The Walls of Baghdad Are Coloured by Hope

by Chiara Cruciati |  February 27, 2017

One of the youngsters of Imprint of Hope at work.

The many (too many) walls in the Iraqi capital are gradually becoming colourful.

A group of young Imprint of Hope volunteers.

The Iraqi capital, completely overwhelmed by war and terrorism, is now fragmented by many walls that surround neighbourhoods, churches and public buildings… Barriers of defence which now become large canvases.

Yellow, blue, red, green, children’s faces, women wearing traditional dress, clasping hands: Baghdad is making herself beautiful. Or rather, it is a group of almost 400 young Iraqi volunteers who are making her beautiful: for a couple of years, they have been roaming the streets of the capital of Iraq making a different use of the walls that cut through it.

Crushed in a permanent war that has been going on since the 190s, conflicts interrupted by brief periods of peace but stained by embargo and poverty, Baghdad is the mirror of an Iraq divided into opposing centres of power, sects and confessions, between a weak and dysfunctional government and increasingly influential armed militia.

In the last conflicts, on Saturday 11th February, between supporters of the Shiite religious leader Moqtada al-Sadr and the police, seven people were killed and revealed the internal fractures in the Shiite front; the anti-Isis counter-offensive on Mosul – which started on 17th October – is accompanied by fears of  the Sunnites of abuses by the army, mainly Shiite; in the north, Iraqi Kurdistan attempts the path of independence, taking advantage of the territories taken during the advance of the Islamic State in 2014.

Then there are the physical divisions: Baghdad is the theatre of continuous and bloody attacks,  which the authorities try unsuccessfully to curb, using military checkpoints and cement barriers. The city is full of walls, along the streets, at the entrances to neighbourhoods, around the Green Zone (the fortified area where the government institutions and foreign embassies are), close to churches, mosques and schools. It is not only the government that builds its walls. Other barriers have been raised by political groups that use them to divide the controlled areas, often transforming them into canvases for propaganda.

It is with these walls that the volunteers of Imprint of Hope have decided to change, as far as possible, the face of their city. The idea came to a student, Ali Abdulrahman, in 2015. He contacted the rector to ask for permission to involve a group of 100 students to paint the walls of the university: graffiti to send messages of peace and cohesion.

Since the works at the university have been finished, the youngsters have not stopped: they went out and started to paint the streets of Baghdad. Two years have gone by since then. Imprint of Hope has grown and  enrolled almost 400 volunteers in its ranks. They are not only students, but also artists, professionals, bricklayers, “Our volunteers come from different ethnic and religious groups. With  a passion that unites them: humanitarian service,” Salsabil explains to us, of the press committee of Imprint of Hope.

The group does not only paint the walls of division, but also the walls of hundreds of schools (they have painted 121), orphanages (very numerous in Baghdad due to the high rate of war orphans) and hospitals. The last major work was in December, when for Christmas they painted part of the Syriac-Catholic church of Our Lady of Salvation, which was damaged in an explosion seven years ago.

Then there is humanitarian assistance: “We have also set up activities in the humanitarian field and in education,” continues Salsabil. “We have organized campaigns to give help to the evacuees of  Mosul and Al-Anbar in various fields, We give food, clothes and medicine.”

With their graffiti, they tell the story of the Iraq they would like, a country where the different ethnic and confessional groups can once again live in peace, where reconstruction can really start and wealth is redistributed to the population that today suffers due to the absence of services and infrastructures, due to the high rate of corruption that eats up the money available, due to the continuous power cuts and the scarcity of water. It is a country where civil society is encouraged to be more active and where they can feel Iraqis again ant not only Shiites. Sunnites or Christians, Arabs and Kurds.

“We are working with all the determination possible to face a complicated reality, to help the Iraqi community with all its diversities to emerge, cooperate and regain hope and optimism. Our main objective is to give support to all young Iraqis so that they feel responsible for preserving Iraq and taking part in the process of reconstruction in the areas liberated from Isis.”

Now everybody knows the youngsters of Imprint of Hope. There are also people who commission works, that are useful for paying the cost of the paints and brushes, otherwise purchased with the subscriptions of each member who pays about $8 per month. They self-tax themselves and give their time, not only to paint but also to clean up the city and the areas less served by the institutions. To make their Baghdad more beautiful.

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