On the morning of March 19, 2007, Red Square was covered with chalk tracings of more than fifty human bodies and large block letters spelling out “Iraq Remembrance 2007,” while the names of lost Iraqi civilians and US troops were posted on the walls on large red posters. Iraq Remembrance Week had officially started.
In October 2006, Marwa Alkhairo, a first year Arab Studies’ student, mobilized a group of her classmates to organize an Iraq Remembrance Week in time for the fourth anniversary of the 2003 Iraq War. The main goal of the Iraq Remembrance initiative was to remember the lives of all those who have been killed as a result of the 2003 Iraq War and current occupation–including Iraqi civilians, US troops, and all other victims of US policy in Iraq. The heart of the effort was to bring awareness to the tragedy that has befallen Iraq and to encourage people in the Georgetown University and larger Washington, DC communities to press the American government for real policy changes in Iraq. Accordingly, the Iraq Remembrance Week Committee’s motto came to be “Remembrance-Awareness-Action-Change,” implying a cause and effect relationship. The objectives of the remembrance were five-fold: 1) to remember the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War and the continuing human tragedy caused by the US war and occupation; 2) to mourn the lost lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and thousands of American and Iraqi soldiers; 3) to stand in solidarity with Iraqis and express support for all those who have been victims of the US policy in Iraq; 4) to create awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq; and 5) to demand change through a critical reevaluation of current policies. These goals were sought through an array of events during the week of March 19 to March 23.
The week was kicked off with heavy on-campus awareness including chalking of human bodies on Red Square to symbolize the lives of dead Iraqis. Each body had the name of an Iraqi civilian with their age; while posters listed off names of Iraqis who have been killed and fallen US troops. Posters lined Red Square’s walls announcing the full packed week of events that were taking place on Georgetown’s campus, while fliers were posted all over campus. Each of the students was wearing their Iraq Week t-shits, which had the committee’s motto printed on the front, with a map of Iraq colored with Iraq’s flag on the back. T-shirts were sold at kiosks and events in order to raise money for the week’s expenses.
On the 19th, the official start of the Iraq War four years ago, the names of lost Iraqi lives and lost US troops were read loudly via a megaphone, through out the day showing that each hour people were being killed in Iraq. In the afternoon, the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) and Program for Justice and Peace (PJP) co-sponsored a lecture given by Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies. Bennis spoke about US policy in Iraq, what went wrong and what should be done now? Dr. Rochelle Davis, the Academic Director of CCAS for Spring 2007 moderated the event. As the evening approached, the reading of the names came to an end and the week’s main event, a vigil, set in. Alkhairo spoke of her experiences as an Iraqi-American with family in Iraq. Erik Gustafson, the director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, addressed the tragedy of the war and action that should be taken. CCAS’s Laila Shereen’s musical ensemble set the mood of the vigil with impassioned spoken word and music, and a reading of the names, lighting of the candles, and a moment of silence ended the vigil. Fox 5 News was present at the vigil, conducting interviews with some of the committee members and vigil attendees. Fox 5 News also advertised that there will be a week-long series of events at Georgetown’s campus on the nightly news. Monday’s event came to an end with the screening of the Oscar-nominated film, My Country, My Country, also sponsored by CCAS. Laura Poitras, the director of the film, flew in from London that day to lead a discussion about the film with audience members after the screening. On Tuesday night, we screened the film, About Baghdad, directed by Bassam Haddad (MAAS alumnus), Sinan Antoon (MAAS alumnus), Maya Mikdashi(MAAS alumna), Adam Shapiro (MAAS alumnus), and Suzy Salamy. Thursday’s night’s film screening was of Zaman: The Man of the Reeds.
Largely focusing on the humanitarian element of the war, a panel that focused on the human cost of the war took place on the morning of March 21. Officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the State Department, DC activist community, and the Brookings Institute-University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement presented a comprehensive analysis and understanding of the current humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Migration, Dr. Susan Martin, the director of ISIM, moderated the panel. Roberta Cohen (Brookings Institute) started off the panel discussion with a discussion on the internal displacement crisis in Iraq, while Wendy Young (UNHCR) addressed the current humanitarian disaster Iraq is incurring, IDP and refugee flows, and UNHCR’s role, Larry Bartlett (State Department) spoke about the US role with the Iraqi refugee crisis, and Adam Shapiro (MAAS alumni and activist) talked about the Palestinian refugees in Iraq today. (The papers of each of the panelists will be available on the ISIM website within the next couple of months.)
Sponsored by CCAS and co-sponsored by the the Arab Studies Journal and PJP, the capstone and final event of the week, Iraq! Oh Iraq! A Night of Iraqi Cultural Performances took place on the night of March 23rd. As described by one of the attendees, the event was “truly magical, fantastic, and heartwarming.” For the first time ever, Heather Raffo, playwright and actress of Nine Parts of Desire, Sinan Antoon, Iraqi novelist and poet, professor at New York University, and MAAS alumni, and Amir El-Saffar, Iraqi santoor player and musician, captivated a more than full-house audience with a combined performance of their respective arts. Raffo recited selections from her play Nine Parts of Desire, Sinan interweaved his poetry recitation, while Amir’s santoor and music were playing through out the performance. Mixing their artistic talent, on-stage chemistry, and their Iraqi heritage the trio’s connection and passion was felt through out the audience, as the three performers related the tragedy of Iraq through words and music. A short intermission was followed by the maqam performance of Safaafir, an Iraqi maqam group composed of Amir El-Saffar, his sister Dena El-Saffar, and her husband Tim Moore. Playing and singing the most well-known and traditional songs of Iraq, the audience asked for more as Safaafir took the audience back to a night in Baghdad. The artwork of Iraqi artist Lavon Ammori was put on display.
Iraq Remembrance Week would especially like to thank the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, its staff and professors, for their endless support of the Iraq Week. This week could not have happened without CCAS. Additionally, the sponsorship of ISIM, and the co-sponsorships of the Arab Studies Journal and PJP are deeply appreciated, as are the donations of Laura Poitras, Lavon Ammori, and Bassam Haddad.