Each year on 21 September, individuals, communities, nations and governments around the world are asked to come together to highlight efforts to end conflict and promote peace in response to a 7-year-old United Nations initiative.
“The International Day of Peace shall henceforth be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day”, reads UN resolution 55/282, which declared 21 September the International Day of Peace in 2001.
In Lebanon, a country that has witnessed much violence and grief in its history, Lebanon’s Permanent Peace Movement (PPM) called for “a day of pride, a day of peace, a day of co-existence, a day of forgiveness, a day of love, a day of fun.”
It was certainly not the first time the organisation, established at the height of the Lebanese civil war in 1987, put on such an event. Neither is it expected to be the last. “We’ve been involved in organising International Peace Day since 1987. Peace is a human need not only for the Lebanese, but for people all over the world. It is a basic need that we constantly strive for. If we had peace, we wouldn’t be here”, PPM President Fadi Abi Allam told Menassat.
On a stage in downtown Beirut, artists paid tribute to peace and non-violence through a wide range of performances until the late hours. Around the stage stood a small circle of attendees, leaving most of the areas in the square deserted on this important day.
Yet, spirits ran high. One group captured the audience with a performance of Capoeria, a Brazilian type of martial arts dance, while Menassat’s own Rita Barotta performed a number of dazzling jazz jams. Late night saw performances by Lebanese hip-hop groups.
For some, the music was the main reason for attending.
“We came both for the cause and the performances, but mainly for the music,” attendees Antoine and Gabi told Menassat with a smile. Like many others in the audience, they found out about the event through the popular social networking site Facebook.
Expressing peace through art was a significant theme at the event. At the entry, visitors were given an opportunity to make their own peace symbols with crayons and pens.
Seventeen-year-old student Nareg and his 15-year-old friend Harad discussed their almost-finished graffiti painting: “Day of Peace” read the large letters painted in blue, white and purple.
Both Nareg and Harad are part of a group of young activist graffiti painters that go under the banner of “Par Coeur + Graffiti”, which roughly translates to “From the Heart + Graffiti.” Their mission? To revive the walls of half-demolished buildings that are scattered around Beirut in a savvy artistic way. To prevent the group from running into legal troubles, the painters keep away from sensitive topics such as politics.
“We paint on ugly walls all over Beirut. But we don’t write about politics so we never have problems with the police. Sometimes the police stops and asks us what we are writing. When they see that we are not writing political statements they say, ‘Bye, bye’ and leave”, Nareg told Menassat.
What do they write then?
“Anything that we find important. We write about love for example”, Nareg said.
“And one time we spray painted ‘Eat fruit’ on a wall. People need to be more healthy,” Harad added.
But Sunday’s theme was clear-cut. “It’s a day for peace. That’s what we are concentrating on today”, said Nareg and Harad.
* Alexandra Sandels is a Beirut-based freelance writer. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Menassat.