• June 20, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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When Islamic State fighters overran Qaraqosh, Iraq, in the summer of 2014, Mothana Butres was able to grab only a single volume from his father’s collection of thousands of Syriac books and manuscripts. 

The handwritten, 600-year-old book of Syriac hymns now inspires much of Butres’ work as an iconographer. From a modest walk-up apartment in Zahle, Lebanon, a city not far from the Syrian border, the Syriac Catholic iconographer and refugee creates his sacred art in a sparsely furnished living room. 

As he works, he sings the hymns he has committed to memory from the sole book he managed to save. Butres is the creator of the Our Lady of Aradin icon, a centerpiece of the first Catholic shrine dedicated to persecuted Christians. The shrine is housed in St. Michael’s Church in New York City and was dedicated June 12. 

“The inspiration when I was working on Our Lady of Aradin was that it was the Virgin Mary who was protecting the Christians,” Butres told Catholic News Service. He chose to present Mary in the traditional wedding dress of the Aradin area of Iraq “to represent that the Virgin Mary will always be a part of the Christians in Iraq and that she is the protector of Christians in Iraq and all the Middle East,” Butres said. 

He said that when faced with an ultimatum by Islamic State fighters, Iraq’s Christians gave up their land but refused to give up their faith. “The people who were persecuted, their blood is a stronger message than anything I could ever convey,” he said. But the recent persecution and the oppression suffered by his ancestors led him “to the way I think and the way I do my work.” 

Butres said he believes his icons can be an instrument for intercessory prayer. The prayers of the people who visit the shrine in New York and pray before the icon of Our Lady of Aradin are joined with those of the persecuted Christians. “Based on what Jesus told us, that ‘if two people are gathered in my name, I will be among them,'” he said. 

The Syriac book Butres treasures from his father’s library collection also awakened him to the lost practice of writing books by hand, especially in the Syriac language, which is spoken by Christians in certain areas of Syria and Iraq, including Qaraqosh. Syriac also is used in the liturgy of some Eastern churches, including the Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox and Maronite Catholic churches. The language is related to Aramaic, the language of Jesus. 

“I’m trying to revive the value of the handwritten texts. Books used to be handwritten,” Butres said. As part of an ongoing personal project, Butres intends to write out the entire Bible in Syriac on a long scroll of leather just over a foot wide. In three months of work, the tiny, intricate text he has etched extends 16 feet in length and comprises the first five chapters of the Old Testament. 

“I believe that in writing out the Bible, we can discover it in a new, deeper perspective, more than just reading it,” he said. In his icons, Butres often incorporates streams of handwritten text related to the image, which contributes to preserving the Syriac language, heritage and spirituality. The icon of Our Lady of Aradin, for example, includes the Hail Mary in Syriac. 

Butres’ introduction to iconography began at age 12; a deacon at his church in Qaraqosh taught him the ancient art as well as formulas for producing colors and varnishes from natural products, for example, using eggs and wine for shades of red, using beeswax for varnish and using deer musk to give the icon a scent. 

Prayer and religious formation were part of Butres’ daily life growing up in a Syriac Catholic family as one of 16 children. That pious upbringing fostered vocations, he said. One of Butres’ sisters became a Dominican nun. His brother, Nimatullah, is a priest serving the Syriac Catholic Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance, which is based in Bayonne, New Jersey. Father Butres attended the dedication ceremony for the Our Lady of Aradin shrine in New York. 

The artistic Butres became a deacon at age 20 and studied theology at Holy Spirit University in Lebanon, earning a bachelor’s degree. 

Butres intended to complete his master’s degree in theology, carrying out his research in Qaraqosh, but had to abandon all he had accomplished there when Islamic State attacked his childhood home.That home, overtaken, gutted and ruined by Islamic State, is under repair now. From Lebanon, Butres created the Our Lady of Qaraqosh icon as a gift for his family, intending it as “a protector of the house where she was always present.” 

by Doreen Abi Raad


  • June 20, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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“World Refugee Day is a time for reflection and solidarity with people displaced by violence and persecution the world over. 

In this turbulent and unpredictable time, remembering refugees and internally displaced people is more topical than ever. 

Some 68 million people are now uprooted around the world; displaced by conflict, human rights abuses and natural disasters. 

In an unsettling statistic, in 2017 someone somewhere fled their home every two seconds. Iraq shelters 300,000 refugees. The majority are from Syria. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq houses 97 per cent of the Syrian refugees in Iraq, generously received and afforded equal access with locals to employment, education and social services. 

It is of vital importance that the communities who opened their doors to Syrian refugees are empowered, and donor funding to invest in the institutions that support the refugees and host communities increases. This will help ensure that social cohesion and peaceful coexistence amongst communities is more effectively pursued. 

The best solution to forced displacement is peace. Peace would bring down the number of refugees and internally displaced people across the world, and dramatically improve perspectives for the future for millions of people. But after seven years, the Syrian conflict shows no sign of abating. Every day people cross the Syrian border to escape the fighting, amounting to 700 new arrivals every month. 

For the 250,000 Syrian refugees sheltering in Iraq, return is not a sustainable option at present. Resettlement opportunities are limited, and available only to the most acutely vulnerable. Syrian refugees in Iraq and the communities that host them will continue to need support for some time to come. 

As the Syrian crisis protracts and deepens, it is time to think creatively about our refugee response. In collaboration with the Kurdish authorities and partner agencies and NGOs, UNHCR is exploring new and sustainable solutions for refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. 

By investing in the host communities and public services, strengthening access to education and skills acquisition, we hope to help refugees rebuild their lives. Refugees need to be included in new communities and have the chance to put down new roots, and realize their potential. As forced displacement worldwide increases year on year, helping refugees rebuild their lives must be a shared responsibility. 

Hand in hand with partners, the Iraqi and Kurdish people, and refugee communities themselves, we at UNHCR work tirelessly to try and find sustainable solutions for refugees in Iraq. On World Refugee Day we recognize that solidarity starts with every one of us.” 

Mr. Bruno Geddo is the UNHCR Representative in Iraq


  • June 19, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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The story of the “greatest king you’ve never heard” of will be told in a new exhibition that recreates an ancient civilisation whose remains were targeted by Islamic State. 

Assyria was governed by King Ashurbanipal whose seventh century BC capital Nineveh, in Mosul, modern-day Iraq, was the centre of an empire stretching from Egypt and Iran to Turkey. 

The place has been a battle field for much of the past 15 years and statues, sculptures and buildings, including a set of gates guarding the ancient city, were plundered and destroyed by militants in 2014. Curator Gareth Brereton said he hoped the British Museum exhibition would shed light on what has been “a terrible time for Iraqi cultural history” where “sites have been bulldozed and dynamited, it has been awful.” 

The exhibition, called I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria, features more than 200 objects including huge stone sculptures, a large collection of cuneiform documents, wall paintings and carved ivory furniture — many of which were found on archealogical sites since ransacked by Islamic State. 

There will also be a recreation of the king’s library which was thought lost for hundreds of years after the city was destroyed by invaders around 627BC. Mr Brereton continued: “The city was sacked after his death when the empire fell apart, and his library was burnt down. But because it was all on clay tablets, burning them actually preserved the documents so we are able to tell so much of the story.” 

The exhibition will also highlight the work of the Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme which oversees the training of Iraqi archaeologists with the aim of saving threatened sites. Mr Brereton added: “This autumn, the British Museum will reveal the history of Ashurbanipal, the greatest king you’ve never heard of. 

“We hope many visitors will discover the stories of ancient Assyria and Ashurbanipal for the very first time, and experience the splendour of his palace at Nineveh and the impact of the Assyrian empire. 

“As present day Iraq looks to recover the history of damaged sites at Nineveh and Nimrud, this exhibition allows us to appreciate and relive the great achievements of an ancient world and celebrate its legacy.” The exhibition, supported by BP, opens on November 8th and will run to February 24th 2019. 

by Robert Dex


  • June 18, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
  • No comments
UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visited West Mosul on Saturday, less than a year after the city's liberation in June and July 2017. 

The visit marked Jolie's 61st mission - and her fifth visit to Iraq - with the UN Refugee Agency since 2001. She arrived in the city on the second day of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan. 

Jolie walked among the bombed-out buildings that line the narrow streets of the Old City and met displaced families, to discuss efforts to rebuild the city and the needs of the returning population. 

West Mosul was held captive by ISIS for three years. The combat operation to re-take the city was the largest and longest urban battle since World War II, and the wreckage reminiscent of Dresden. Civilians faced aerial bombardment, artillery barrage, cross-fire, snipers, and unexploded ordnance. 

Hundreds of thousands of people were subjected to siege-like conditions, used as human shields or targeted as they fled the city. Large swathes of West Mosul were flattened. Many residents are now slowly returning, to scenes of complete destruction. Like residents of other former ISIS strongholds, they have suffered nearly unprecedented levels of psychological trauma. 

UNHCR is helping many returning families, with programs including cash assistance to rebuild their homes, legal representation for family members who have been arbitrarily detained because of mistaken identity, and help to obtain essential legal documents that were confiscated, destroyed or denied during the occupation. 

Speaking in front of the ruins of al-Nuri Mosque, Special Envoy Angelina Jolie said: 

"This is the worst devastation I have seen in all my years working with UNHCR. People here have lost everything: their homes are destroyed. They are destitute. They have no medicine for their children, and many have no running water or basic services. They are still surrounded by bodies in the rubble. After the unimaginable trauma of the occupation, they are now trying to rebuild their homes, often with little or no assistance. 

I have no words for the strength it must take to rebuild after loss like this. But that is what the people of this city are doing. They are grief-stricken and traumatized, but they are also hopeful. They are clearing their homes with their own hands, and volunteering and helping each other. But they need our assistance. 

We often tend to assume, as an international community, that when the fighting is over, the work is done. But the conditions I observed here in West Mosul are appalling. Displacement is still happening. The camps near the city are still full. Whole areas of West Mosul remain flattened. Enabling people to return and stabilizing the city is essential for the future stability of Iraq and the region. 

I recognize the great sacrifices made in the liberation of Mosul. I hope there will be a continued commitment to rebuilding and stabilizing the whole of the city. And I call on the international community not to forget Mosul, and not to turn their attention away from its people. We have learnt in Iraq before and elsewhere in the region the dangers of leaving a void. It is also what the families and survivors deserve. 

I met parents whose 17-year-old daughter lost her legs in a mortar-strike. When they carried her to get medical treatment they were turned away, and she bled to death. Every man I met talked about the lashes and punishments inflicted by the extremists. The girls I met talked about the years of not being able to go to school, and of seeing people killed, and of feeling too afraid to leave their houses.

It is deeply upsetting that people who have endured unparalleled brutality have so little as they try, somehow, to rebuild the lives they once had."


  • June 17, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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In May 2005, the UN announced that Iraq was “about to become a transit station for heroine”, where after being "manufactured in Afghanistan is heading towards Europe through neighbouring Iran”. 

In 2013, I reported that “violence, unemployment and poverty” had led to a dramatic “increase" in drug abuse across Iraq and that drugs were becoming wide spread, in places where child labour is commonly used - such as in car repair shops and road junctions, where cheap goods are often sold. 

The Baghdad Post reported how the Islamic State were cultivating opium in Sharqat to finance their terror based operations. According to the online publication, opium was being used to extract heroin in the laboratories of the University of Mosul, after falling under IS control in June 2014. 

In Kurdistan, security forces raided a drugs farm in October 2016 and found narcotics with an estimated value of around $1 million. The mountainous nature and rough terrain of Northern Iraq, had made it difficult for security services to detect this and other drug farms in the area. 

In 2017, it was highlighted by the Associated Press, how Iraq’s national security agency confirmed the presence of facilities producing drugs - such as crystal meth - in Basra and Maysan provinces in the south of Iraq. 

According to anti-narcotics officers in Basra, since 2014 the drugs trade has flourished because of the vacuum left, when security forces were moved from the borders to join the fight against the Islamic State, which swept through nearly a third of Iraq that year. 

Those vulnerable to drug abuse and those experiencing drug addictions, are people living with conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - where extreme acts of violence and isolation due to instability - has left people turning to substances to "numb" the pain of conflict. 

While treatments for such conditions often vary, the Narconon rehabilitation service, holds a different perspective to other treatments for drugs and substance abuse. Narconon don’t have “patients”, “victims” or even “addicts” - they have "students who are learning to live a successful drug-free life." 

As people are often proscribed drugs - to suppress cravings or to dumb down the psychological element of addiction with anti-depressants - Narconon offers more therapeutic "natural" remedies, with "no substitute drugs" and seek long lasting solutions by addressing the question; "what drove a person to drugs in the first place?" 

Quite often, people living with PTSD can experience sleeplessness, feelings of detachment, alienation and a lack of motivation, suicidal thoughts and yes - drug abuse. The traumatic experience gives so much mental attention to the past - that even years after the traumatic incident - the person is often left with "little or no attention for the here and now." 

In an approach similar to other rehabilitation techniques - like Mindfulness or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - Narconon recognises the connection between mental health and addiction. "A person’s attention can be stuck in thousands of different moments", where a persons "behaviour can be influenced by past experiences." 

As Iraq emerges from the battle with Islamic State and seeks to rehabilitate its infrastructure, people also need their own rehabilitation services to overcome the hidden wounds of war. People need to be mindful, Iraq's current approaches to overcoming addiction may also be under-developed. 

While the professional brain drain Iraq experienced due to conflict, may mean addictions have been left untreated, it's worth giving consideration to the fact; that bricks and mortar can replace the material scars of conflict but drug abuse and the absence of mental health services, can also lead to other long term conflicts. 

Hussein Al-alak is the editor of Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)


  • June 15, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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The humanitarian crisis in Iraq is entering a new phase. Combat operations against ISIS have ended and hundreds of thousands of displaced people are returning to their homes and communities. 

But more than 2 million vulnerable people are still living in camps or substandard accommodation, and an estimated 8.7 million will require some form of humanitarian assistance in 2018. 

Abbas Saleh and his family were among the millions of Iraqis impacted by conflict and economic downturn, during the last four years. Widespread unemployment and deteriorating public services threatened his community, his livelihood and his family’s well-being. 

That’s when he discovered the AMAR Foundation's INVEST Center. The Inclusive Vocational and Entrepreneurship Skills Training (INVEST) Center opened in Abbas’s community in Najaf in 2016, along with five other Centers across Iraq. 

Each Center provides skills based training, legal counsel, and psycho-social support for both internally displaced people and host communities.The INVEST Centers also provide networking opportunities and small-business starter grants to help course participants find jobs in their communities, or launch their own businesses. 

In 2017, Abbas enrolled on one of the men’s training courses offered at the Center – a sewing class designed to teach tailoring and other essential on-the-job skills. Abbas graduated from the course in May and following his graduation, was hired at a men’s tailors in Najaf. 

Today, Abbas continues to use the skills he developed at the INVEST Center to provide for his family. His story is just a snapshot of the thousands of success stories, who are using their INVEST training skills to rebuild a life for themselves and their families. 

After two years running on AMAR Foundation funding, four of the six INVEST Centers are now self-sustaining and will continue to provide training and opportunities for parents like Abbas. AMAR's INVEST training also provides new economic opportunities to displaced and underserved families, individuals and entire communities. 

This Father’s Day, we invite you to support Abbas, his family and the thousands of other fathers like him, by making a gift to the AMAR Foundation. Your support helps rebuild the lives of hundreds of families, by providing them with new career opportunities through skills based training. 

by Sarah Hollis


  • June 14, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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The UK’s biggest annual celebration of Arab culture encourages guests to ask themselves ‘What do I know?’ as it reveals its 20th anniversary festival theme. 

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival (LAAF) has revealed its packed programme of diverse events for the 2018 edition, which features The Shroud Maker, a dark new satire by Ahmed Masoud, a ground-breaking production of At Home in Gaza and London, where a mix of live-streaming and recorded video bring performers in Gaza and London together and the UK premiere of documentary film Science in Exile. 

Also premiering at LAAF 2018 is new performance piece What Do I Know? Taking inspiration from the poetry of Liverpool/Yemeni spoken word poet Amina Atiq and starring acclaimed composer and singer/songwriter of Syrian Sephardi heritage, Ana Silvera, the performance looks at the effects of war in Yemen and provides the foundation for the theme of 20th anniversary festival. 

Challenging and hopeful, the theme encourages festival audiences to step away from the assumptions made around Arab life and explore its reality through the lived experience, expressed through diverse art forms of music, dance, visual art, theatre, film and spoken word. 

Theatre and Spoken Word 

Launching LAAF 2018’s theatre and spoken word programme is the premiere of What Do I Know? presented in collaboration with ice & fire theatre at the Philharmonic Music Room (Sunday 8 July), with a discussion with the cast and creative team after the show. 

On Monday 9 July and Tuesday 10 July, Station House Opera and Artsadmin bring At Home in Gaza and London to LAAF. Funded by National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC), the performance follows the lives of people in two locations separated by great political, economic and physical divides and invites the audience to explore ideas of home and the hidden realities of life in two locations, 2,000 miles apart. 

The Shroud Maker by Ahmed Masoud, starring Julia Tarnoky, will come to Unity Theatre on Saturday 14 July. The play shares the story of Hajja Souad – a character loosely based on a real-life person still living in Gaza today. 

The play depicts how the 80-year old woman has survived decades of wars, deportation and oppression by making and selling shrouds for the dead, profiting from the continuous Israeli attacks. 

Film 

A special double bill at The Box at Fact on Wednesday 11 July will feature the UK premiere of Science in Exile (PG), directed by Nicole Leghissa and It’s Only the Beginning (PG), directed by Chus López Vidal and Paula Rodríguez Sickert, followed by a post-screening discussion with Leghissa and López Vidal. 

Science in Exile explores how recent violence in Syria, Yemen and Iraq has threatened the lives of four researchers, forcing them to suspend their work and flee their homelands. Challenging the common stereotypes of refugees from a war-ravaged region, Science in Exile finds women and men with years of training and experience struggling to find a safe haven in new lands. Documentary It’s Only the Beginning follows six Arab women filmmakers from different countries as they meet in Berlin in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring”. 

Invited by two mutual friends, the directors of the film, to screen their own work and get together, the film documents the women’s emotional reunion. As they journey through the streets of Berlin exchanging feelings about what they witnessed, they reflect on how both their lives and their work as filmmakers were impacted during this most convulsive period. 

On Thursday 12 July, BBC Arabic Festival Film Evening will return to LAAF with the winner of the festival’s ‘Best Feature Documentary’ award, Those Who Remain, followed by a post-screening discussion at Picturehouse at FACT. 

The feature-length documentary from distinguished director Eliane Raheb is set in Al Shambouk, one of the highest mountainous areas in Lebanon. Located in the Akkar heights, just few kilometres away from Syria, it is the homeland of 60-year-old Christian farmer, Haykal and the location of the farm and restaurant he has decided to build. 

In the documentary Haykal deals with neighbouring quarries and the agricultural stagnation, in addition to the repercussions of the Syrian crisis on the political and economic situation, all while building his new home and defending his coexistence in Lebanon. 

Visual Art 

On Saturday 7 July British artist Rachel Gadsden will reveal her Unlimited International commission and collaboration with Palestinian artist Ali Saeid Ashour, It Was Paradise. 

Located in London, Liverpool and the West Bank, and inspired by Palestinian poet and author Mahmoud Darwish’s poem ‘Under Siege’, the collaboration addresses global concerns about migration, the lingering flight of refugees, as well as the isolation of disabled and bereaved people. 

The launch of the exhibition will be followed on Sunday 8 July by a conversation with Gadsden at Open Eye Gallery, where she will discuss the artworks, which have been inspired by the challenges and the beauty of the culturally rich Palestinian landscape. 

LAAF will also welcome British Libyan artist and graphic novelist Asia Alfasi to the Bluecoat Artist Studio from Saturday 7 July to Wednesday 11 July, as the festival’s Artist in Residence. 

Alfasi will showcase pieces inspired by her childhood in Libya and her visits to the country during and after the recent revolution as well as creating new works that provoke cross-cultural dialogue. 

She invites visitors to join the conversation through a series of workshops on Saturday 7 July, as part of the Bluecoat’s festival family workshop event, and at drop-in sessions throughout her residency. 

Bringing the experiences of refugees to LAAF, the Tented Dreams exhibition (Saturday 7 July – Friday 13 July), facilitated by Souriyat Across Borders, will feature a small selection of prints of the works of Syrian artist Mohammed Amari, who fled devastation of the civil war conflict in his country with few worldly possessions, including his watercolours. 

His moving paintings will be showcased alongside original artworks by refugees from the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, with whom he has been working as a volunteer art teacher. The refugees have used the material from their old tents as their canvas, painting images that reflect their current situation, suffering and emotional turmoil, as well as their hopes, dreams and aspirations. 

Dance 

Showcasing the rich tapestry of Arab culture, LAAF will enthral audiences with performances by Brotha from Another Motha on Friday 13 July. The contemporary dance company will delight unsuspecting audiences with pop up performances of solo dance M. A. K. T. O. U. B and duo piece Shine My Blind Way at the Sugar House Steps in Liverpool ONE. 

Born out of the Tunisian revolution, Brotha From Another Motha was founded as a way of providing a creative outlet for young Tunisians in the wake of the Arab Spring, but now includes members from across the globe. The group champions dance and creativity as a means of freedom and expression that crosses borders. 

Music 

Joining LAAF’s enhanced musical programme and a world-class line up that already includes internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter Emel Mathlouthi, Arab electronic hip-hop supergroup 47SOUL and trailblazing duo from the occupied Golan Heights, TootArd, is Bachar Zarkan with Hallaj of Hope. 

In a special invite-only performance that will be live-streamed to the public on Thursday 5 July, Zarkan will pay homage to the divine poetry of the Sufi mystics and thinkers such as Ibn Arabi, Ibn Al-Faridh, and Al-Hallaj, and extends their rich legacy to the work of contemporary poet and literary icon Mahmoud Darwish. 

Presented in partnership with MARSM, funded by National Lottery through Arts Council England and supported by Liverpool City Council Festival Enhancement Funding, Zarkan combines Syrian and Egyptian musical heritage, along with styles such as the Iraqi maqam, carrying an innovative expressivity and bringing a remarkable distinction to an already astonishing musical culture. 

On Friday 6 July, 47Soul and TootArd will also be joined by DJ Jacques Malchance, while on Saturday 7 July Emel Mathlouthi will be joined by “The Moroccan Digitalizer”, U-Cef, for a special DJ set. 

Extending the festival outside of the city, LAAF in Partnership with Arts Canteen will present Simona Abdallah in ‘Heartbeat’ at The Courtyard in London, ahead of her appearance at LAAF’s much-loved family day at Sefton Park Palm House. 

The impressive line-up of internationally acclaimed Arab music stars is part of LAAF’s enhanced musical programme for 2018, supported by Liverpool City Council Festival Enhancement Funding (www.liverpoolfestivalcity.com) which has allowed an even more ambitious musical programme as the city celebrates a decade since its year as European Capital of Culture. 

Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Culture, Tourism and Events, Councillor Wendy Simon, said: “I’d like to congratulate the LAAF team on such an impressive and thought-provoking programme of events. 

“So many genres are covered from visual art and dance right though to music and performance that audiences are spoilt for choice in ways in which they can learn about, appreciate and celebrate Arab culture. 

“I’m sure this year’s events will be a huge success and I hope as many people as possible take part and make the most of this incredible annual festival.” 

“Music, theatre, spoken word, film, visual art and family activities all feature in this year’s exciting festival, showcasing a full spectrum of engaging and enthralling Arab arts. 

“We invite all people from all walks of life to join this year’s incredible range of artists to celebrate the vibrant and diverse Arab cultures and art forms and ask themselves in reflection, what do I know now about Arab life?” 

Jane Beardsworth, Director North, Arts Council England, said: “Liverpool Arab Arts Festival has celebrated to Arabic culture for 20 years and I’m delighted that the Arts Council continues to support the festival as part of our 2018-22 National Portfolio. 

Local communities and visitors are introduced to a wide range of arts and culture, including theatre, dance, music and visual arts, and I’m sure that this year’s programme will bring an even wider audience to the festival.” 

For more information and more event details, on LAAF 2018, visit www.arabartsfestival.com 

by Khyle Deen


  • June 13, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
  • No comments
While some towns in Iraq are known for producing oil or textiles, Badra boasts its own special conveyor belt — churning out weightlifting champions. 

In cafes along the main road dissecting the small town, 10km from the border with Iran, chatter rarely veers far from the successes of local lifters. 

In the old days, “men measured their performance by lifting cast iron, often spare parts of cars,” said Khudeir Basha, who grew up nearby and became coach of the national weightlifting team. “In 1974, the youth of Badra decided to take part in the Iraqi championships,” the bespectacled coach recalled, referring to himself and his friends. 

The hopefuls headed south to Diwaniya province, where they swept up “all the prizes”, astonishing fellow competitors who had never heard of Badra. Since then, he said, weightlifting has been synonymous with the town of 15,000, some 200km east of Baghdad. A weightlifting training centre, set up in 1993 in a Badra high school, is still in operation. 

The spartan hall echoes with shouts of encouragement by Basha, who sets an example by keeping himself in peak condition. Heavy lifter Salwan Jassim Aboud, who is in the 105kg category, returned from the Asian weightlifting championships in Turkmenistan last year with a silver medal. The new generation wants to “continue what Badra has launched in the weightlifting field”, the thickset athlete said. 

With seemingly little effort, Aboud propelled a barbell from the floor to far above his head, the bar ends sagging slightly under heavy discs. In 2016, the 26-year-old took part in the Olympic Games in Brazil. Ten years previously, his brother Mohammad won silver at a contest in Qatar. “It’s up to us and the coaches to keep going so Badra remains a factory for champion weightlifters,” said Abboud, who will represent Iraq at the Asian Games in Indonesia this summer. 

Lifters here are acutely aware that they are upholding a tradition. Another medal winner, 28-year-old Ahmad Farouq, said he was “proud to have made this small town Iraq’s capital of weightlifting”, noted for its victories in Asian and Arab competitions. “Big names have been here and we need to protect that identity,” he said. But despite those successes, the gym is in poor shape. 

Paint peeled from the pale green walls, a solitary fan recycled warm air and the upholstery on the leg press had worn away, disgorging yellow foam as if from a putrid wound. Iraq’s sports authorities are losing interest in Badra and the weightlifting club, coach Basha lamented. The small management team has resorted to drumming up its own income to keep things ticking over. 

“Every year, the club generates 30 million dinars (Dh91,750) by renting out shops it bought,” says Mohammad Kazem, a 55-year-old former athlete, now manager of the weightlifting club. And while that isn’t a lot, Kazem said he committed to training the next generation of lifters for free. 

He and fellow talent scouts regularly tour schools and sports clubs in the town and beyond, to recruit “nursery champions” and ensure “there are people ... to protect (Badra’s) reputation and keep the story going.” In the club, athletes regularly execute lifts exceeding their own weight. 

The success of Aboud, Farouq and others “is proof that Badra is the number one weightlifting town (in Iraq) and also the most attached to the sport,” said Kazem. With schoolchildren among the disciplined lifters filling the gym, it seems the production line will keep grinding on, urged on by posters of past winners peering down from the peeling walls. 

AFP


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