MUSALAHA MEANS RECONCILIATION:
THE IRAQI CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS
Thinking of Iraq, most of us think of war, destruction and ISIS. Few people know that for some time the Free Region of Kurdistan has been a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of refugees.And few know that many refugees have found a new home in the city of Sulaymaniyah where Christians and Muslims try to live together peacefully. For being able to do so, they need protected spaces. The monastery of Deir Maryam al-Adhra is such a place and our theatre production “The Iraqi Conference of the Birds” is trying to be such a project of reconciliation – for Sulaymaniyah and beyond. This is why we need your support: for stage, costumes, for the Iraqi actors, for travel and accommodation expenses of the creative team from Europe.
Why theatre in Sulaymaniyah?
In debates about the global migration, that has affected Europe recently, there is one term everybody can agree on: it is “to fight the cause of migration”.
The monastic community of Deir Mar Musa in Sulaymaniyah is a place where this work is taken on in the most practical sense, as this community has committed itself to foster understanding between Muslims and Christians. One way of encouraging dialogue is theatre. Theatre that starts to work at the places where hate and wars starts.
The concept of Mar Musa
The monastic community of Deir Mar Musa, originally founded in Syria, became better known in Germany by the speeches and writings of Navid Kermani, who recieved the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade last year. Kermani made the first contact between the community and the theatre team and is happy to be the patron of this project.
The unique and simple concept of Deir Mar Musa is to actively promote a new understanding between Christians and Muslims – a principle called “Harmony building” by the community’s founder, Padre Paolo dall’Oglio. Padre Paolo was kidnapped by the ISIS several years ago and hasn´t yet returned, but the monastic community has continued to work according to his ideas. Their aim is to create open spaces for encounters in their monasteries. One of these projects is our play “The Iraqi Conference of the Birds”.
In 2011, when the situation in the Syrian mother house became dangerous for the international members of the community, the monastic community of Mar Musa was invited to a monastery in Sulaymaniyah: Deir Maryam al-Adhra. Having thus found a kind of asylum themselves, they keep on working on their mission with refugees and locals, Syrian Christians and Muslims, Kurds and Arabs – the mission of looking for a common basis of the world religions by acts of love. This is done in the most practical way, by radically opening their monastery to everyone in the region who seeks help.
When Navid Kermani received a call from father Jens Petzold, head of the monastery, asking him about theatre makers who might be interested in working in Iraq, he suggested the renowned German theatre director Stefan Otteni and the Italian choreographer Paolo Ragano. He knew that both have the openness and artistic sensitivity necessary for bringing people from different cultures together for a productive creative exchange. Otteni and Ragano have been working on the project since early 2016, when they travelled to Iraq for the first time to give workshops and to get to know the actors and their artistic vision.
During the workshops, the company worked on physical dance and theatre improvisations, also using their own personal stories which were then written down. With this work the group tried to develop the kind of theatre the actors would like to do in the future. It was rewarding to see these uprooted and deeply distressed artists gaining more self-confidence as the rehearsals went on. Being liberated from the social or religious pressures that rule their daily lives, the rehearsals gave them the opportunity of playful and unprejudiced encounters with people of different creeds.
After this, the first production was developed. The actors involved in the project decided : Instead of presenting a work of fiction they wanted to talk on stage about the reality of their lives – both in personal stories and in the framework of a greater narrative. The creative team was particularly keen to encourage the actors in finding new perspectives on their own stories, and thus counter the devaluation of their own lives, the threats of flight and contingency. All this while discovering that other concepts of living, however different they may be, are no threat to their own lives.
Together, the company selected a source from Arab culture as a framework: “THE CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS”, Attar’s grand epic of a quest for meaning is a Persian tale from the 12th century. This text will serve as an initial basis for the first production, which is to be created in Sulaymaniyah in May/June 2017. The actors wish to present this play also in refugee camps and thus spread the notion of reconciliation in the most vulnerable places of the region. For all of them, this project is of highly personal concern.
The IRAQI CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS will only be the beginning of a long term engagement in Sulaymaniah, for once you´ve been there, you have to return.
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Risks and challenges
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