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Craftsmanship Exodus Threatens to Close Baghdad’s Historic Safafeer Market

Craftsmanship Exodus Threatens to Close Baghdad’s Historic Safafeer Market

Wednesday, 8 May, 2019 - 10:00
A coppersmith at the Safafeer market in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Baghdad, London - Asharq Al-Awsat
Baghdad’s once loud and bustling coppersmiths market, Safafeer, is losing more and more of the visitors it used to attract each year.

Major changes in consumer demand also meant slowly replacing legendary copperware stalls with fabric-selling commercial kiosks. Today, the 500-meter-long Safafeer market faces the threat of either going out of business or losing its unique coppersmith theme.

Moneer Rabee, one of the few surviving copper-wielding artisans in Safafeer, voiced his regret on the market losing most of its highly skilled craft workers.

They used to make everything from coffee pots to other household items, he said.

Copperworkers point to several reasons behind shops getting shuttered at Safafeer. One of the main factors is the hyper-importing of Indian or Chinese copperware replicas that sell below standard market rates. For example, a locally handmade coffee pot is sold for $25-$33 dollars, while its imported competition is sold for less than $12.

More so, craftsmen complain about how hard to convince the average Iraqi consumer to buy a local product given the staggeringly low consumer confidence.

“Safafeer reflects old Iraqi culture and heritage, but with deep regret, we are witnessing coppersmith craftsmanship moving closer to total extinction," said Kawa, a Safafeer regular costumer.

Vendors at the Baghdad market also blamed a decline in tourism for its suffering.

Ihsan al-Saffar, who has worked in his shop since 1993 after inheriting it from his father, said business was damaged seriously in the aftermath of the US-led invasion in 2003. Al-Saffar said the government should channel more support to owners of whatever enduring shops.

Shops at Safafeer are passed on from one generation to another, making them a valuable national heritage.

Ameer Abdul Mohsen, for example, started helping out his father at their shop at the age of seven. The 58-year-old is the fifth-generation successor to the store, and has seen many friends leave the country looking for opportunities elsewhere whilst he chose to stay.

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