However, it seems at least one piece of good news can be traced from the global scene in 2017: ISIS is, at least as occupying force, defeated. Their former strongholds, the Iraqi city of Mosul included, are freed, although with an open future and to the price of insufferable pains and losses. A central question at the ICORN Network Meeting in Lillehammer this year was – how can writers and artists, in Iraq or in exile, contribute to rebuilding the city?
Several Mosul writers and artists managed to escape before and during the brutal ISIS siege. Some found refuge in ICORN cities. Others who applied to ICORN, were invited to an ICORN city, but remained silenced and in grave danger, prohibited from leaving the city. Among them was the young poet and musician Umar Abdul-Nasser. Invited to the ICORN city Wroclaw already early in 2016, he survived under continuous pressure, but was only able to escape Iraq and arrive in Wroclaw in July 2017.
During the Friday 15 December 2017, Umar Abdul-Nasser was the main guest on stage, giving the audience inside reports about the liberation of Mosul. He told how he after only a few months in Wroclaw had been enabled to continue his artistic work and fight for peace and freedom of expression, both with new friends and colleagues in Wroclaw, and in close cooperation with writers and artists in Iraq.
Message for peace from Mosul in 2014. A video clip by Umar Al-Nasser .
The Avant-Garde of Creative Resistance
What does it mean for a city to be an ICORN city? When Gdansk signed the agreement with ICORN in August 2017, Mayor Pawel Adamowicz was clear: In an increasingly reactionary Poland riddled by nationalism and xenophobia, it is the task of cities to stand up and fight for human rights, freedom of expression, solidarity (indeed Gdansk is the European capital of solidarity) and hospitality. After all, “integration is in the city’s DNA”, Mayor Adamowicz says, and continuously fights to keep his city open to a much higher number of immigrants and refugees than the national government vows him to take in. With Krakow, Wroclaw, Gdansk and soon Katowice as Polish ICORN cities, can we trace a new urban avant-garde of creative resistance, in sister solidarity with the sanctuary cities fighting Trump’s repressive travel ban in the US?
Wroclaw was joined by 21 other cities, among them Rotterdam, Lillehammer, Paris, Belo Horizonte, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Reykjavik, Umeå and Barcelona, who all welcomed new ICORN residents in 2017. Their guests had escaped hardship and persecution in Iraq, Bangladesh, Syria, Libya, Turkey, Russia, Bahrain, Eritrea and many other troubled countries and regions. The City of Trondheim received this year’s last writer, an Egyptian poet with family who arrived safely on 20 December. Remarkably still, as many as 13 ICORN cities, among them Amsterdam, Lucerne, Surrey, Stockholm, Krakow, Piteå and Brussels, have invited a persecuted writer or artist this year, and are working on the process of welcoming them in the first weeks and months of 2018.
The Way Ahead
By 21 December, a record number of 114 writers and artists have applied for ICORN refuge in 2017. Syria, Iraq and Iran are as expected duly represented, while Yemen, Libya, Turkey and Zimbabwe have risen in urgency since last year. How fit is ICORN to tackle the situation as it is in the world of today, and all the pressing cases approaching us? For the first time since the network started operating in 2006, a proper external evaluation is undertaken to measure to what extent ICORN work is effective, relevant and sustainable, and whether the results achieved are measurable and reaching the impact the organisation intends to achieve. Simultaneously, the ICORN Board is working with its Secretariat and member cities to prepare for a new strategic plan for 2018 – 2022, which will be presented and decided upon by the upcoming ICORN General Assembly in Malmö 2-4 May 2018.
New Journeys Begin
In 2013, an Iranian Cartoonist, Ali Dorani, better known as Eaten Fish, was transferred to a detention camp for refugees on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea after arriving by boat on Christmas island. He started documenting the harsh conditions and ill treatment of the asylum seekers in the camp in cartoons. As the Australian government officially closed the camp on Manus Island 31 October 2017, after Papa New Guinea ruled it illegal, Eaten Fish was stuck on the island together with hundreds of individual destinies, without any traceable option of release and a future life in freedom and dignity.
After intense efforts by ICORN’s staff in close cooperation with Cartoonist Rights Network International, other human rights organisations, advocates and internationally renowned cartoonists, the City of Stavanger was able to receive Ali Dorani as their 11th (!) ICORN resident on Sunday 17 December. With sincere thanks to all writers, artists, members, partners and supporters for making ICORN’s work possible in 2017, the last words of hope for a fairer and brighter 2018 goes to Ali:
“I had a very long journey – it was very stressful and i have been through a lot. When I landed in Norway, I couldn’t believe all this suffering was finished. The past five years in my life I had lots of security-guards, ERT, big boys. But when I came to Stavanger, everything was different. I didn’t see security around me, everyone was so friendly. I wasn’t scared to talk to police and ask questions. I met a lot of lovely people who care for me and who worked hard so I could come to Norway. I am in a fairy-tale city. The safest place I’ve ever been in. My journey has just started.”