Amidst the rubble, young activists in Mosul have organised a cultural festival on Najafi street in west Mosul to promote the culture and heritage of the city. The festival is entitled “A Touch of Hope” and is aimed at reviving cultural life in Mosul. For three years under ISIS occupation, the group tried to remove all traces of Mosul’s cultural heritage. Now locals are playing an active role in reviving festivals, theatre performances and artistic exhibition in order to showcase the city’s rich culture.
When ISIS entered Mosul in the summer of 2014, old artefacts and ancient monuments were destroyed as part of the group’s concerted campaign against “heretical influences”. The University of Mosul’s library, which contained tens of thousands of books, some of which were hundreds of years old, was destroyed by the militant group and many books were burnt.
Additionally, religious and historical sites in Mosul and other areas in their territories were desecrated and destroyed. The group tried to rob people of their cultural and religious identities and replace it with total devotion to their totalitarian caliphate.
During the festival, a book fair was held and paintings as well as artistic works embodying the suffering of ordinary people under ISIS and during the battle to liberate the city from the group.
Organisers of the festival hope that it could raise awareness and pressure the government to invest more resources in rebuilding the neighbourhood, which is still in ruins following the months-long battle last year.
“This festival tried to convey a picture to the whole world that Najafi Street is a street of culture and reading, but it needs reconstruction after it was destroyed in the war,” said one organiser.
Since the liberation of Mosul, a number of similar initiatives have appeared across the city. They are a symbol of determination by locals that ordinary life is returning to their city and its status as the cultural capital of Iraq will be realised once again.