How Baghdad’s Youth Movement is Re-Uniting A Divided Society
How a Google image search kicked off a youth movement
From 2006 to 2010, the years in which Qayssar says he was an “angry young man”, was a very tough time in Iraq. The civil war raged on the streets of Bagdad too. “People were killing each other because of their different ideas and languages. The Baghdadi families even started to believe that the war was necessary.”
This desperate situation gave rise to the idea for the Peace Carnival, when some young activists entered their city’s name into a Google image search, and were disappointed to see only pictures of war and destruction. They decided to create new images of their city, and founded the Baghdad City of Peace Carnival in 2011. The first carnival was held on a small stage in Al Zawra Park, where young bands played traditional Iraqi music and young people sold their handicrafts from small booths. 30 volunteers organized the 3-hour event attended by around 300 people.
Now, six years later, the little Carnival has grown into a huge event. Around 15,000 people came in 2015, and over 650 volunteers worked behind the scenes to make it happen, in 2016 the festival reached 23,000 people with over 500 new volunteers working for it. The visitors are a mix of all generations and different backgrounds, and the carnival was broadcast live by local TV and radio stations and global news. There was live music and dance performances, a playground for children, booths with arts and crafts, and discussion rounds. “This is a light of hope, especially for young people, a peaceful, free space to express their ideas and talents,” Qayssar says.
The carnival moved out of the park in 2012, and now takes place on one of Bagdad’s most famous streets, Abu Nawas Street, once a glamourous outing district where families went for a Sunday stroll until the security risks became too great. Once a year, the Carnival brings the streets to life again.
“This is a light of hope, especially for young people, a peaceful, free space to express their ideas and talents.”
Without really knowing what it was all about, Qayssar volunteered to work on the very first carnival. He was the event’s photographer: “I didn’t know anything about peace or the youth movement; I was a hobby photographer and mainly saw this as a good opportunity to take pictures.” Today, he is one of the key figures behind the Carnival, and he can’t imagine life without it any more. “Since then, my people skills have developed. Especially my communication skills, as I have had to talk to a lot of young people, to business managers, and to representatives of international organisations.” The “new” Qayssar works for the IOM – UN Migration Agency as a professional career, works for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as a volunteer. “I have a good life: I have a job, friends, a girlfriend, and adventures every day. The carnival made me a better person.”
The Baghdad City of Peace Carnival wants to connect with peace movements around the globe. Please contact Qayssar if you can help him get in touch with youth or peace groups in your country: firstname.lastname@example.org