Issue Date: 2016 MARCH, Posted On: 3/7/2016

03072016 Woven Legends’ Neslihan Jevremovic Offers Syrian Women Hope, One Rug at a Time
By Carol Tisch

Woven Legends' founder Neslihan Jevremovic (left), her niece, and aTurkish weaving instructor visit a Syrian weaver at her tent at Turkey's Adiyaman camp. Jevremovic brings hope to refugees through her Anka (Phoenix) Project, which teaches rug weaving to young women.

It is easy to be touched by headlines about the current Syrian refugee crisis, but few people have the courage to act on that concern. Neslihan Jevremovic is among that few. Since 2011, her visionary Anka Project has trained young Syrian women in Turkish refugee camps to become skilled weavers of Woven Legends rugs, providing hope and dignity to hundreds without permanent shelter, jobs or dreams of a future. 

The Turkish-born owner of Philadelphia-based Woven Legends, Jevremovic established and continues to operate the Anka program in partnership with Öz-Kent, her exclusive supplier in Turkey. Both companies are known for exquisite, heirloom-quality handmade rugs produced in Turkey, and have been industry leaders and innovators for decades. Working as a weaver for these companies entails developing a refined skill set under expert supervision--which is why the refugee training program is so special. 

"Weaving rugs give Syrian refugees more than an income. It gives them integrity and empowers them." - Neslihan Jevremovic, Woven Legends

RugNews.com sat down with Jevremovic to discuss her landmark project.

Q: The weaving program designed to help Turkish women was a blueprint for your work with Syrian refugees. Can you tell us how it started?

A: The Turkish Ministry of Education, which has a department promoting public education, approached us in 1986 for our cooperation in teaching rug weaving to girls in Eastern Turkey. It is similar to an internship would be in the U.S. 

Traditionally in Turkey, weavers who work outside of their home are all young, unmarried women in their teens. Once they get married, 99 percent do not weave any longer.  If they do weave, it is in the western part of Turkey. Because of this turnover, we always have the need for a fresh new pool of young weavers and we are accustomed to teaching and training our weaving methods.

Giving the work to these girls is a significant and meaningful accomplishment for many reasons. If their daughter is working, her family does not tend to think of her as just another mouth to feed. That means they are not rushing to marry her off. I see weaving as a way to empower them to become confident women and surely they will mature to be better mothers.

Our Turkish weavers work in the security and the familiar environment of their villages. We set up a system where the pay is by the knot. It is up to them how much or how little they work. They plan their time based on the needs of their family and the agriculture season. The atelier is there because the looms would not fit their homes; it also serves as a social place where young girls bond with each other and their teachers. 

Young Syrian women in Turkish refugee camps are trained to create Woven Legends Heriz carpets like this 10x15 in design WL 285392.

Q: How did working with young Turkish women prepare you to help those in the new Syrian refugee camps begin to pick up the pieces in their lives?

A: Three years ago I started working with my contacts in the Turkish local government to help teach Syrian women. I explained how teaching a vocation, as with the Turks, would empower them beyond making money; it would be giving them a career and power over their lives. They were eager to cooperate. 

In 2012, Woven Legends began training refugees in the Adiyaman camp how to weave carpets. Three years later, we now have six workshop tents there, consisting of 69 looms and 216 active weavers. Woven Legends started a second weaving project in 2015 in the Harran, Urfa refugee camp with 13 looms and 25 weavers, and hopes to do even more in the future.

In a world where the headlines are dominated every day by stories about the refugee crisis, this operation has been an undeniable success, one lauded by the Turkish government crisis organization - AFAD - in charge of the camps, as a model of how to provide refugees lasting and long-term support.

Syrian and Turkish weavers are paid the same wage.  Our motto is "everyone gets paid the same." We have 80+ looms for the refugees to work on. The Syrian weavers learned to weave our Heriz, Rubia, Folk and Fish, Khotan and Uskudar collections. And the women in the second camp weave for our Shirvan collection. I am proud to say that we trust their skill for high profile projects such as museums when it comes to these weaves. 

Syrian refugee women have been trained to weave rugs such as this 9x11 from the decorative Oushak collection. Shown, Uskudar WL 285359. 

Q: This is clearly a personal mission that is filled with individual faces, stories, goals and dreams. You are on the front lines speaking with women, hearing their needs and helping them firsthand. Can you speak to your experiences that show why that kind of interaction is so important?

A: My personal rapport with the refugees convinces me that we can build on the present work exponentially. The alternative is potentially a restless community, which would be the breeding ground for potential disturbances. 

In the fall of 2012, when I met the first group of Syrian refugee women, I expressed our desire to teach them how to weave rugs. I said if they take this craft seriously and become good weavers I would follow them back to Syria. 

Our work together is a good example for many. It is clear that they are not going home to Syria any time soon. But now they are part of the solution to the tragedy they face: They are not begging; they are working. Thus their heads are and should be high.

Young Syrian women in Turkey's refugee camps are taught to weave through the Ankara Project, brainchild of Woven Legends owner Neslihan Jevremovic.

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