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Humanities Scholarships Support Women Students at American University of Iraq, Sulaimani

  On International Women’s Day 2022, American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) recognizes the invaluable support of the Humanities Scholarships. Administered by AUIS’s Kashkul Center for Arts and Culture, the Scholarships provide financial support to young women studying humanities at the University. Kashkul is a research center at which students join local and international artists and scholars to study, create, and preserve cultures in the Kurdistan region and greater Iraq.   Since its inception in 2017, the Humanities Scholarship has benefitted 10 female AUIS undergraduate students from across the country and enabled them to follow their dreams of studying humanities. Student scholars major in programs such as English Literature, Journalism, Law, and International Studies and take courses in topics covering history, gender studies, philosophy, and more. After graduation, scholarship recipients have gone on to pursue various job opportunities, with several winners pursuing postgraduate degrees in the United States.    The Humanities Scholarship has been provided to the University through the generous support of a donor who wishes to remain anonymous but maintains a strong commitment to uplifting young women in the region through educational opportunities.   Detailing the intention behind the grant, the donor explained, “This grant is part of a larger global effort to help women and girls, as well as men and boys, focusing specifically on conflict zones where violence disproportionately affects women.”   “We have chosen to remain anonymous because this support should in no way focus on us, but on the women who anchor long-term peace efforts in their communities. As they rise, they will lift up everyone,” the donor continued.   According to Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Gender and Development Studies (CGDS) at AUIS Dr. Choman Hardi, equal numbers of men and women study in the humanities departments at public universities in the region, where education is free. However, parents are more likely to support and pay for their sons to get a better education at more expensive private insitutitions.    “That’s where you have good quality education, especially liberal arts education, and when it comes to parents investing in their daughters, that’s where we don’t have the support that’s required,” she said.    “Education in humanities is very important, in particular for young women who are brought up in a patriarchal culture,” Dr. Hardi continued. “Humanities and social sciences provide us with the critical ability to examine our long-held views about men and women, and about our own capabilities and position in society, and for any woman to succeed, it’s very important to have awareness and the ability to challenge the limits set by society.”   Scholarship recipient Shene Mohammed credits her experiences as an AUIS student and her time interning at Kashkul with expanding her understanding of the value of arts and culture in society.    “The projects that find their home at Kashkul have taught me to behave not only with respect, but also warmth, knowing what treasures lie inside an artwork, a manuscript, and appreciating the power any kind of knowledge carries” she said, explaining further that her internship pushed her outside her comfort zone and taught her the importance of being challenged in order to grow.   “When co-organizing a Meet the Artist series, I learned the importance of connecting local artists to the region’s wider community,” she said. “This project opened conversations with artists about how they build their careers by developing skills for their own ideas to become their jobs.”   Listening to those artists, she said, showed her the strength and hard work necessary to overcome her fears for her future. Now at the University of Iowa, Shene is finishing a Master of Fine Arts program in Literary Translation.    “[At] Kashkul, I learned to read and ask [questions] as a translator; I learned to nurture what was inside so [I] could grow further in my next level of study and work,” she said, adding that her next step is to prepare for a Ph.D. program.   “Thank you so much for believing in me and for enabling me to be a part of Kashkul and of AUIS.”   ***   American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) is the first non-governmental, not-for-profit, American-style university in Iraq. Founded in 2007 and operated for the public benefit, it is also the first non-governmental university in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to be accredited by both the federal Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government. The only certified member in Iraq of the Association of American International Colleges and Universities (AAICU), the University welcomes students from diverse communities throughout Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. For more information, visit http://auis.edu.krd.   The Kashkul Center for Culture and the Arts at AUIS, headed by Center Director Dr. Andrew Slater, is a place where students join local and international artists and scholars to study, create, and preserve culture in both the Kurdish region and greater Iraq. Through its Artist-in-Residence program, Meet-the-Artist event series featuring local artists and cultural figures, and robust internship program, Kashkul serves AUIS students, artists, and the broader community by celebrating the rich world of arts and culture.     

Dr. Alana Marie Levinson LaBrosse Receives U.S. National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship

Fellowship will support the translation into English of Hero Kurda's I Write Yousif   The U.S. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced on January 12, 2022 that Dr. Alana Marie Levinson LaBrosse will receive a Literature Translation Fellowship to translate Kurdish feminist poet Hero Kurda’s I Write Yousif into English. Dr. LaBrosse is an Assistant Professor in the English and Translation Department at American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), currently on leave, and the founder of the AUIS Kashkul Center for Culture and the Arts.    Dr. LaBrosse is one of 24 Literature Translation Fellows selected by the NEA for 2022. In total, the Endowment will award $325,000 in grants to support the translation of works written in 16 different languages into English.   “I'm hopeful this will be another point of arrival for Kurdish literature in the global context,” Dr. LaBrosse said, adding that this is the first NEA award for translation from Kurdish. “The world of Kurdish literature has much to contribute to the global conversation.”   I Write Yousif, Kurda’s second book, was published in 2013 and received widely among young audiences in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Her work discusses a range of feminist topics, inviting readers to a different reality than the one they face each day.     “The NEA Literature Translation Fellowships provide crucial support, affording translators the time and means and encouragement to focus on their projects,” said the NEA’s Director of Literary Arts, Amy Stolls. “In turn, these fellows will enrich our culture by bringing writers from around the world to English-speaking readers through the translators’ skill and creativity.” # # # American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) is the first non-governmental, not-for-profit, American-style university in Iraq. Founded in 2007 and operated for the public benefit, it is also the first non-governmental university in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to be accredited by both the federal Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government. The only certified member in Iraq of the Association of American International Colleges and Universities (AAICU), the University welcomes students from diverse communities throughout Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. For more information, visit http://auis.edu.krd/. The Kashkul Center for Culture and the Arts at AUIS, headed by Center Director Dr. Andrew Slater, is a place where students join local and international artists and scholars to study, create, and preserve culture in both the Kurdish region and greater Iraq. Through its Artist-in-Residence program, Meet-the-Artist event series featuring local artists and cultural figures, and robust internship program, Kashkul serves AUIS students, artists, and the broader community by celebrating the rich world of arts and culture.  The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Since 1981, the NEA has awarded 550 fellowships to 487 literary translators, with translations representing 78 languages and 88 countries. Visit arts.gov to browse bios and artist statements from all of the 2022 recipients and past Literature Translation Fellows.    

Shingal Lives: Preserving Yezidi Oral History and Culture

  An interview with Zêdan Xalaf: translator, researcher, and project manager of the Shingal Lives project at the Kashkul Center for Arts and Culture at American University of Iraq Sulaimani (AUIS).    Zêdan Xalaf is a Translation Studies graduate from the University of Duhok and currently an MA student in Creative Writing at the University of San Francisco. He is originally from Shingal (also known as Sinjar) in northwestern Iraq, and a survivor of the 2014 Yezidi genocide perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State (IS). Besides his work with the Shingal Lives project and as a translator and researcher, Zêdan also writes poetry and has released a book of poems translated from Arabic to English titled “Barcode Scanner.”   Shingal Lives is a one-year project implemented by Kashkul in partnership with UK-based Exeter University. Zêdan currently manages a team of eight oral translators who are collecting oral histories from Yezidi elders, storytellers, and others. The oral histories are uploaded onto YouTube and made available for young Yezidis and others to listen to and remember the history and culture of the community.    Zêdan spoke to AUIS Journalism student Ghazala Jango about the Shingal Lives project.   Ghazala Jango: Zêdan, can you tell us about Shingal Lives and its objective?   Zêdan Xalaf : The Shingal Lives project is a one-year project that aims to record stories from the older generation of Yezidis, plus singers and storytellers to preserve their oral history and culture. This project is being done in partnership with the University of Exeter and Kashkul at AUIS. We are now in the stage of collecting stories and songs, and the personal histories of the singers, storytellers, and others in the community. Eight oral historians are working on the collection of these stories and documenting them either by audio or video recording. This project will end in February 2022, and we want to expand the project because I believe that one year is not enough to preserve the entire body of work in oral tradition.   GJ: I know you have been interested in the oral history of the Yezidi people for a long time. How did you come up with the idea for this project?   ZX: This project is an extension of a personal project of mine. Back in 2017, I was at the University of Duhok, and I didn’t have much to do during my summer vacation. At the same time, I couldn’t get a job because I was a student—no one hires students for just three months. So, that summer I was missing my grandmother's stories, and because she had died, she was not around to tell me her stories anymore. I went to my aunt, who was raised by my grandmother, since she knows so many of my grandmother’s stories.   When I went to my aunt, she also didn’t remember all the stories, so she referred me to another person and said, “This person knows the stories better than me and can tell you more.” I went to that person and transcribed everything he told me. I bought a voice recorder with the help of a friend, and after that I started to ask a lot of people to tell me stories. Each person referred me to someone else more knowledgeable about our oral traditions. This is how I collected around 40 hours of songs, or what we call stran, over two years. I translate them as epic poems because I regard them as poetry.   Then in 2018, along with a group of friends, I was invited to a poetry reading at AUIS. After the event, Marie Labrosse, who was the director of Kashkul at that time, asked me about Yezidi poets and classical poetry as she had studied classic Kurdish poetry and she was interested in my ideas about poetry and classic Yezidi poetry. She asked me if I knew any classic Yezidi poets whose work I could translate. I told her that we are a community that practices oral tradition to preserve our history and culture.    We have never had the means to institutionalize our language and literature, or to study it in school. We have never written anything down in our own language in at least the last 500 years. Under Ottoman rule we were not allowed to because they were in power, and we as the Yezidi community were demonized by then. We didn’t have written tradition because writing comes from authority, I believe. I told [Labrosse], if we ever had any written poetry, we probably lost it because the Ottomans also burnt everything that belonged to the Yezidis and launched genocidal campaigns. But who knows what happened exactly? Thus, the Yezidis kept their oral tradition because they survived by it.   GJ: Do you think part of the reason why Yezidis have practiced oral tradition is because they wanted to be distinct from other communities? Was that a way to preserve their identity and their history from the repeated genocide campaigns?    ZX: Yes, definitely. Basically, you need to tell stories to survive, you need to make sense of your existence. You need to make sense of why you are distinct and why you don’t want to be a carbon copy of the other. The Muslims wanted us to be Muslims, and they wanted the Yezidis to convert to Islam, but the Yezidis had a reason not to convert. They had an entire body of oral history and traditions. We have qawel, bait, stran, pasta, etc. We have an entire body of generosity in oral tradition.   I remember Marie asked me about tangible and intangible archives. The archive that we have in the Yezidi community is intangible; it’s just in our memory. Our archive is our memory because you can destroy a physical or a tangible archive in a minute. But not for a vulnerable community, like the Yezidis, that went through genocidal campaigns by the Ottoman Empire, Muslim rulers, etc. This is how they kept their history, through oral tradition, and how we still manage to keep our tradition alive. They can’t destroy it because it is in our minds. If you survive, those stories will survive with you, if you don’t, then nothing survives. That was the way they thought it to be.   GJ: What was your main aim in developing this specific project?    ZX: I thought we were losing our traditions and stories because they aren’t being not told as before due to Arabization, which is still going on. The Yezidi community is 60 percent Arabized, I would say. If you look at what people listen to, they listen to Kadim Al-Sahir [a popular modern Arabic singer] more than Qasimi Mairy [a classical Yezidi singer]. If you say Qasimi Mairy, the newer generation would say, “Who is that?” Everyone knows who Kadim Al-Sahir is, but no one knows who Qasimi Mairy is, which is a part of that Arabization.   If you think about our epic poems, they last for one to two hours, but songs in other languages last for only five minutes—this is the way they influenced Yezidi minds. For example, before 1995, people sang those long songs, not to gain money, but because they inherited from their fathers and families. We had families of singers (stran bezh) like Qasimi Mairy’s family, Pir Gro’s family, etc. Who is now considered a master of the Yezidis; long traditional songs?     What we wanted to do through this project is to revive these epic songs and stories and give access to Yezidis to their own oral stories that they no longer listen to because of their phones. We want to use this opportunity to put those stories on YouTube for them to have the stories on their phones. In the end, we can’t ask people to leave their phones and go to listen to their grandparents who want to tell a story, but we thought we could do something else; we could record their grandparents telling a story and put it on YouTube. We wanted to target people who would want to listen to their ancestors’ stories and not have to leave their phones at the same time.   GJ: So, you are working on the oral tradition and oral history of Yezidis, I wonder what kind of methods you use to collect information and data?   ZX: We have developed a protocol, it’s quite long, about 11 pages. We have our list of questions regarding the life of Yezidi singers and storytellers, and the singing tradition in the Yezidi community before and after the establishment of the mujamaat [urbanized areas]. We go to people and interview them. We interview singers (stran bezh), storytellers (cherok bezh), listeners, and audiences (gohdar). We interview all these people to get a sense of the storytelling oral tradition.   GJ: The oral tradition to some extent has preserved the Yezidi culture and identity, but don’t you think that it also has made Yezidis lose some of their history and identity?   ZX: Of course. I would say if it weren’t for that oral tradition, we would not have remained as a community, and we would not have survived. However, in the oral tradition, of course you lose something. Let’s say we are five in a room and I tell you something, and it goes from one person to another, eventually it will change and you will have a completely different story as it reaches the last person. I would also say that with the death of every person, a story dies. Now especially, it is more endangered than any other time. Each day, our oral tradition becomes more endangered than the day before because those who tell stories are the older people and their memories have been affected by the most recent genocide. If I ask who is most vulnerable to COVID-19, it’s the older people who are telling these stories, so each time a person died in recent years, a story died.   GJ: Why are Yezidis becoming more aware of preserving their oral history and culture after the recent genocide of 2014? Was the genocide a point that raised awareness in this regard?   ZX: It’s because Yezidis opened up to the world. We were not in dialogue with non-Yezidi communities before the genocide, and we were unknown in the world and did not have access to the world. The internet provided us that chance. The Ba’ath regime did not allow us to have access to the world. If I ask how many libraries we had in Shingal, of course, there were none; and how many books we had—also none; and how many universities we had—also none. And the schools we had only taught in Arabic, and were of the worst quality, and only taught Islamic ideology. Our madrasa (schools) came from the Islamic system, which is based on rote memorization methods for the Quran.    GJ: What future plans do you have for this kind of project? And what are you planning to do by the end of this project?    ZX: I compare the issue of our oral tradition to the environmental crisis and climate change issues in the world. These are our last five years to do something and save and preserve our oral history in sustainable ways, otherwise, we will lose them forever. We are attempting to extend the project and receive more funds so that we can keep what we have and let it survive. A project like this will not preserve everything, it is only an attempt to tell people that this tradition is endangered and that’s disappointing. If something dies, it’s gone forever, you can’t restore it because it was a memory. It’s not something physical that you can pull out after 100 years like in libraries. People agree on its value. If people agree on the value of something, it will survive, and the opposite is also correct. Anyways, one year is not enough and one project is not enough, and ten people are not enough to record everything.    Our plan for the end of the project in February 2022 is to have a festival, and we hope that we can do it in Lalish [a holy site for Yezidis], but we are not yet sure if we can do it there. My idea for the festival is not to have a stage-focused festival, but rather have storytellers perform while sitting on carpets. Every storyteller will sit somewhere in Lalish, in those places that people gather, and I want to revive the storytelling tradition in Lalish through this festival. Basically, you will be able to go to the storyteller and ask them to tell you a story. In this way, they will tell stories that some people are interested in listening to. We are planning to invite up to 20 storytellers and singers, give them a spot in Lalish and ask people to go and listen to them.   What is interesting about this kind of project is that this is the first project of this kind that focuses on recording and documenting the oral history of the Yezidis, who have faced 74 genocidal campaigns that burnt and destroyed all the history they had. Yezidis switched to oral tradition to make their history and culture survive with them as they passed it to each other by storytelling in the evenings when gathering. Their children memorized those stories. However, with the development of the internet and technology, not so many people are interested in telling those stories anymore as people are not interested in learning them. So year by year, this oral history is becoming more endangered and the new generation of Yezidis will not know anything of their history.       

AUIS Participates in the Sulaimani Expo International Book Fair 2021

  Students, faculty members, and staff of the Department of English and Kashkul Center for Arts and Culture at American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) took part in the Sulaimani Expo International Book Fair held in Sulaimani November 18-27, 2021.   The Department of English organized a field trip on November 20, 2021 to the Fair for some 40 students to visit booksellers, review the vast number of books for sale and on display, and research publications of interest for future projects and assignments.    Kashkul participated as an exhibitor at the Fair, with seven different poetry books in English, Arabic, and Kurdish offered, including a number of Kurdish-English publications. This year is the second time that Kashkul has participated in the Fair.   Sulaimani Expo International Book Fair is an annual event held in Sulaimani city. This year marks the third time the event has been held, with over 300 publishing houses, authors, and bookstores from 11 different countries represented.    The highest demand for books this year were on subjects related to psychology, sociology, religion, and politics. Many booksellers reported running out of books in those subjects towards the latter days of the event.   In addition to sales, other activities took place at the Fair, including panel discussions featuring publishers, authors and writers, as well as translators.    Written by Ghazala Jango

Kashkul artists present poems in London arts festival

  Four poets from Kashkul, AUIS’s center for arts and culture, participated in a virtual panel as part of the London Shubbak Festival on Monday, June 21, 2021. The discussion, titled, “Bringing Images Home,” was in partnership with Kashkul, with thanks to the Sulaimani UNESCO City of Literature office.   The poets were Alka Aziz, an AUIS and Harvard MA graduate originally from Sulaimani; Bryar Bajalan, an AUIS and Exeter MA graduate as well as PhD candidate; Zedan Xelef, primary Investigator at Kashkul, MA student at SFSU, and renowned poet; as well as Hawre Khalid, a poet and photojournalist for whom Kashkul held and curated an exhibition for in 2019.    The festival commissioned video poems from each of the artists, which were presented during the panel.  

AUIS Alumni Published by Princeton's Global History Dialogues Project

By: Sipa Kurda   Saman Ihsan Fuad and Lazha Taha, primary investigators at Kashkul, the center for arts and culture at American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), have been published in the Global History Dialogues, a part of the Global History Lab at Princeton University. Their research publications, titled “The Old Houses of Slemani from Hopes of Preservation to Heaps of Rubble” and “The Oral History of Local Photojournalism in Kurdistan,” respectively, were the final projects of “A History of the World Since 1300,” a course offered by Princeton at AUIS.    Saman, AUIS Business Administration alum (‘19), explained that his research is about the representation of old and ancient houses in Sulaimani, few of which remain in their original condition. Saman was inspired to research and start questioning what happened to the old and ancient houses that are part of Kurdish culture and history, and why they weren’t protected, but instead destroyed and turned into parking lots and buildings. During the course of his research, he did encounter different cases. “I showcase a few recent efforts that offer a glimmer of hope by preserving some houses while at the very least documenting the ones that are bound to be torn down,” Saman said.    Saman noted his AUIS education prepared him to take on this research project. “AUIS helped me with writing my research through the courses I took as a student,” he said. “That helped me improve my writing and researching skills, and now I am planning to study a masters in Middle Eastern History.”     Lazha, a media studies graduate from the University of Sulaimani and an alumna of AUIS’s English-language preparatory program (APP), explained her publication looks at the future of photojournalism and preservation in Kurdistan. In her research, she focuses on the history of Kurds in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and the decades of upheaval since the Sykes Picot Agreement in 1918. “Due to the [fact] that Kurds were involved in frequent wars and conflict, they have lost the majority of their archives several times,” she said.    Lazha plans to pursue a master’s degree in English Literature. She credits the APP program and her time as a student at AUIS with helping to improve her writing and research skills.  

Kashkul Launches New Webinar Series with University of Exeter

  Kashkul, the center for arts and culture at American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), and the Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter launched the AUISxExeter Talks webinar series titled "Curating Kurdishness: Arts, Culture, and the Archive in Kurdistan" on February 3, 2021 with an inaugural webinar featuring poet, translator, and editor David Shook, and poet and translator Zedan Xelef.   The session, under the title "Emerging Poets from Shingal and the Role of Translation in Creation" was hosted by Professor Christine Robins, Ibrahim Ahmed Professor of Kurdish Studies and Director of the Centre for Kurdish Studies at the University of Exeter, and Dr. Alana Marie Levinson-LaBrosse, Assistant Professor at AUIS and Director of Kashkul.

Kashkul hosts Zêdan Khelef reading

  Kashkul, AUIS's center for culture and arts, hosted a reading with Zêdan Khelef at Urfa Gallery in Sulaimani on May 1, 2019. Khelef is an emerging Ezidi poet and currently in a micro-residency with the Center. The event featured translations of poetry in seven different languages: Arabic, English, Farsi, Kurmanji, Sorani, Spanish, and Turkish.   Over the course of the two-week micro-residency, Khelef and fellow artist-in-residency David Shook translated 20 poems from Syria's Kurdish region, also referred to as Rojava, in addition to five of Khelef's own poems. 
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