How Baghdad’s Youth Movement is Re-Uniting A Divided Society
Pushing civil society movement in the right direction
By now, most youth groups and activists pledge their support to the City of Peace Carnival. Together they are a strong voice for civil society and use the carnival to increase awareness of civil society issues.
The carnival adopts a different motto every year. When Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) from the areas ravaged by ISIS crisis and neighbouring provinces began flooding into Baghdad in 2014, the young people chose “With rights for the IDPs, peace begins”. “The city is home to around 8 million people. In the first months of 2014, another 1 to 1.5 million people arrived,” Qayssar says. “Since society seemed unwilling to address the issue, as young people, we wanted to focus on how to assist these people.” During the run-up to the carnival, they looked for sponsors and raised money to support the IDPs. In 2015, the motto was “With our diversity, peace begins”, a continuation of last year’s theme. While feelings of resentment towards IDPs were rising among many Baghdadis, the Carnival volunteers wanted to focus on peaceful coexistence. “We tried to convince people that diversity is the solution, not the problem. In truth, we’ve lived with diversity for many decades. The real problem simply lies in hosting so many more people in one and the same city.”
Their actions also send a clear message to Iraqi society: If we can take matters into our hands as young people, why can’t you? Apparently the message has been received. “We couldn’t believe it – we’d actually made it!” Qayssar recalls. They had won over the government. “That was a dream come true. We had always had trouble getting the necessary permits and approvals, so the support of the government was worth a lot.” And the government even declared 2015 the “Official year for the volunteer movement in Iraq”.
This was an even more surprising move, given the government’s years of extreme scepticism towards any type of youth movement. Qayssar says, “They were concerned because youth protests in countries like Egypt and Tunisia kicked off the Arab Spring. But we showed them that we were not interested in protesting anything; all we wanted to do was simply take matters into our own hands.”
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