• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

UNHCR-run festival in Syria highlights arts and culture of Iraq

News Stories, 3 April 2008

© UNHCR/B.Auger
Hundreds of Syrian, Iraqi and expatriate children have been attending performances by Iraqi refugee clowns at the festival.

DAMASCUS, Syria, April 3 (UNHCR) As the Iraq crisis enters its sixth year, the UN refugee agency has been highlighting the culture and artistic talents of the Iraqi people during a weeklong festival in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Artists, musicians, actors, dancers and poets have come together at the French Cultural Centre to show that Iraq's artistic tradition is alive and well despite the turmoil and massive displacement that has been taking place in their country since the April 2003 overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime.

The "Five Years On" festival opened last Sunday and some of the art featured will be sent to the United States and Europe for exhibition after the event closes on Friday. Two concerts of Iraqi music are taking place during the week.

The programme reflects Iraq's rich and diverse history of music with the oud, nai and qanun being played. Included is Kurdish, Arabic and Assyrian music from every corner of Iraq.

"We are here today to remember that Iraqis have faced five years of upheaval and turmoil. Many are refugees. Their talent in the face of sorrow is an expression of the strength and courage of all Iraqi refugees," Laurens Jolle, UNHCR's representative in Syria, said at the festival opening on Sunday.

The poster of the exhibition at the "Five Years On" festival held from 30 March 2008 to 4 April 2008 in Damascus, Syria.

During the week, hundreds of Syrian, Iraqi and expatriate children have been attending an Iraqi refugee clown performance, videos of Iraqi children at school, at work and at home, and a debate led by UNHCR staff.

For the non-Iraqi children, the clown show is presented as one of the ways that UNHCR tries to help young refugees who have lost loved family members and faced trauma.

"The story of the little girl who lost her four brothers and father was very sad, but she smiled at the camera when she finished telling her story. What an amazing girl. I was happy to laugh with the clowns after hearing this sad story, but I will not forget the little girl," said a 10-year-old girl from the French school in Damascus.

This is the fourth event held by UNHCR Damascus as part of its "Express Yourself" campaign, which aims to promote Iraqi talent and give Iraqi refugees creative avenues to express what it means for them to be refugees. In addition, a troupe of clowns regularly visit the UNHCR Registration Centre in Damascus as well as community centres, clinics and homes.

An estimated 2 million people have fled violence in Iraq and escaped overseas, including some 1.5 million in Syria.

By Sybella Wilkes in Damascus, Syria




UNHCR country pages

Iraq Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Iraq.

Donate to this crisis

When art and politics didn't agree

Related news stories to Unit plan for ages 15-18 in Art: Art in Nazi Germany - When art and politics didn't agree

Teaching About Refugees, Art

Refugees contribute to the culture of their host community. Some are well-known artists, painters, poets or novelists. Dante Alighieri created the major part of his work during his exile. Playwright Bertold Brecht, authors Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka, poets Pablo Neruda and Jorge Semprun, musician Miguel Angel Estrellas, painters Lucian Freud and Remedios Varo - all suffered periods of exile which, in some cases, deeply colored their work. The theme of exile can be studied in literature, the history of music and art.

9-11 year olds A Response Through Artwork
12-14 year olds Repatriation and Graphic Communication
15-18 year olds Art in Nazi Germany - When Art and Politics didn't Agree


How the theme of exile can be introduced into lessons on the history of music and art.

Repatriation and Graphic Communication

Related news stories to Unit plan for ages 12-14 in Art: Repatriation and Graphic Communication

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to Iraq in July 2009 to offer support to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced within their own country.

During her day-long visit to Baghdad, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited a makeshift settlement for internally displaced people in north-west Baghdad where she met families displaced from the district of Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad, and from the western suburbs of the capital.

Despite the difficulties in Iraq, Jolie said this was a moment of opportunity for Iraqis to rebuild their lives. "This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives."

UNHCR estimates that 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced by a wave of sectarian warfare that erupted in February 2006 after the bombing of a mosque in the ancient city of Samarra. Almost 300,000 people have returned to their homes amid a general improvement in the security situation since mid-2008.

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

Croatia; Destination UnknownPlay video

Croatia; Destination Unknown

Serbia: Overstretched BordersPlay video

Serbia: Overstretched Borders

As Hungary builds a fence on its border with Serbia, the situation at the border between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece is increasingly precarious. Refugees in Serbia on their way to Hungry fear the tighter measures and say they wouldn't have fled home had they not been forced to do it by the war.
Saving Diana: A Syrian Refugee With Special NeedsPlay video

Saving Diana: A Syrian Refugee With Special Needs

Ten year old Diana was born in Syria with a severe form of Cerebral Palsy. For nearly a month, she traveled with her mother and brother across deserts and sea in search of safety in Europe.