How Baghdad’s Youth Movement is Re-Uniting A Divided Society
A Carnival for peace defies the bombs
“City of Peace” is the ancient name for Bagdad, though not much peace has been visible there in recent years. “Many people think it’s a naïve idea to celebrate peace in the current situation. They ask: what peace?”
From the outside, it is hard to imagine a light-hearted party in the war-torn city. Security concerns in Baghdad still make it impossible to move around freely. “There are bomb attacks every day, but we’ve gotten used to it,” Qayssar explains. At least there is a certain degree of freedom of expression in Iraq today, and opportunities for working to improve society. “While there’s still war in some areas of the country, civic activities are emerging in others. On the one hand, there’s the ongoing battle in Mosul. But there’s also the youth peace movement in Baghdad on the other.”
Qayssar and his fellow organizers refused to allow the fighting to take away their freedom to celebrate their right to life. Their definition of peace encompasses much more than just the absence of weapons and violence. They see peace as a life with basic rights, the right to freedom of opinion and movement, and a world in which people treat each other civilly. The carnival is designed as a step in the right direction. “Our dream is to make Baghdad a better place, to create a better society for the next generations.”
And while the event itself is important, the many months of preparation during which hundreds of young people work together towards a common goal is even more so. They come together to better the society they live in, and to promote peaceful coexistence. The initial smaller context of volunteers planning a carnival has had a ripple effect and encouraged other forms of social commitment.
“By coming together, the volunteers strengthen our social cohesion, which is really important for our society,” Qayssar says. “There is a lot of resentment among people from different ethnic groups and backgrounds, and who speak different languages. We teach young people how to respect each other.”
Preparing for the carnival is one of the few situations in which girls and boys have contact, for example. After primary school, boys and girls inhabit completely different worlds, and even friendships between members of the opposite sex are frowned upon. “As boys, we have difficulties talking to girls, as our society teaches us that we don’t have the right to address them. That’s crazy; it’s human actions to talk to each other!”
“City of Peace” is the ancient name for Baghdad
Qayssar headed up the media team this year, which was pretty evenly split between boys and girls, a huge success in itself. The volunteers expend a lot of effort convincing their parents to allow them to participate in such groups: “Parents often come with their children to the first meeting because they are worried,” Qayssar says. “We talk to them and, happily, can usually convince most to let their children participate.”
Carnival organisers also want to promote a new culture of responsibility. “In Iraq, people hold on tightly to their positions, whether in politics or the private sector,” Qayssar says. The carnival takes a different approach. The entire organizational team changes every year, and everyone involved takes on a different role. If you were part of the coordination team last year, then you can only advise them this year. “We want young people to see how positive it is when the people in charge change. This means a whole new generation organizes the carnival every few years.”
The carnival has also spawned and support a number of youth groups, who are active throughout the year, clubs, bands, a break-dance collective, and socially conscious action groups. Medical students, for example, founded an advocacy group for public health care.
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