dating and really get to know each other. Many times the engagement is broken after theyve actually gotten to know each other, however most of the time everything goes on smoothly and successfully.

    Young people have gotten married either like ive just described or like people get married in the western world. The kurdish tradition which is described above still lives on but with time more and more people get married like people in the western world get married.

    Kids do attend school, not all kids unfortunately but at least in the big cities it isnt often you find someone who dosent go to school. The school system is a little special but overall it is very alike the american one and you start school when you are 6.

    I hope I have given you some clarity and if you have any more questions you can contact me via email.

    1. peopleli says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to send us more information Shila. It really has helped us understand more about Kurdish culture and expectations surrounding marriage too. It has been such a privilege to learn more about the Mara and Mala and how things are changing first hand.
      With warmest thanks for making things clearer for us! 🙂

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