The annual holiday of Eid is usually an occasion to take a break, visit family and exchange gifts. In the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan, locals prepare by buying sweets and presents and new clothes – and that happened this year as usual. But many locals also felt that one usual component of the Eid holiday was changing, and that was the customary visits to friends and family.
For example, Lukman Hassan, 33, has four brothers and five sisters. During Eid, he got around to visiting his father and two of his brothers. With the rest of his family he simply exchanged Eid greetings by mobile phone or by sending a message via Facebook.
We greet one another using different modes of communication these days but it’s not quite as convincing and we know it.
“People are not in a particularly festive mood because of the various crises in the region,” Hassan, who lives in the Rizgari district in Kalar, told NIQASH. “So, technology makes it easy for them to send Eid greetings without having to leave their homes.”
Hassan says he also has other reasons for not visiting everyone in his family as one is meant to at Eid. He owns a small mini-market and although he closed it the first two days of the holiday, he reopened it for the last three. “I need to earn an income,” he says.
Most of the other locals that NIQASH spoke with told similar tales to Hassan’s, saying they had reduced the number of visits to relatives this Eid, and that they chose simply to send text messages via mobile phone or post general greetings on Facebook.
The moment Eid begins, locals are on their phones, using platforms like Viber, WhatsApp, and other applications, as well as text messaging. In doing this, many young Kurdish people feel like they have fulfilled their responsibility and don’t need to visit their families.
“There are a variety of serious problems in Iraqi Kurdistan at the moment,” Rizan Nadir, a local sociologist and civil society activist, explained. “This has had its impact on Kurdish society and it has made us all a little more disconnected and callous. Everybody prepared for Eid in the usual way but they haven’t been able to bring themselves to visit their families and bring real joy. Digital communications have replaced real-life interactions.”
“In the past we used to have convictions,” says Wali Abdul-Qader, 57, who lives in the Bawa Nour district in Karmayan. “Our work didn’t stop us from keeping up customs and visiting our families,” he complains, adding that, “social media makes social networks weaker.”
Abdul-Qader believes these national and religious holidays are the only opportunities the Iraqi Kurdish have to keep their traditional family relationships strong and that they should be treated respectfully.
Dana Omar, 30, a resident in the city of Sulaymaniyah, had no time to visit all of his family and says he sent a mass text message to his family that said: Wishing you a blessed Eid.
Omar says he realises the message is no substitute for a personal visit but that he didn’t have enough time to see everyone. “We greet one another using different modes of communication these days,” he agrees, “but it’s not quite as convincing and we know it.”