Photos and text by ADAM LUCENTE
Youth, gaming culture and humor flourish in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square protests
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The posters covering the “Turkish restaurant” in Baghdad’s Tahrir square take aim at many people and countries the protesters consider their enemies. There are crossed out pictures of the speaker of the parliament Mohamed al-Halbousi – a wealthy businessman many Iraqis see as a symbol of rampant corruption in the country. There is an Arabic-language sign declaring the protests to be against Israel, perhaps a reference to the allegation by pro-Iran politicians that the Jewish state is involved in the uprising. There is an English-language sign on the restaurant demanding the UN intervene against the Iraqi government, and in the streets, protesters hand out mini blue and white UN flags.
The anti-government protests are nearing the two-month mark. In Tahrir Square, the largely young protesters are undeterred by the death toll of more than 300 and counting. They continue to face an endless barrage of tear gas as they fight to remove barriers, chant anti-government slogans and bring about the fall of the system in place since the 2003 US invasion.
But amidst the violence, the young protesters are having fun. They have created a society outside the reach of the Iraqi state where gaming culture, art and freedom of expression by way of silly, colorful clothes flourish. The lack of security services in the heart of Tahrir Square and the Turkish restaurant that towers over it has allowed the youth there to live by their own rules as they skip school to protest. Images from the protests show how young Iraqis are content living in their created space in Tahrir Square.
This man’s eyes watered because of the gas canisters used by security forces at a protester barricade near Tahrir Square.
Atop the Turkish restaurant in Baghdad, security volunteers and protesters mingle. The large tower has become a symbol of the revolution, not only for the revolutionary posters on its outside, but for the protesters who are living in it and sleeping on mats. These young men, like many others, are not attending school in protest of the government. The vested men are security volunteers who help people climb the narrow stairways leading to the top by directing traffic.
Amidst the violence, the young protesters are having fun.
What follows are some of the photos from among the youth who gathered during the protests. In the almost two months since they began, the protesters have created a unique sub-culture in Baghdad that may have long-term impact.
Protesters pose for a pic near a tuk tuk. Many of the protesters approach media and ask to be photographed, often throwing up hand signs. Many of the protesters are teenage and 20-something men, but the crowd is overall a diverse mix of men, women, Muslims, Christians and others.
The widely available free food at the protests makes it so that people don’t need to leave for days. This man served felafel near Tahrir Square as protesters hurled objects at security services on the other side of the nearby barricade while being hit by gas canisters. Other cheap food options like rice and tomato-based dishes are also available.
Demonstrators giving each other body paint in Tahrir Square. Much of the artwork in the square is based on the Iraqi flag.
The PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, aka PUBG, logo on a tuk tuk. The Iraqi parliament voted to ban the mobile shooter game popular with youth earlier this year, but Iraqis defiantly kept playing it and the ban was never implemented. PUBG t-shirts and logos are a common sight at the protests. Not all aspects of the protests are enjoyable. One man was brought to tears by the heavy use of gas near Tahrir Square.
This protester shot objects via a slingshot at Iraqi security forces, who protesters claim are Iran-backed militias or Iranian forces themselves.
This man volunteered to provide medical care to protesters. There are dozens of free medical clinics in and around Tahrir Square.
Much of the artwork is serious in nature, and calls for the UN to intervene against the Iraqi government are common.
The protesters maintain their sense of humor in the face of the crackdown, though. This is a statue of former Iraqi prime minister Abdul-Muhsin Al-Saadoun, who protesters felt deserved to be protected from the tear gas, too.