Finding peace in Pshdar

Ancient multifaith cemetery remains a resting place for the departed in Sulaymaniyah

PSHDAR — Sikana Cemetery, one of the Kurdistan Region’s oldest known cemeteries, is situated near the village of Sikana, in Pshdar district, approximately 166 kilometers north of Sulaymaniyah city, and serves as the final resting place for followers of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

The cemetery has not been studied extensively by researchers and archaeologists due to its remote location, and its proximity to the border with Iran, which has added additional challenges.

A team from 964media, accompanied by a local archaeologist and resident of Sikana, embarked on a two-hour journey from Raparin Administration towards the cemetery.

Dozens of graves span across a wide area, lush with greenery, varying in size and form. Some markers stand tall, while others are small and are barely visible.

The tombs are adorned with symbols, each one bearing a cross, six-sided star, swords, crescent and star, and religious inscriptions, suggesting a confluence of multiple beliefs according to Mohammed  Hassan, the local archaeologist.

“Comprehensive archaeological investigations have not yet been conducted here, which are crucial to determine the exact historical timeline of this cemetery.” Hassan explained. “It’s possible that it dates back to even pre-Islamic times, as some of the symbols on the graves do not correspond with Islamic traditions.”

Villager Hassan Faqi noted the varied conditions of the graves. Over time, several plots have deteriorated or disappeared, particularly during the Iraq-Iran war when valuable artifacts were relocated by the Ba’ath regime to Baghdad. Those artifacts are believed to be housed in a museum in the capital.

Climate change and the presence of wild animals have also contributed to damaged gravestones, according to Faqi.

Despite changes over the centuries, the local community continues to hold the Sikana cemetery in reverence, still using the site to bury relatives in accordance with ancestral traditions. This ongoing practice has maintained a portion of the cemetery with recent and well-preserved graves, integrating old traditions with the needs of the present community.