Writers and intellectuals are meeting once a week at the Nofara Cafe in Raqqa on their own initiative as part of a forum called "Bait al-Qaseed".
Over two years on from the liberation of Raqqa from ISIS, the cultural and literary scene in the city has gone through leads and bounds after years of severe repression on the part of the terrorist group.
Bait al-Qaseed is a small forum established by a group of writers and intellectuals who are eager to improve the state of cultural activities and promote reading and literature among the population.
“Bait al-Qaseed is a common space for all writers, artists, and creative people to express themselves through their poems or compositions and promote the literary and artistic scene in this beautiful city, the city of Raqqa”, noted Daham al-Sattam, a writer.
Critical thinkers, artists, dramatists and others involved in cultural activities were heavily repressed during ISIS rule in the city. Liberation from the terrorist group has allowed for these individuals to resume their activities and breathe new life into the culture of the city. The cafe itself were the forum is held is located close to al-Naim roundabout, infamous for being the location where ISIS would execute individuals who were deemed to diverge from the group’s totalitarian vision for society.
“During the dark years of suffering in Raqqa, literature was something punishable, and many writers were arrested and beheaded under this charge. 4 years later, I see Bait al-Qaseed as a ray of light”, remarked Maria al-Otaibi, a writer.
Several other initiative have been organised in the city in order to revitalise the cultural scene. This includes the formation of musical bands who play music and sing songs that reflect the multicultural nature of the city and the region. Theatre has also been a key part of this cultural revival, as it represents an art form through which actors can retell the stories of repression under ISIS in a critical fashion.
Aside from the revitalisation of intangible treasures, the physical reconstruction of cultural sites has also been a priority in Raqqa. Most recently, the Foundation of Religious and Municipal Affairs in Raqqa began work on reconstructing the city’s Great Mosque, which was damaged during the ISIS occupation.