To celebrate the UN’s World Peace Day, the non-governmental organisation IQ Peace hosted the Baghdad City of Peace Festival on 21 September. The term Madinat al Salam, or “City of Peace” may seem unusual for Baghdad, but this was the city’s name in the Abbasid times.
This year, the annual event was bigger than ever, and served as a fundraising initiative for the new wave of internally displaced people in Iraq. Activities and performances were held across Abu Nawas Street and its surroundings. There was face painting for children, food and drink stalls as well as a small arts and craft market, raising money for refugees. Two educational plays, including one on the harassment of women, were performed on the main stage.
Local arts and culture organisations were also involved in the festival. Burj Babel, an NGO for media development in Baghdad, held concerts with local bands, including a group of young Sufi musicians Helim (Dream). At Muntada Al Masrah, the theatre forum, they played a pantomime by Iraqi playwright Hussein Darwish.
Artist and filmmaker Furat al Jamil, who has collaborated with RUYA, said the turnout was “enormous,” despite the security situation: “Abu Nawas Street was blocked from the amount of people in the area.”
IQPeace began as a grassroots initiative, with 50 volunteers in its first year. This year, there were 300 people involved and the festival has grown thanks to increasing sponsorship from local companies.
Co-organiser Noor Assi hopes the annual festival will change perceptions of the city: “I typed the word “Baghdad” into Google […] what came up was images of violence, death, blood and explosions […] there was nothing supporting the idea that Baghdad used to be called “the city of peace”, she told the BBC, who covered the event.
Co-organiser Zain Mohamed explained that: “The carnival is promoting the message that people can use art and talent to raise money and help the internally displaced people in our country”.