Apart from material aid, cultural life is also key to helping war-torn countries back on their feet. A German organization is doing just that - through theater exchange projects.
Artistic expression helps to construct a sense of identity
Ihsan Ohtmann works for the Network for Cultural Reconstruction in Iraq.
Deutsche Welle: Northern Iraq in particular has suffered under the dictatorship and subsequent war. Does cultural reconstruction play a role here in re-establishing an identity?
Ihsan Ohtmann: Originally, theater in Kurdistan in Iraq was as cultural movement, a form of resistance against the dictatorship. Just like other ethnic groups, the Kurds want to express themselves, and theater is a way of doing that.
You work together with German institutions, such as theaters in Berlin. What type of plays do you perform in Kurdistan?
I work with the Theaterhaus Mitte and IT Germania and the Goethe Institute, and together we made theater our focus in 2006, as part of a cultural exchange project. Since then, we have participated in regular theater exchanges with Iraq and especially Kurdistan.
Our first topic was "Death and the Maiden" by Ariel Dorman from Chile. Then we had "Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Beckett, which we renamed to "Waiting for Rain," and the last project we did together was "Women's Hammam." We worked on all plays with four groups and performed them in German, Arabic, Kurdish, and in Persian or Turkish.
Last year you used works by Bertolt Brecht and Heiner Mueller for the projects. Do these texts match the situation in Iraq and are they understood there?
Bertolt Brecht's plays are well known in Iraq
Of course, because I think these themes are global topics. Brecht didn't write about a local topic, even though you can turn a local topic into a world topic. When you look at what Heiner Mueller or Brecht wrote, most of the themes stem from neighboring or far-away countries.
We have, for example, taken scenes from "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" or from "Mother Courage," and those are all foreign topics from places like Russia, Asia or Greece. And Brecht, especially Brecht, is in Iraq - and I think in the East in general - a special figure in theatrical history, and almost every theater in Iraq knows him and Heiner Mueller.
For a long time, Brecht was forbidden in Iraq and that's why his and Mueller's plays are especially suited to countries that have experienced a violent war and are being rebuilt. Heiner Mueller and Brecht will never go out of fashion around the world and especially not in countries affected by crisis.
Interview: Klaus Gehrke (ew)
Editor: Kate Bowen