B is for Baghdad

When I was growing up, Baghdad sounded wonderfully exotic and ancient. After all, it was in Mesopotamia, that area between the Tigris and Euphrates, which is “widely considered to be the cradle of civilization.”

The meaning of the city’s name may be a “Middle Persian compound of Bag ‘god’ + dād ‘given’, translating to ‘God-given’ or ‘God’s gift’…A less probable guess has been Persian compound Bağ ‘garden’ + dād ‘fair’, translating to ‘The fair Garden.’ Regardless of the derivation, I had believed for some time in my youth that there was a literal Garden of Eden at one point, and it was located somewhere around there.

While the city’s roots date back to ancient Babylon, as a settlement as far back as 1800 B.C., in 762 A.D., “the caliph Al Mansur commissioned the construction of the [modern] city… Mansur believed that Baghdad was the perfect city to be the capital of the Islamic empire…In its early years the city was known as a deliberate reminder of an expression in the Qur’an, when it refers to Paradise.” So it may have been the perfect place in the three major monotheistic religions at different points.

But in the next millennium, Baghdad was captured by various groups, including the Fatimids, the Mongols, the Ottoman Turks and finally the British in 1917, during World War I. In the spring of 1941, a coup was launched against the pro-British Kingdom, replaced by “a pro-German and pro-Italian government”, but two months later, “the Mayor of Baghdad surrendered to British and Commonwealth forces.

“On 14 July 1958, members of the Iraqi Army under Abdul Karim Kassem staged a coup to topple the Kingdom of Iraq. King Faisal II…and others were brutally killed during the coup. Many of the victim’s bodies were then dragged through the streets of Baghdad.”

Baghdad prospered for a time, but war, first a nearly nine-year struggle with Iran and then a brief conflict in 1991 and a considerably longer war starting in 2003 with the United States and its allies “caused significant damage to Baghdad’s transportation, power, and sanitary infrastructure.” (And no parade for the US troops coming home is imminent.)

There was this 1987 German movie called Bagdad Café, which I saw at the time. “The film is a comedy set in a remote truck-stop café and motel in the Mojave Desert. The plot is centered around two women (Marianne Sägebrecht and C. C. H. Pounder) who have recently separated from their husbands, and the blossoming friendship which ensues…With an ability to quietly empathize with everyone she meets at the café, helped by a passion for cleaning and performing magic tricks, Jasmin gradually transforms the café and all the people in it.” It was a charming film; here’s the principal song from the movie, Calling You by Jevetta Steele, the soundtrack of a Roger Ebert dream about Illinois cornfields after one of his surgeries. The film was made into a short-lived 1990 US TV sitcom starring Jean Stapleton and Whoopi Goldberg.

Somehow, the notion of Baghdad as a place of greater understanding and cooperation appeals to me. I don’t know if the performer here is from Baghdad, but he is from Iraq, and has a wonderful, hopeful story. And there’s seldom too much hope.

ABC Wednesday, Round 10

0 thoughts on “B is for Baghdad”

  1. Thank you Roger for this very interesting post. For the past few weeks I have been reading the biography of Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore, who also did a documentary on BBC. The history of Bagdad is very similar to that of Jerusalem. So therefore I am grateful to read your history.
    Wil, ABC Wednesday team.


  2. Okay, I’m confused: Berowne was being funny today and you were being pontifical. What happened here? And which one of you is going to run for President?
    Inquiring minds need to know. Of course, I’m Canadian, so can’t vote for either of you, but I can be a foreign correspondent.
    PS—I remember the Tigris, Euphrates and therefore Baghdad being the cradle of civilization, but civilization has long gone by the boards there, I should say.


  3. Fascinating! I, too, have heard that the Garden of Eden might have been in this area but if so, things have sure changed. Now I imagine it to be dry and barren, rocky and with buildings falling down or bombed out. I’m probably very wrong, but it’s an image I can’t get rid of. I’m glad I live in Canada and don’t have to deal with wars such as go on these days. *sigh* I do hope the soldiers (American and Canadian and any other nationality that helped out) will be honoured…no matter what.


  4. Baghdad has certainly been a place of great controversy and conflict throughout history. Perhaps because of that “garden” thing in its history?!


  5. Whenever I heard the word Baghdad, I always picture war which isn’t the case. With your post, I am delighted.

    So are you running for pPresident? Lol!


  6. Until the ascendency of Saddam Hussein and our own shock and awe campaign, Baghdad conjured Arabian Nights and exotic oases. Now not so much. I have grave doubts it will ever recover its stability. I would have loved to visit it before the chaos descended.


  7. My uncle used to work in baghdad before he was assigned in jeddah. Once again very informative B word. Thanks for sharing and for visiting my entry Roger


  8. I have seen the movie “Bagdad Café” and the German actress is still playing in German TV series. I too had the same feelings about Bagdad as you had. Unfortunately the city is better without inhabitants !


  9. A very interesting post. I remember learning about the “cradle of civilization” and those rivers when I was a kid. I’d love to visit that part of the world. Thanks for sharing!


  10. Great post, Roger, bringing together the city and the movie and Emmanuel Kelly. Here’s to hope!

    And a better world with you as Pope and Berowne as President! See what you have wrought, Mrs. Nesbitt!

    ABC Team


  11. So what happened to Baghdad? Mitt Romney calls it “creative destruction.” That’s his nice spin term for “disaster capitalism.”

    Aren’t we Americans all living a better life now that Baghdad has been battered, consigned to a state of decline, and ethnically cleansed of Sunnis?


  12. Hello Roger.
    This isn’t the first time I have heard mention that the Garden Of Eden could possibly be somewhere in this region. I’m sure the area was beautiful back in Biblical times…not so now given what has transpired over the years.
    Very enjoyable read.
    Thanks for sharing. I appreciate the visit too.

    Breath Of My Poems


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