‘The eternal daughter of Baghdad’



Baghdad: Oranges, Lemons, Almonds and an Apple Poisoned by Oil

By Hussein Abdul Zahra Majeed*

Iraqi Violette Shamash shows us in her marvellous book ‘Memories of Eden’ how people and their lives disappear like traces of chalk wiped off a blackboard.

Life in a rich secure country like Iraq does not allow us to feel the way history disappears in another country. Violette here speaks of her family, Iraq’s Jews and of the way in which they lived in the 40’s during the last century.

But past and future are present everywhere on this earth, wherever people eat, drink and sleep and demand freedom! That is the calamity to which history has no solution. Wherever we go, climbing mountains, passing through valleys or deserts, there is bound to be a trace that says: yesterday they were here, but today nothing but the wind.  Here, we require a live eyewitness who says I lived and saw. The witness here is Mrs Violette Shamash who wrote this marvellous book before passing away three years ago.

Her daughter Mira says that in her last days, under the influence of anaesthetic, she repeated the name of Baghdad on her death bed, and referred to the house there in Karrada: the Castle! the Castle! A castle in the Karrada and the Sind, of which nothing remains now but the gates of the concrete Green Zone. The daughter adds that immediately after the fall [of Baghdad] in 2003, her mother told her that it was time to go there, to Baghdad, home! She wanted to go to Baghdad despite being an old lady of 94, to return to tell her daughter about the traces of what she found there, of what remains of the good people of Agd Al Nasarah who are now in a state of poverty.

In 1998, the Americans wanted to give us some manners in their Hollywood style, so they poured tons of bombs on Baghdad. We all witnessed this spectacle. But we were surprised by Mr Nasir Shama on the air dedicating his musical composition to the children of Palestine. The false myth of Arab glory.

Man is amazing, a creature unknown before today. While Mrs Shamash watches Saddam Hussain’s statue collapsing in Ferdows Square initially, all she says to her daughter is that she was born 25 years before him, before the Iraqi state was created, before the arrival of the first king Ghazi, the British army with its victorious parade in what was then the main square, Agd Al Yahood, then referred to as Piccadilly, and that in the name of democracy as well. History repeats itself. As for people, Baghdad’s roofs, sunrise discourse, all that is lost, and will not be resurrected for us other than through the pen of the late Violette Shamash, that is what has happened.

Let names live, let us call you the Mother of Baghdad, of castles, of sunrises, of crowns and witnesses. The eternal daughter of Baghdad.

In 1941, the population of Baghdad was one million, of which 300, 000 were jews, 40% of the population. It is the year of the Farhud, the year in which the English Sir Kinahan Cornwallis refused to intervene to bring order to the stricken city, and allowed people to be murdered in the street. Shamash heard the wailing of the widows at night, while her house was guarded by a group of Baghdad’s principled and upright young men.

After exactly half a century, in 1991, the American General Schwartzcoff  refuses to intervene to bring security to wounded Iraq. It is no more than 12 years before he enters again in the name of democracy.

Thank you for the marvellous book.

*Professor, College of Arts, University of Basra, Iraq.