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A Call for Peaceful Coexistence

Date: June 7, 2024

On September 21, 2023, women, youth, community leaders, artists, security actors, and families from around northern Iraq gathered in the pursuit of peace.

Members of the Women's Peace Team in Iraq are standing together in a circle outdoors, across from male Peace leaders. Their backs are turned to the camera. Each of woman is wearing a tan vest and a headscarf.

Qayyarah Peace Festival. Iraq. September 2023. ©NP

Organized by three Youth Peace Teams and supported by Nonviolent Peaceforce, the Peace Festival brought together more than 1,700 people – including Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and Arabs – for the first event of its kind since the occupation of IS/Da’esh ended in 2016.

Typically in northern Iraq deep divisions keep communities separate and suspicious of each other. People rarely interact outside of their extended family or tribal group. Public spaces like parks and markets are divided. In a community that is home to diverse peoples such separation fuels negative stereotypes and fear of the other, and when there is conflict it can quickly lead to violence.

These community tensions were only made worse during the occupation of the area by IS/ Da’esh from 2014 to 2016. Families and tribal groups had differing experiences. Some families lost members at the hands of IS. Others may have members who participated in IS.

"Violence is the basis of the disintegration of communities and the destruction of social connections. Therefore, on Peace Day, this is a call for peace and peaceful coexistence between all."

- Haneen, Protection Team Coordinator, during opening remarks to the Peace Festival

Within this divided ecosystem, women bear the brunt of isolation. Often, women have a hard time accessing public spaces outside of their homes, and with what access they do have, they become vulnerable to normalized gender inequality and sexual harassment.

More than 1,700 people are sitting in the stands while attending the Qayyarah Peace Festival, including approximately 650 women and girls, as well as secondary displaced persons and returnees (21 September 2023)

Around the world, Nonviolent Peaceforce uses a set of tools called unarmed civilian protection (UCP). UCP can be used to keep people safe in the midst of a war or conflict, and UCP can be used in communities with no active war like northern Iraq, to build trust and relationships among groups in tension. In this way, we keep people safe by preventing violence before it starts. The Peace Festival is just one example of UCP in action - building trust and relationships among divided groups.

The first barrier to a successful Peace Festival was ensuring people would come. Without trust of one another - who across the community would show up? Women and girls, especially would be worried about being harassed or hurt on their travel to the Festival.

To encourage inclusive participation, NP’s Community Protection team provided protective presence - physically traveling with the women and girls to the Festival - so they felt safe to attend.

The Peace Festival was an eye-opener to many. It debunked inter-ethnic, religious, tribal, and linguistic stereotypes that commonly feed hatred, fear, and mistrust between communities.

One female Yazidi attendee, Najat, told NP that attending the festival led her to change her mind about Sunni Arabs, whom she had been very suspicious of since the IS/Da’esh occupation.

Yazidi and Kurdish women from Sinjar and Zummar join men on stage to pay tribute to Iraq’s national anthem (21 September 2023) at International Day of Peace event called the Qayyarah Festival. Men on the right are dressed in all white with two men's faces covered in white paint as well. All men and women are raising the Iraq flag.

Yazidi and Kurdish women from Sinjar and Zummar join stage to
pay tribute to Iraq’s national anthem. September 2023. ©N

Najat shared, “They were kind and generous to the guests and treated everyone with kindness. Some people [in my community] were surprised by what I said given the bad history they still remember about IS, but many of them were happy with what I told them, and they got a positive impression. I expect that they will visit the Arab regions a lot in the future after I encouraged them to do so.”

Such positive interactions during the festival have served as a catalyst for ongoing dialogue, collaboration, and relationship-building in the region, beyond the festival. This is what NP does: uniting people across religious, socio- economic, ethnic, gender, and tribal lines and giving them the support they desire to foster peace within and between their communities.

Click here to read the full case study!

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