For three years in a row, the youth of Baghdad have organized and hosted a rather unusual event in the capital of Iraq. Iraqis have optimistically strived to show a different face than the media-imposed narrative of a war ravaged and crippled country, and have gathered in thousands to enjoy their shared hobby of a popular Japanese cartoons in an “anime convention”. Though this is a widespread event across the world, it is particularly unpopular in the Middle East, mainly due to cultural and religious reasons. While the cosplay conventions are unpopular in the Middle East, it is interesting to note that anime has been a Middle Eastern staple since the 60s with several generations growing up on arabic dubbed cartoons as well as indigenous drawn cartoons in the anime style.
Nevertheless, Baghdadis have proved yet again their resolve to challenge this mindset and the still persisting danger of terrorism in the capital. In September 2015, when ISIS still ruled and ravaged large swathes of Iraq, a few young university students decided to host an anime convention with minimal resources at the international Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. The group did not expect Baghdad to answer in such large numbers, and at first imagined the event to be limited to the university they attended. However, this transformed over the years to be a popular destination for hundreds of Iraqis from many provinces to meet and experience the life they only thought was possible by leaving the country.
The recent anime convention on February the 9th took place at the Baghdad International fair, a first to be hosted at such a large domain and further verifies the acceptance of this event in Baghdad. The crowd numbered to just about a thousand as new faces are building the courage to attend in spite of the cultural setbacks. The Iraqis are soon realizing that change only comes through an organized effort. This event is part of many precedent events that the youth has organized without any governmental or international support.
This has struck a chord with the Japanese Embassy in Iraq which showed support for the convention and may become involved in the 4th annual convention in 2019 as the ever popular Japanese Ambassador to Iraq, looks likely to make an appearance.