The Green Music and Arts Festival in Sulaimani, Iraq

Although the Green Music and Arts Festival was on the 20th of April, our work in the Development Club started weeks before that. We began by sharing what each of us had in mind for the games that we needed to build for the festival. Our ideas had to be simple but at the same time they had to be creative.

We all had amazing ideas. The games had to be made from recycled materials to fit with the environmental theme, so we looked around campus for spare wood, cardboard, and plastic. We built the games, painted them and the results were perfect. Mr. Kevin practiced some songs with his Guitar Club students and they translated some verses of the song “Imagine” by John Lennon into Kurdish.

On the festival’s day, we started the preparations early in the morning, and it was lots of fun to prepare for it. We even played some games during the preparations. Azadi Park, where the festival was held, was a really beautiful place, and it was an ideal spot for students and teachers alike to gather and enjoy their time.

There were three hosts for the festival including myself, and the performances were presented by the hosts in English, Kurdish, and Arabic to enhance the ability of the audience to culturally relate to the performances and make a sense of cultural unity among the people. During the festival there was an elocution contest among the students of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. They each presented the same environmentally themed Kurdish poem that was translated into English. It was a really creative event overall, and it showed the students’ talents from different aspects.

One of the things I really enjoyed was drawing the American, Kurdish, and Iraqi flags on children’s faces and on adult’s faces too. It highlighted the cultural unity that brought us all together for one cause: helping our environment.

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Environmental March in Iraq

Participants marching through Sulaimani's Azadi Park

I dropped a grimy styrofoam cup into the burlap sack around my shoulder and took stock of what was going on all around me. Dozens of bikers were chatting as they slowly pedaled past me on my left side. A handful of local artists were holding banners and mock-hangman nooses nailed to 2-meter-long slats of wood ahead of me. A few children holding bamboo shoots scampered beside their parents as they picked up empty water bottles and cigarette butts off of Sulaimani’s main street, and surrounding the entire 200-person-strong entourage was a perimeter of stern-faced police officers marching in formation. A smirk slowly spread to an ear-to-ear smile as I saw with my own eyes the most meaningful experience of my two years in Iraq take place.

Dozens of participants rode bikes to demonstrate easy alternatives to fossil fuels

Climate Action Day Iraq was just one of hundreds of grassroots demonstrations that took place on September 24th, 2011. The umbrella organization which made the demonstration possible was, named after the upper limit ppm (parts per million) of CO2 in the atmosphere, past which the effects climate change becomes increasingly difficult to reverse, 350. Since co-founding AUI-S’ Development Club in March, I have been able to meet and work with dozens of local NGOs in Sulaimani working towards making their community a better place. When I floated the idea about an environmental march in Sulaimani out to my contacts in Suli-based NGOs, the response was encouraging; Nature Iraq, Development Now, Sulyon, Mercy Corps, and the Green Environment Group were committed to seeing this project take place.

Many of the participants held banners and slogans promoting environmental protection.

I’ll spare you accounts of the mind-numbingly inefficient trips back and forth from the governor’s office to the special police headquarters as organizers and I prepared official permission for the event. According to Nabil Musa, one of the organizers for Climate Action Day and a staff member of Nature Iraq, the process for getting approval for a demonstration has become much more difficult following the heated public anti-government demonstrations earlier this year. In preparation for the event, Nabil, Azar Othman from Sulyon and I scouted the bazaar in search of sponsors for the event. We were able to use dozens of planks of wood thanks to donations from local woodworkers. Local bike shops granted us reduced prices for renting 35 bikes for the day. Not only that but Zara Supermarket not only donated use of its garbage truck but also subsidized bamboo plants which we purchased for Climate Action Day Iraq participants.

It was inspiring to see so many groups of people work together on a project like this. Many of the development club students I had been working with for months took ownership of the issue of climate change in Iraq. A number of my students help prepare the banners and paint t-shirts before the event at Sulyon’s office. Amanj Saeed, the leader of the Green Environment Group wrote much of the initial proposal, which helped many of the organizations explain and fund the project through donors. Local and international media came out to film the event and interview participants, which were able to spread the message of environmental protection to many millions of viewers nationwide.

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Climate Action Day Proposal


Location: Suliamani, Iraq Purpose: Awareness of Climate change/ Environmental Protection Date: 24 September 2011 Description: Green environment group, Development Now, Sulyon Group , Iraq nature, Iraq upper Tigers Water keeper are organizing the project climate day action in Sulaimani city. Climate … Continue reading

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السوليون-السليمانيون (Sulyon- Arabic)


 لقد كنت من المحظوظين الذين قاموا بزيارة المجموعة الملهمة المدعوة السوليون بمصاحبة أعضاء مجموعة التطور الآن الموجودة في السليمانية في كردستان شمالي العراق قبل بضعة أسابيع. السوليون هم عبارة عن مجموعة من الفنانين الموهوبين الشبان حيث تتكون المجموعة من واحد … Continue reading

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Sulyon members shortly after performing their mask project

Written by Dastan Sabah. June 21, 2011. I had the good fortune of visiting an inspirational group called Sulyon with Development Club a few weeks ago. Sulyon is a group of artists, comprised of 41 active young members. Although most of the members are ethnically Kurdish, Arabic and British participants bring diversity to the group. This group’s members are full of life and energy. According to one Sulyon member: ”Art is free space for humans, and they can express their feelings freely and find what they search for.” Some of the main goals of Sulyon are to engage in an artistic dialogue with the citizens of Sulaimani and to help community members think about problems and their potential solutions in new ways.

Sulyon, which was founded in 2008, is very progressive; its projects are about today’s common situations, current problems and events. Sulyon members used street theater in autumn, 2010 to bring their message of free-thinking and diversity directly to the people. This group’s goal is to express common ideas and opinions about society, and to try to show society’s habits, illnesses, and weaknesses through their projects.

Chatting at Sulyon's office near the Sulaimani bazaar

Its members show their artwork mostly on the streets among people, or sometimes on platforms like stages. They have done more than four successful projects so far, including: Game, Border, Circle and Masks projects. While visiting the Red Museum with Development Club, I watched one of their projects recently. We observed that the group is very active in the community and it is working hard on its projects to create unforgettable plays and short films. It has been an inspirational project for me to be involved with.

Development Club members chatting with San Saravan about directing his recent masks project film

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Photography auction: Raising funds for Iraqi artists

Chris De Bruyn with members of Sulyon

Last year I met with Dr. Nicole Watts, a political science professor at San Francisco State University, in a café in the Northern Iraqi city of Sulaimani. We looked through a collection of photographs I’ve taken over the past few years and after a few cups of coffee we decided to pursue a photography exhibition in California. Over the following six or seven months we solidified the theme of ‘Constructing Kurdistan’, got in touch with a handful of people at U.C. Berkeley and made all of the necessary preparations for the show.

straightening the photos for the exhibition

A few weeks prior to flying to CA for the exhibition, I stopped by another café in Suli and once again, conversations over a steaming cup of joe fanned the flames for another big project. Along with Leah, the Athletic Director of AUI-S, and Tanya Mewmaw’s help, the three of us decided to organize a photography auction of the ‘Constructing Kurdistan’ photos right here in Kurdistan, and give all of the proceeds a worthy local organization, Sulyon.

Sulyon is a group of Iraqi artists that is doing some wonderful things. I was first introduced to the group of young artists  when I stumbled upon a street theater performance they put on this past October. The performance dealt with issues of tolerance and racism and was one of the most interesting things I’ve seen since coming to Iraq. The group consists of roughly 45 members, the majority of which are students or recent graduates of visual and theater arts from Iraqi universities in Sulaimani.

Tim Mewmaw helps auction the photos

On February 4th Leah, Tanya and I held our breath and had the auction. Staff and faculty from AUI-S and NGOs based in Sulaimani as well as local community members were in attendance. The auction lasted approximately two hours and it raised over $3,000 for Sulyon. I’m looking forward to checking in with them soon to see what projects they have planned for the money.

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