Iraq: Baghdad's unlikely peace carnival
Every year since 2011, an annual carnival for peace has taken place in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on 21 September, designated by the UN as World Peace Day.
This year the carnival is taking place with the hope of raising money for internally displaced Iraqis. BBC Arabic's Marwa Al-Nagar spoke to some of the organisers and volunteers.
Noof Assi, 25, volunteer and organiser
In 2011, my friend Zain and I typed the word "Baghdad" into Google and the only pictures that were coming up were images of violence, death, blood and explosions. Then we searched the words "Iraqi laughing" and nothing came up, except a picture of a player on the Iraqi football team winning a trophy at the time.
We went on to search a number of words but there was nothing on the internet supporting the idea that Baghdad use to be called "the city of peace".
We wanted to change this perception. We thought of a simple idea which was to light candles in our neighbourhood on World Peace Day. Then someone came up and said I could set up a stage and a put on some plays, while another group of young Iraqis suggested creating a band to play music. The end result of the simple idea of lighting candles became a carnival that cost us nothing as everyone was volunteering to make it happen.
In our first year we had 50 volunteers, this year we have 300 volunteers. We give ourselves a three-month period to prepare for this carnival. This allows people to introduce themselves to each other, work together, and bring up the spirit of togetherness, giving young Iraqis the chance to showcase their talents. We focus on spreading the word of peace.
Our motto for this year is "with the rights of the internally displaced people, we can reach peace". This year's focus is to raise all the money we can to help those internally displaced Iraqis as they are lacking basic means of living.
Our wider aim is to spread the peace carnival to other governorates in Iraq. One thing we have achieved in this respect is Basra governorate holding its second carnival for peace, with our assistance and advice.
Zain Mohamed, 26, volunteer and organiser
We want to dream of peace, even if it is hard to establish in Iraq at this time, we still want to dream of it.
This year is different from the previous three years in which the carnival was held. This year is the hardest and most challenging year for organising the carnival due to a number of reasons: the situation Iraq is going through, some people not accepting the idea of the carnival, in addition to the fact that many of the original organisers that were with us from day one have fled the country.
It was even suggested that we shouldn't organise the carnival this year. When we announced our first organisers' meeting to prepare for the carnival, the first question that came up was: "What peace are you taking about?"
A lot of people living in Iraq and outside Iraq ask us: "How can you dance and sing when the situation in Iraq is deteriorating with different militias and sectarianism on the rise?"
But the Baghdad city of peace carnival is promoting the message that people can use art and talent to raise money and help the internally displaced people in our country.
This is the first year that we have been receiving local sponsorship and support from local companies, showing how much the carnival has grown from a real grassroots initiative. This is even more impressive to us as we receive absolutely no government help, it's all from young volunteers.
Rusul Kamel, 27, volunteer since 2011
This year I am part of a group of five people who are taking care of the social media aspect of the carnival - Facebook, Twitter and blogging. Our main aim is to spread the concepts of peace and coexistence as we believe that peace is the only way we can overcome all the problems that our country is going through.
My faith in the importance of peace and how it can help us to live together in our country made me volunteer in this carnival, however my personal objective is that I need peace in my life.
Volunteering made me feel that I have a sense of humanity, I can give back to my country, and not only ask to receive something from it. All this made me more positive in my personal life and I managed to discard the negativity and dangers around me.
Salam Ali, 22, singer in the carnival band
This is the third time I have participated in this carnival. In the beginning, I used to have the task of meeting and greeting people attending the carnival. However, the carnival made me overcome my fears of singing. My singing talent has flourished due to the boost of confidence I gained whilst volunteering in the carnival.
There are two bands taking part in the carnival, one specialising in Oriental music and the other in Western music. I am a singer in the Western music band.
I volunteered at the start out of curiosity; I wanted to know what the carnival was about and I wanted to learn about volunteering in general. Also I wanted to join other young Iraqis who were also participating.
There are no class differences between us and no one is superior to the other. We all have the same objective in working together to give Baghdad the peace it so deserves. This year our band will be singing songs in a calmer way, reflecting the current situation of internally displaced Iraqis.