Connecting with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq

Posted on March 19, 2016 by

Soon after listening to an NPR radio interview with National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI) founder Zuhal Sultan, I found an e-mail in my inbox. A local Minneapolis resident, connected to Luthiers Without Borders, was interested in donating bows and some strings to the Youth Orchestra, if we could arrange it.

The organization I work for, the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project, is a non-profit based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our mission is to promote reconciliation between the people of the United States and Iraq in response to the devastation that has affected Iraqi families, society, and culture. We work toward our mission of reconciliation through the arts, education, cultural and professional exchange, and support for peacemakers in Iraq.

After many weeks of trying to find the right person to contact through Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail leads, I finally got a hold of Majd Al-Azzawi, Chairperson and Project Manager of NYOI.

He told me a little more about the orchestra and of its hopeful beginnings and current struggles to stay functioning in the current climate of Iraq.

The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq is the brainchild of Zuhal Sultan, a young pianist from Baghdad who founded the orchestra in 2009 when she was just 17 years old. She now lives in Scotland and is studying law. The orchestra is comprised of 45 musicians from different parts of Iraq who have to audition each year. The orchestra has performed concerts in Iraq, Germany, Scotland, and England. In 2013, NYOI became a registered NGO in Iraq. However, starting that same year they faced cancelled concerts in the US and France due to visa denials after the rise of ISIS in many cities across Iraq. They have been unable to leave the country for concerts since.

Currently, in addition to a 4-week workshop for musicians and annual concerts, NYOI plans to hold music workshops for children in schools and orphanages in Basra.

Despite the talent and dedication of the young musicians, many do not have the funds for instruments and NYOI is struggling to provide the necessary instruments and parts to these musicians due to lack of funding.

In addition to bows, Majd let me know that the orchestra was in need of the following:

  • Sets of strings for violin, viola and cello
  • Rosin for the same instruments
  • Bow hair
  • Reeds for oboe, bassoon and clarinet
  • Pads for the woodwinds
  • Oils and slide creams for brasses
  • Full-size violins

If you can provide any of the above or would like more information, please contact IARP Deputy Director Jessica Belt at or 763-710-0427. Any additional donations will be given to NYOI to support programming. You can send a check or donate at If donating online, please send an email noting the donation amount and purpose. All donations are tax deductible.

Learn more about NYOI at:

Learn more about IARP at:

Listen to the original NPR piece here:



Categories: Blog, featured, Iraq and Middle East News, Iraqi Art

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