Baghdad’s refugee rockers

By Sarah Rainsford /BBC News, Ankara
After fleeing the violence in Iraq, the struggling band Acrassicauda has found a home in Turkey.

They call themselves the only heavy metal band in Baghdad.

But for over a year now Acrassicauda has been on the run.

The band members first fled the violence in Iraq for Syria. But after Damascus tightened the visa rules for Iraqi refugees this October they fled again, for Turkey.

“We used to just go to the Syrian border and get our visas. It was a one-day trip,” guitarist Firas al-Lateef explains. “Then they made an announcement that you have to go to Baghdad, and stay there for almost like a month.”

“What is the point of that?” drummer Marwan Ryad interrupts.

“If I could stay in Baghdad even for one day and survive, I would stay down there. So we didn’t have another choice but Turkey.”

Other refugees have begun returning to Iraq from Syria in recent weeks.

But the band members say their families have told them to stay away, and stay safe.

Marwan says his cousin was killed in Baghdad. Another band member says he left because he received death threats.

In Istanbul they are safe, but they are now struggling financially.

The price of food and accommodation here is far higher than in Syria and last week their apartment was robbed. But there is some comfort.

All four band members sold their instruments in Syria to help pay their way here.

Now Turkish musicians have lent them a fully-equipped studio, and the refugee rockers are finally making music again.

“It feels great,” smiles Firas, during a break in practicing an ear-splitting repertoire. “We’re back doing what we love.”

The arrival of Acrassicauda could herald the start of a new wave of Iraqi refugees heading for Turkey, a prospect that concerns local aid workers.

Alien culture

The refugee population here has already doubled this year to around 10,000.

That is just a fraction of the number of Iraqis in Jordan and Syria – but now those countries are restricting access experts predict the flow here will increase.

“These people have to go somewhere. If they cannot pass into Syria now, they will try to come to Turkey. They don’t have much choice,” says Filis Sasaoglu, who advises asylum seekers on their legal rights in Istanbul._44282273_refugee_congregation2031.jpg
“Of course Turkey is not ready to deal with a big influx. We are trying to help them but we have limited resources.”

Turkey has no international obligation to recognise asylum seekers from the Middle East as refugees.

Instead, they must register with the UN refugee agency and local police and then wait until a third country can be found to take them.

That can be a long, expensive and difficult wait – living on diminishing resources in a country with an alien culture and foreign language.


For Iraqi Christians coming to Turkey in increasing numbers the church is a crucial source of solace and support.

Every Sunday the pews in the basement of St Anthony’s church in Istanbul are full to overflowing. Almost every person there is a refugee from Iraq. Some 165 families have joined the congregation in the past six months.

“When these people arrive here they are ill and traumatised. They have fallen and it is hard to get them back on their feet,” explains Father Francois Yakan, from behind a desk stacked high with refugee family case files.

He says there are not enough hours in the day to address all the problems of his parishioners.

“We do what we can to help. We arrange medical care and assist with translations and official paperwork.

“But our Catholic community here is small and sadly we can’t reach everyone.”

Sunni, Shia and Christian – Acrassicauda are relying on Turkey’s music community for support instead.

They have already played one benefit concert in Istanbul and hope more will follow.

Formed for fun, the musicians say it is now crucial for their band to succeed.

“I’m keeping my mind busy with the music so I don’t think about anything else, because it would drive you crazy,” admits Marwan.

The music he writes is much harder now, he calls it an expression of the pain and suffering of his country and his people.

“I’m just concentrating on playing good so I can make me and my family proud and bring them to a better place where they can be safe.”