By Mustafa Habib for Niqash.org
Many in Baghdad feel like they are currently living on a war footing. But, somewhat strangely, that did not stop hundreds in the city from celebrating the UN’s International Day of Peace on Sept. 21. It’s all about hope, they say.
Last Sunday, on the United Nation’s International Day of Peace, Wissam Qasim was finalizing the organisation of a festival and march he had organized in Baghdad to celebrate the event. At the same time, Ahmed Salem, a doctor in a Baghdad hospital, was treating those victims of several bombings in the city.
The Day of Peace saw around 70 Baghdad locals wounded in bomb attacks and shelling. So Salem wasn’t sure whether he should be celebrating peace in his hometown, a city that goes to sleep every night with death and wakes every day to further destruction.
“Baghdad hasn’t been at peace for over the last ten years,” the doctor says. “Every day I see dozens of injured and dead.”
Last Sunday, Al Yarmouk Hospital, where he works, received 20 victims of violence, he reports.
“Some of the families of the dead and injured told me that they had already lost family members in previous bombings. It seems as though Baghdadis are just waiting their turn to die,” Salem notes.
Despite events like this – and news that the Iraqi army had been ambushed by extremists near Fallujah – hundreds of locals, including civil society activists, writers and intellectuals, decided they would go ahead with celebrations for the International Day of Peace anyway.
Different activities had been organised in different parts of Iraq’s capital. Hundreds came to Abu Nawas park for the march that Wissam Qasim had organized. The celebration included a number of arts, cultural and sporting activities and it was the fourth such event held annually on the International Day of Peace.
"Our celebration may seem illogical because our city is in chaos, dealing with violence, and bombings,” Qasim explains. “However we wanted to show our determination to celebrate this day as a challenge to the terrorists who have been destroying our lives for years. And,” he adds, “the number of volunteers and the number of people attending have increased significantly every year. This year there was a tremendous increase.”
There were similar activities going on elsewhere in the city. In the central Karrada neighbourhood, the biggest theatre in Baghdad, the Iraq National Theatre, presented a number of short films and live performances to commemorate the day. Events were concluded by a performance from the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra.
Another large event was held in Baghdad’s Mansour neighbourhood where there were a variety of interesting activities. Many who attended carried banners calling for peace in Baghdad.
Additionally the events organised around Baghdad helped raise funds for the country’s internally displaced people, estimated to number well over a million now. The festivities also focussed on supporting the Iraqi security forces and were against any form of sectarianism in the country.
It wasn’t easy preparing for these events, especially this year, says Anwar al-Rabei, a local civil society activist.
“The security situation in Baghdad, the wave of bombings and the heavy deployment of security forces have been the biggest problems. It was hard to get approval from local authorities to hold the celebrations,” al-Rabei explains.
The fact that extremists have also targeted market places and other crowded public areas was also a frightening prospect for the celebration organizers; they were worried that festivities around the International Day of Peace might also be targeted.
Some members of the foreign press, both from other Arab countries and from further afield, have expressed their surprise at Baghdadis’ determination to celebrate the date. It seems contrary to what’s happening in Iraq at the moment. But the event organisers say there is nothing wrong with planting some hope in ordinary people’s hearts.