Assyrians, ISIS, and Kelecha—Celebrating Easter in Iraq

Assyrian Christians prepare for Easter by making small pastries called kelecha.

Floury hands move quickly, mixing ingredients, kneading rough pastry into smooth balls, then rolling out large, flat rounds ready to be cut with an upside-down drinking glass. The air smells faintly of walnuts and sugar. There is plenty of space, but the women sit close–shoulder to shoulder–working over a white sheet spread to protect the carpet below. Each one has their role in making kelecha—small tasty pastries prepared for the holiday.

In the working, talking, and laughing, everything seems so normal in this moment. And really, everything is quite normal—except for the fact that these Assyrian Christians are carrying on an Easter tradition as displaced families, away from their homes and traditional land.

The Assyrian Christian community in Iraq has been heavily impacted by the violence that began last summer. Many have lost their lives. Many more were forced to flee their homes and find refuge elsewhere. 

Despite the media frenzy and endless email forwards about the plight of “Iraqi Christians,” many communities remain underserved and as needy and vulnerable as anyone. We were first introduced to this Assyrian community when they were in dire need of relief aid. Our Muslim partners helped deliver practical necessities, like heaters and blankets, stoves and food.

We continue to invest in the community in the form of eleven small business start-up grants. Initial investments focus on widows—women who are the heads of their households providing for their children. They are setting up tailoring businesses, small corner shops, and bakeries…offering treats like kelecha.

We are told we’re the only group helping this congregation, and it was an honor to be invited by church leadership to celebrate with them this Easter. Festivities are subdued this year. It’s difficult to celebrate when your community is in the midst of so much loss, but these people uniquely understand what it is to find life in the midst of suffering–they are ready for a reprieve–compelled to mark this day of Light after a long darkness.

The community has been planning a beautiful celebration. There will be games, face paint, and silly string for the Assyrian children and their Muslim neighbors. There will also be music, worship, and trauma counselling for families. And of course there will be kelecha. There must be kelecha, made by the very women who have recently opened bakeries.

The hall has been ready for days. They floors are freshly scrubbed, and chairs set out and ready to receive.

This Easter we’re standing with these people who’ve suffered for who they are and what they believe. Were inviting you to join the celebration.