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Music in Mosul: A concert shows that art can triumph over the rubble and ashes left behind by ISIS

The concert (Ali Y. Al-Baroodi)

An interview with Ali al Baroodi

Can you tell us about this important concert that took place?

It was held in western Mosul at the building that ISIS used to throw people off. It was supported by the US AID and conducted by Maestro Karim Wasfi, with the support of the Qintara cultural café.

And this is one of many such events?

Yes there are more musical events. Music in Mosul nowadays is flourishing for many reasons. People want to embrace arts in different forms to commemorate when these beautiful things were forbidden. It was like a forbidden apple. When it is forbidden you want it. And during the years of ISIS occupation, if you played music you might be executed by ISIS. Also it is a kind of a challenge. If you look around the city, music is played in places that were occupied or used badly by ISIS. The first concert was conducted near the riverside where they used to train their militants. From the beginning of the liberation, musicians would come and try and spread their arts over the ashes and rubble, in the hope that life can flourish in the coming days.

How do you feel musical life is developing in Mosul?

Musically it is very successful. It is a sign of embracing life in all its forms. It is accepted and played everywhere even before ISIS. I think that people kind of no longer care about the terror and explosions. The bombing Thursday [November8], the maestro Wasfi went to the scene and sent a message to the world that the concert will be held on time.

Most of the attendees knew it was supported by US AID and I saw no complaining or fear. What Mosul needs is solidarity and support, financially, materially, music and arts, coming from different countries whether US, EU or other places. Mosul has paid a high cost of this occupation [by ISIS] and deserves to be treated fairly. The most dangerous organization was defeated on this land at a high cost.

The concert, supported by US AID and Qintara Cultural cafe, in front of the ruined building. (Ali Y. Al-Baroodi)

Are people getting the support they need?

From the international perspective, you see German NGOs, UNDP and a lot of organizations doing good work. But still, if we look at the scene of Mosul after ISIS, the volume of destruction done in the historic part of the city, it is like Berlin after WWII, or like Warsaw after the Nazis, and the volume of destruction is like that. The Old City by the riverside is rubble. Some people are working on their own or with volunteers. It needs more concerted efforts to bring it to some shape.

Do you think the new government will invest in Mosul to meet the needs of people?

We hope so. I can’t judge before I see something on the ground. Iraq is heavily indebted. But that does not mean there will be no funding for Mosul. We hope for the best and wait and see.

University life has revived?

The demolished buildings are gone, they removed the rubble. There is not a good development on campus. The damaged buildings are back in service. But there are colleges without buildings, the medical and electrical engineering school, some 4 or 5 are missing buildings and they share with other colleges. Things are going relatively well and we have 38,000 students at school and regular classes and we have students from different parts of Iraq and Nineveh, ethnic and religious backgrounds that Mosul can embrace this diversity back.

How did they get the faculty back?

Many of staff left the city and others stayed here during the ISIS occupation. This is the third post-ISIS academic year. There was a return of students from Erbil and Baghdad. I rejoined the university when the war was still raging in West Mosul in January 2017. The battle to liberate western Mosul was still raging. So we began teaching in Bartella. Then from March 2017 to October we finished another term and then November to June a second.

In terms of the building that the concert was done in, do you think it will be preserved to commemorate the war and ISIS crimes?

That should be kept, it was the highest building in Mosul, it was designed by Rifat Chaderchi, and it witnessed one of the Iraq’s most brutal crimes in recent and contemporary history. I think it should be kept and fixed and become a museum to document crimes of ISIS against Nineveh. They have already started demolishing it. So in a few weeks it will no longer be there.

Will they find a place to have a memorial?

We have a statue in eastern Mosul to express the liberty and freedom of women, it is in one of the neighborhoods. We have murals; hundreds of meters of murals on walls. And I think many things will happen as time goes by. I mean as life continues,, openness will help a lot to realize these things.

Does the security situation concern you?

You will find it similar to the situation of the city in 2003-2004. I think that ISIS cannot occupy a city or neighborhood again. But they can still scratch now and then. If you look around Mosul, you will find pockets [of threats], and Iraqi security forces have some clashes. Yesterday [November 10] there was a battle outside Mosul and last week an air strike between Mosul and Kirkuk near Makhmur where 19 ISIS were killed. So they have pockets and time to plan, although these do not concern me a lot, but leave one wolf around and you will have an attack. It was predictable to hear an explosion in Mosul and let’s not forget this is only the second bombing after almost two years since the liberation. These things happen in a place like Mosul. It was occupied for three years by ISIS, we must remember that.

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