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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russians Rock Festival, Hussein House

BABYLON, Iraq -- The annual Babylon Folk Festival closed last Friday in Babylon after 10 days of music and dance in this ancient Iraqi city. More than 2,000 performers from 48 countries convened for the festival, now in its 11th year.

Russia was represented at the festival by the Baikal Cossacks dance group from Eastern Siberia and the Magas singing group from Ingushetia.

The traditionally-costumed Baikal Cossacks, who hail from the remote town of Chita, made a striking contrast on the festival stage, before the backdrop of the 3,000-year-old city. The Cossack's routine was significantly more lively than many of the relatively sedate dances performed by the festival's other delegates, but this was no surprise: The 35-member Siberian band has been thrilling audiences for eight years.

The festival of music and dance was, perhaps predictably, not free of politics. "We heard about your festival, which is famous all over the world and we know about your blockade [the U.S. embargo of Iraq]," Nina Nakonechnaya, leader of the Baikal Cossacks, said during an interview on Iraqi national television. "We would like to support you with our work."

Furthermore, a song performed by Japanese singer Karin Amamiya included the following lyrics: "Let us bomb America / Let us get rid of the Americans."

First held in 1987, the first three festivals included a full day of special opening ceremonies for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. This year's opening ceremonies consisted of the staging of the ancient history of Babylon and Mesopotamia in dance and song. The show also included a demonstration of dresses from an Iraqi fashion house.

"The show was very impressive," Larissa Nakonechnaya, whose mother was a member of the Russian delegation, said of the opening ceremonies. "The dresses and songs sung in Arabic were beautiful."

The Cossacks traveled four and a half days by train, four hours by plane and 20 hours by bus to get to Babylon. The rigorous journey, however, paid off when Saddam Hussein's elder son Udai Saddam Hussein invited some members of the Russian band to visit the Iraqi presidential palace.

"It was strangely impressive to visit the palace in the center of Baghdad," said a Russian delegate who asked not to be identified. "Udai was trying to amuse us by shooting at lighted cigarettes from a pistol and into the air with a machine gun," the delegate said, shrugging the shoulders.

The Baikal Cossacks sang several songs at the palace to express their thanks for the high-level invitation. After several drinks and a meal, some of the female members of the group also received gifts of necklaces, according to the Russian delegate.