In Bomb-Weary Baghdad, Iraqis Have Fun In The Name Of Peace

Sep 26, 2015
Originally published on September 27, 2015 11:55 am

The Baghdad City of Peace Carnival started four years ago, with a young woman named Noof Assi.

"We started talking to people about a celebration for peace day in Baghdad," Assi says. She's referring to International Peace Day, which is September 21 — and which hadn't been celebrated in the war-beleaguered Iraqi capital.

"Everybody was taking it as a joke and never taking us seriously," she says, "because, like, in Baghdad? Celebrating peace?"

Assi and her group of determined enthusiasts got permission to have bands play in a park — and a few hundred people came along. The Baghdad City of Peace Carnival was born.

"Because basically, Baghdad, when it was first created as a city, they used to call it Dar al Salam, which means city of peace," she says.

Assi wants to remind people of that history, so the carnival features songs about peace. Every year, organizers choose a theme. This year, it's diversity, to encourage Iraqis to overcome sectarianism.

Over the years, the carnival grew; this year, the event boasts 500 volunteers, corporate sponsorship and many acts.

Salam Ali Jabbar, a vocalist with a rock band performing this year, says that in a city that still has dozens of bombings every month and not many ways to have fun, an event like this means a lot.

"Even one day in the year, when people go to such a place and know that various young people are just connected by peace and hope, that's pretty awesome," Jabbar says.

The event is now held on the banks of the river Tigris. There are checkpoints and razor wire on the street outside, and billboards with the faces of soldiers killed in the war against ISIS.

But inside, pastel flags glow in the dusk light and people sell crafts, tea and cakes from the stalls.

Student Mustafa Mahmoud says the carnival is a great idea. In recent weeks, Mahmoud has seen an exodus of his friends joining the flow of migrants into Europe.

Mahmoud says he hopes to see more events like this, to stop that emigration and show people that Baghdad is peaceful.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There are not many places more grim than Baghdad. But people everywhere devise ways to find fun. NPR's Alice Fordham, in the Iraqi capital, met some people who wanted a carnival and were determined to make it happen.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: It started four years ago with a young woman named Noof Assi.

NOOF ASSI: In 2011, we started, like, talking to people about celebration for Peace Day in Baghdad.

FORDHAM: International Peace Day is September 21.

ASSI: Everybody was, like, taking it as a joke and never taking us seriously because, like, in Baghdad, celebrating peace...

FORDHAM: But then they got permission to have bands play in a park. And a few hundred people came along. The Baghdad City of Peace Carnival was born.

ASSI: Because, basically, Baghdad when it was first, like, created as a city, they used to call it Dar as-Salam, which means city of peace.

FORDHAM: Assi wants to remind people of this. So at the carnival, there's songs about peace. And every year, they choose an idea, like this year, it's diversity - trying to encourage Iraqis to overcome sectarianism.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

FORDHAM: It grew, and this year, there are 500 volunteers, corporate sponsorship and many acts, including this band rehearsing Iraqi music in the back room of a church.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

FORDHAM: One performer practices a traditional Iraqi instrument, kind of like a harp.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FORDHAM: While upstairs...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FORDHAM: A rock band is hard at it. Vocalist Salam Ali Jabbar says, in a city that still has dozens of bombings every year and not a ton of ways to have fun, an event like this means a lot.

SALAM ALI JABBAR: Even one day in the year when people go to such place and know that various young people are just connected by peace and hope - that's pretty awesome.

FORDHAM: The event itself is now held on the banks of the river Tigris. There are checkpoints and razor wire on the street outside and billboards with the faces of soldiers killed in the war against ISIS.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

FORDHAM: But inside, there are pastel flags glowing in the dusk light and stalls with people selling craft items and tea and cakes.

MUSTAFA MAHMOUD: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: Student Mustafa Mahmoud says it's a great idea. In recent weeks, he's seen an exodus of his friends joining the flow of migrants into Europe.

MAHMOUD: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: He says we hope to see more of this kind of thing and to stop that immigration and to show people that Baghdad is peaceful. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.