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Former Iraqi Kurd Fighter Turns to Wine Making

'Nabaz' pouring a glass of his homemade wine, '21 Rays', produced in Iraqi Kurdistan. (S. Behn/VOA)
'Nabaz' pouring a glass of his homemade wine, '21 Rays', produced in Iraqi Kurdistan. (S. Behn/VOA)
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Nabaz carefully poured red wine into a glass, then another glass. He set the bottle down and looked at the small group of people he had never met.

Then, he offered them his wine.

This was the first time that Nabaz himself had offered his homemade alcohol to others.

"I was a little anxious to see the reaction," he said later.

"Obviously this to me is a work of art, and all art depends on how people see it and evaluate it."

For Nabaz, the small gathering has special meaning. The wine tasting event was, in some ways, a triumph.

"I felt this was extending a hand of friendship, of offering something unique from Kurdistan, and offering something for the very first time by Iraqi Kurdistan to the outside world," he said.

Nabaz and modern Kurdish history

The Iran-Iraq War lasted from 1980 to 1988. During that period, some Kurdish militants in Iraq sided with Iran. Then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ordered his forces to take steps to punish the Kurds.

In a seven-month offensive, between 50,000 to 100,000 Kurdish villagers died or disappeared.

Nabaz had studied civil engineering while in school. Yet he decided to leave engineering behind and fight against Saddam Hussein’ forces. He joined the Kurdish fighters in the mountains for eight years.

"It was the most meaningful period of my life," he said.

It was during the time in the mountains that Nabaz noticed Kurdistan's grape crops. Most of the grapes were used to make juice or raisins.

Nabaz loved wine, and decided to explore different ways to produce it. For the past six years, he has experimented with different grapes and different wine-making processes.

Now he has his own wine, which he calls "21 Rays". The name comes from the rays of light on the Kurdish flag -- and the strong sunlight that shines on the area.

Nabaz says wine lovers in London have praised his product. But in Kurdistan, "21 Rays" remains a secret. Stores do not sell his wine. The grape growers do not know that Nabaz uses their fruit for wine. Only Nabaz's close family know about his wine making.

Wine is sold in Kurdistan, but usually only in Christian neighborhoods.

Nabaz's family is Muslim. Observant Muslims do not make, sell, or drink wine. If members of Nabaz's extended family knew that he made wine, they would not approve.

Respect for Islam keeps Nabaz from selling his wine, but fear also plays a role in his decision.

"Daesh is only a few tens of kilometers away," Nabaz said. "One has to be discreet." Daesh is the local name for Islamic State fighters.

Nabaz plans to produce a few hundred bottles of wine after the upcoming harvest. He does not use machines; instead, his close family members take the grapes and crush them. For now, "21 Rays" will remain a secret in Kurdistan, known only to a few.

I’m John Russell.

"Nabaz" is not the real name of the Kurdish man in this report. His name has been changed at his request. Sharon Behn wrote this story for John Russell adapted her story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

evaluate – v. to judge the value or condition of (someone or something) in a careful and thoughtful way

unique – adj. used to say that something or someone is unlike anything or anyone else

grape – n. a green, dark red, or purplish-black berry that is used to make wine or is eaten as a fruit

role – n. a part that someone or something has in a particular activity or situation

triumph – n. a victory or success