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Conflict and Living Heritage in the Middle East

Conflict and Living Heritage in the Middle East:   Researching the Politics of Cultural Heritage and Identities in Times of War and Displacement The Social Sciences Department at AUIS, in collaboration with the Institue français du Proche-Orient (ifpo), is hosting a two-day conference to discuss the conflict and living heritage in the Middle East on May 10-11, 2016.  View or download the conference program Read more about the conference View photo gallery About the Conference:  Cultural heritage is central to the wars currently being waged in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. The international media and organizations, together with governments and heritage professionals – including academics – have looked at the issue mostly from the perspective of damages to archaeological property or sites and artefacts with a highly emblematic global value, at times framed as 'universal.' The local meaning of such heritage is generally disregarded, and so are other aspects of affected populations' living heritage that give them a sense of collective identities. Yet local knowledge and know-hows, popular arts, crafts and traditions, religious beliefs and rituals, language and oral expressions, together with religious and vernacular architecture are all forms of heritage that suffer in the on-going wars. In many instances, this living heritage is deliberately targeted by parties striving to perform cultural cleansing. What then happens to living heritage and collective identities in areas affected by war and under new political authorities? What about the heritage and identities of the millions who have been displaced as a result of the recent conflicts in the region? More generally, what can an examination and conceptualization of the practices and discourses of local actors reveal about the nexus between cultural heritage, identities, armed conflicts and population displacement in the Middle East  yesterday and today? The proposed topic calls for considering on-going and recent situations together with more ancient ones such as – but not limited to – the Armenian, Kurdish, Palestinian, or Lebanese cases, and for a comparative perspective. The following themes will form the core of the discussions: Theme 1: Heritage and Conflict In conflict situations, cultural heritage tends to become a contested area where relations of domination and violence are expressed, and where competing groups strive to assert legitimacy. This is manifested through unequal control over space (within urban areas, or on emblematic sites and monuments), and the often brutal removal of cultural attributes or markers attached to collective identities (regional, ethnic, religious, gendered, etc.). Questions will be asked about how civilian populations, on the one hand, and political and military actors, on the other, engage through practices, discourses and representations with various forms of living heritage during and immediately after conflict. Discourses, representations, and practices will be considered to understand the role of heritage as a vehicle for violence between groups, or conversely as a medium to de-escalate conflict and reach comprise. Theme 2: Heritage and Displacement More often than not, people displaced by conflict experience violence (usually in gendered ways), a break-up of social ties, and a radical separation from their place of origin. Such situations can also brutally severe people's bonds with their tangible and intangible heritage, particularly when such heritage is targeted by warring parties. The interrelation between heritage and displacement opens up questions as regards the implications of the loss of identity reference points, the transformation and redefinition of heritage in exile, and the role heritage plays in the (re)construction of collective memory and cultural identity among refugees. Such issues call for an examination in different contexts and time-frames: in transient or liminal places and states (such as refugee camps, border or transit areas), and when exile endures near or far from the homeland. An important question relates to how experiences of exile become incorporated into new heritage discourses that serve as bases for collective memories and identities. Conference Program: View or download the program of the conference below.   

Ezidis Beyond ISIS: Gender, Genocide, Displacement and Return

   February 11, 2016    - The AUIS Center for Gender and Development Studies (CGDS) and the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS) hosted a conference to discuss the future of the Ezidi community in Iraq. The conference brought together Ezidi survivors of ISIS atrocities, agencies working to document these atrocities, practitioners providing services to survivors, academics working in the field, and relevant international experts to create an in depth understanding of - and generate action on - one of 21st century’s worst crimes against humanity. Related article: Yezidis vs ISIS at the ICC by Timothy Waters who attended as one of the speakers at the conference.  The panel discussions at the conference focused on four main areas of the conflict: documentation for a genocide case, trauma and recovery for the victims, as well as efforts at reconstruction and reconciliation for the displaced Ezidi community. Click on the links below for details of the speakers, and a summary of each panel discussion in English, Kurdish and Arabic languages. Panel 1: Documentation and the Genocide Case - watch the discussion Panel 2: Trauma and Recovery - watch the discussion Panel 3: Beyond Victimhood: Reconstruction and Return - watch the discussion Panel 4: Beyond Victimhood: Reconciliation and Return - watch the discussion  The conference opened with welcoming remarks from Christine van den Toorn, director IRIS, and Dr. Choman Hardi, chair of AUIS English department and founding director of CGDS. Dr. Hardi formally announced the launch of CGDS at the conference, saying, "It is an honor to launch the Center for Gender and Development Studies (CGDS) in this important conference. We firmly believe that the knowledge produced in academic institutions needs to be disseminated within the relevant communities, using different outreach strategies. A holistic approach to tackling gender inequality is essential." She continued to say that gender activism is most effective when informed by feminist knowledge. "Normative change in gender relations can only happen when feminist knowledge has been produced and shared. This is why we believe that academic work and activism should be more firmly connected. Activists need to know more about theoretical issues and academics should be more involved in activism." The Center hopes to amplify women's voice and agency nationally and within their communities as a means of social and economic development and promote gender informed practices in professional and humanitarian contexts. Read the text or watch the video of Dr. Hardi's opening speech.    The conference began with a keynote speech by Monique Villa, CEO Thomsan Reuters Foundation and founder of TrustLaw and Trust Women. Villa highlighted that violence against women and girls remains the most widespread human rights violation in the world. She called the atrocities committed by Daesh against the Ezidi community genocide and war crimes, and stressed that documentation of accurate and fair testimonies of survivors and victims are key to prosecution of the criminals. In order to respond to the threat of Daesh, it is crucial that the voices of the women are heard and heard now, said Villa, and journalism is a key weapon to fight the Daesh narrative. Read more about her opening speech here, or watch video of her talk.    The conference also featured photo exhibitions: Life in Khanke Camp by Ezidi women photojournalists and Continued Tragedy by Soran Naqishbandy.    During the conference, AUIS recognized the efforts of Kurdish activists who have been working tirelessly to rescue the Ezidi women and children captured by ISIS and in bringing the plight of the Ezidi community to the international platform to mobilize efforts for reconstruction. Awards were presented to Khalil Asef, Amina Hassan, and Osman Darwish for rescuing women from ISIS captivity. Another award was presented to Nadiya Murad, an Ezidi survivor, who gave her testimony at the UN Security Council in December 2015, and who has now been nominated for the Nobel Prize. The award was received on Murad's behalf by Amed Shingaly, a correspondent for Kurdsat, who has been covering events in Sinjar since the beginning of the conflict. Watch the award presentation in the video.   Nadia Murad receives an award by #AUIS, delivered to her by @ShingalyAhmed #Ezidi #Yazidis #TwitterKurds pic.twitter.com/yeqpYouX52 — AUIS (@AUIS_NEWS) February 20, 2016 The conference was covered widely by the local media and some international outlets. You can find articles, news reports, and video coverage of the conference by various media outlets here. View or download photos of the conference on our Flickr page below.  View or download the full conference program in English, Kurdish and Arabic languages below.  

AUIS Hosts Conference on Economic Reforms in Iraq and KRG

The AUIS Center for Development and Natural Resources (CDNR), under the aegis of the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS), hosted their first conference to discuss the economic policies and reforms for Iraq and the Kurdistan Region on January 21, 2016. The conference, entitled “Escaping the Rentier Model: Reforms in Iraq and Kurdistan Region”, convened representatives from Baghdad and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), experts and policy makers and diplomats and business leaders. Comprised of three panels, the CDNR conference covered challenges facing the oil and gas sector, ways to diversify the economy, as well as public finance management. The conference opened with introductory remarks from Dr. Bilal Wahab, founding director of CDNR, and a short welcome address by Dr. Esther Mulnix, interim president of AUIS. Dr. Amanj Raheem, chief of staff of the KRG Council of Ministers spoke on behalf of the KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani and delivered his keynote speech. Further opening remarks were also made by Mr. Rebaz Hamlan, KRG finance minister, and Matthias Mitman, U.S. Consul General in Erbil. The opening panel focused on the oil and gas sector in the country. Moderated by Dr. Bilal Wahab, the participants focused their comments on the implications of the falling oil prices on the economy and the reforms required for the oil and gas revenue management. The participants included Dr. Thamir Al Ghadhban, energy advisor to the Iraqi Prime Minister; Dr. Sherko Jawdat, chair of Kurdistan Parliament’s Oil and Gas Committee; Dr. Qaiwan Siwaily, managing director, Iraq International Oil Services, Kurdistan International Bank; and Christie Milner, senior economic officer at the U.S. Consulate Erbil. Moderated by AUIS MBA alumnus, Dr. Bayad Jamal Ali, the second panel focused on the economic policies of the country. Participants discussed diversification and reducing dependence on oil rent. Speakers also discussed ways to enable a free market environment and providing healthy space to the private sector for it to play a greater role in improving the economy and employment, and bringing more transparency to the system. Speakers included Dr. Ezat Sabir, Kurdish Minister of Parliament heading the Finance and Economic Affairs Committee; Dr. Abdulbasit Turki Saeed, former governor of Iraq Central Bank; Adil Karim, Iraqi deputy minister of Industry; and Dr. James Whitaker, deputy office director, USAID, Iraq.  The concluding panel focused on recommendations for facing the burgeoning economic challenges facing Iraq and the KRI. The discussion focused on reforming institutions and policies to develop a stable long term policy while managing the current crisis. Some discussion also focused on the future of Baghdad-KRG financial relations. The panel was chaired by Aras Mohammad, finance expert and public accountant. Experts included Khalid Chawashli, chairman of the KRG Board of Supreme Audit; Dr. Sabah Khoshnaw, assistant professor of Public Finance at Salahaddin University; Dr. Mohammed Rauf, professor of Economics at University of Sulaimani; and Jim Parks, financial advisor to the KRG. Hover mouse on image below to view slideshow or click to view or download high resolution images on Flickr.  Watch videos of all the discussions on the AUIS YouTube channel.    View the conference program in English, Kurdish and Arabic languages in the attached pdf document below. Subscribe to AUIS Events on facebook or visit the Events calendar on website to stay informed of all our upcoming events and conferences. 

First Seminar on E-Government, its Theories and Practices

Students and instructors from AUIS and Sulaimani University crowded the lecture hall to listen to Dr. Farzad Sanati and Ala Barzinji speak on the theories and practices of E-Government. Dr. Sanati, who has published widely on the subject, is an assistant professor at AUIS, at the Department of Information Technology, with many years of experience working on E-Government projects in Australia. Ala Barzinji is a doctoral candidate researching E-Government at Stockholm University with a focus on cyber crime and social network analysis of terrorist groups. She is currently teaching Information Security at the University of Sulaimani. The two hour seminar introduced the audience to the concept of E-Government and the prerequisites for its implementation before enumerating the obstacles facing such a project in the KRG. Dr. Sanati began the seminar by defining E-Government, that it is not simply the digitization of the government’s processes but rather the government’s use of information technology to deliver services to its citizens. He stressed the need for research and planning before undertaking such large projects, saying “The more we research, the more we practice, the more we plan, the better we are prepared and the better we implement our goals.” He highlighted the many dimensions of the governance of a project like E-Government, all of which begins not with computerization but in the halls of parliament where the leadership must provide a legal framework to regulate and standardize the process; or else, he warned, the government will face the very chaos it intended to counter. For any E-Government project to succeed, he went on, the government must undergo organizational change and reinvent itself, it must socially engineer digital literacy among its citizens, and finally it must have the people with the technological knowhow to put the network in place and maintain it. He emphasized that success is dependent upon a government’s institutional capacity, its geographical reach, the digital literacy of its citizens, and the ability to train resources; without any of which an E-Government project is doomed to failure. Ala Barzinji tackled the issue of E-Government’s implementation in the KRG and why the time has come for replacing the traditional paper system with a new E-Government system. Security, she pointed out, is the first and foremost problem needing to be solved. Furthermore, she covered the serious challenges facing the KRG, from corruption to a lack of technocrat employees, to masked unemployment and bureaucracy.There are simply too many employees in the government sector, she said, and this leads to corruption as people try to avoid bureaucracy through recourse to nepotism and bribery. It is no surprise, she continued, that in these conditions Iraq was listed as one of the most corrupt countries in the world in 2010-2011. She emphasized the need for the government to provide a private and secure way to access E-Services and its need to ensure “authentication, authorization, confidentiality, integrity and availability.” The seminar struck a chord with the audience, many of whom expressed a profound interest in realising the implementation of E-Government in Kurdistan and wished to discuss in detail the ways a society can move towards an E-Government. Most attendees questioned the panelist about the ways E-Government can be applied to the KRG and the consequences this may have on society, such as mass unemployment. To this, Dr. Sanati responded that the creation of new technology, while leading to unemployment compels the workforce to upgrade their skills. The discussion that followed expounded not only on the difficulties of planning and implementing E-Government, but also the positive aspects concerning its design and creation in a place like the KRG.

AUIS Concludes First International Conference

The panel discussion was the culminating event of the two-day conference in which participants presented original scholarly work and answered student questions about the concepts of liberty and democracy and the possibility of their taking root in the region given recent events. The conference, held on AUIS’ new campus, was made possible with the support of The Achelis and Bodman Foundation. Dr. Larry Diamond, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, began the session by presenting his paper, “The Flow and Ebb of Democracy’s Third Wave in the Middle East and North Africa.” In it, Dr. Diamond examined the development of liberal, democratic governments in the region around the world and why they have largely failed to take root in the Middle East and North Africa. Dr. Sandy Lakoff of University of California, San Diego followed Dr. Diamond with his presentation on “Building Democracy in the Middle East: Opportunities and Obstacles.” Providing a more critical view, Dr. Lakoff addressed six potential impediments for establishing liberal democracies in the region’s post-tyrannical countries. After concluding his remarks by reading from Libya’s interim constitution, Dr. Lakoff prompted a vibrant discussion among AUIS students, particularly about the relationship between democratic governance and Islam. Mr. Eric Brown of The Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington, DC, presented the final paper of the first day of the conference.  His work, “After the Middle Eastern Revolutions: Making Citizens in a Dangerous World,” discussed the importance of creating citizens in new democracies in the Middle East after decades of authoritarian governments. Following presentations on the first day, conference participants visited the Sulaimani Museum, a museum currently under restoration by UNESCO, which houses artifacts dating to the Babylonian period. The second day of the conference opened with Dr. Vincent McGuire, associate professor of political science at AUIS, delivering a speech submitted by former AUIS President John Agresto.  Dr. Agresto’s paper, “Democracies, Good and Bad,” examined how the development of democratic governments “might depend less on the character of its institutions or quality of its constitution but on the quality and character of its people”.  After the speech, two International Studies students, Dina Dara and Dana Jaff, presented their thoughts on Dr. Agresto’s work and took questions from members of the audience. Former US Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill concluded the conference’s sessions with his presentation, “Iraq’s democratic struggle and what it means for the Middle East and North Africa.” While speaking to a large audience of AUIS faculty and students, Ambassador Hill discussed his efforts to build democratic institutions in Iraq and some of the obstacles preventing the country from becoming a liberal democracy, including the need for good leadership and the perils of Iranian influence. After the final session at AUIS, the conference participants took a student-led tour of the Amna Suraka Museum, a former Ba’athist prison, before reconvening for a final panel discussion and to present concluding remarks. Over 100 people from across Iraq, including business leaders, civil society activists and government officials, attended the panel discussion and reception. Participants offered short concluding remarks before a lengthy discussion with audience questions.  Topics such as religious extremism, the future of Egypt, and America’s role in promoting democratic institutions in the Middle East were examined. This conference was the first major international scholarly conference hosted by AUIS.

AUIS Conference Examines Recent Middle East Events

Conference discussions will be led by distinguished scholars and practitioners: Dr. Larry Diamond of Stanford University; former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill; Dr. Sandy Lakoff, University of California, San Diego; Mr. Eric B. Brown, The Hudson Institute; and Dr. Francois Zabbal, Institut du Monde Arabe. “The very foundation of AUIS is linked to the prospect of liberal democracy in this post-conflict region,” said Dr. Athanasios Moulakis, president of AUIS. “This conference is very much a part of fulfilling that mission.” AUIS is committed to furthering the global discussion about democracy and liberty in post-conflict societies. Conference participants will present original scholarly analyses of the political future of countries in the Middle East and North Africa and discuss their significance with AUIS students and faculty.  Attendance is limited to members of the AUIS community and invited guests. Political, governmental, and academic leaders from throughout Iraq will join AUIS for a concluding forum on Friday, November 25, at 5:00 p.m. at the Amna Suraka Museum.  Media are invited to attend this event.

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