The Dar es Salaam (The House of Peace) Festival was started seven years ago by a group of young people of Baghdad gathered through civil society initiatives and associations. They chose the International Peace Day, September 21 for the celebration of the festival in the war-beleaguered Iraqi capital. However, this year the organisers chose to celebrate it on September 8.
If Baghdad today is a byword for inner-city decay and violence, its foundation circa 1,250 years ago was a glorious milestone in the history of urban design. More than that, it was a landmark for civilisation, the birth of a city that would quickly become the cultural lodestar of the world. Baghdad was then known as the City of Peace. The name “Baghdad” is pre-Islamic, and its origin is disputed. Baghdad was founded by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur in 762 CE. When he founded a completely new city for his capital, he chose the name Medina al-Salaam or The City of Peace. This was the official name on coins, weights, and other official usage, although the common people continued to use the old name. Baghdad soon became the home to pioneering scientists, astronomers, poets, mathematicians, musicians, historians, legalists and philosophers. By the 11th century, “Baghdad” became almost the exclusive name for the world-renowned metropolis. The festival was started to remind people of that history.
In 2011, the organisers got permission to have bands play in a park — and a few hundred people came along. Dar es Salaam Festival was born. The event is now held on the banks of river Tigris near the iconic statues of the Arabian queen of storyteller Scheherazade and King Shahryar of Arabian Nights fame on street named after the famous 8th century classical Arabic poet, Abu Nawas. Abu Nawas has also entered the folkloric tradition, and he appears several times in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.
Over the years, the festival grew and for the last couple of years, the event is getting corporate sponsorships too. Trade Bank of Iraq is also a sponsor of this event this year. The festival included a variety of theatre, music, art and kiosks in the gardens. Each year the Festival invites citizens to a day of live music, dance, and participatory art in Baghdad. The event provides a platform for collectives and associations to share information and engage the public on issues such as health care, social justice, financial inclusion, and civic engagement.
After years of conflict throughout Iraq it’s fair to say Baghdad is rarely looked at as a symbol of peace any more, but what people outside Iraq don’t understand is that peace is still present in this city and in Iraq. The peace festival is fostering positive images of Baghdad, countering the ubiquitous images of conflict and destruction.