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Reviving the Spirit of Mosul

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Last week, the world made a great commitment to rebuild Iraq following the recent defeat of ISIS. Recognizing the immense courage of the Iraqi people and the depth of their suffering, the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq pledged to rebuild infrastructure so that the country can once again prosper.

Mosul is the living symbol of Iraqi’s pluralistic identity. For centuries, it was at the crossroad of culture in the Middle East. From the Sumerian cities to Babylon, from the walls of Nineveh to the Silk Road, the region has been a melting pot of people and ideas. For the last three years, this story of peace – the true spirit of Mosul – has been overshadowed by another story of hatred and violence.

The conference stressed the importance of putting the human dimension at the heart of our efforts for sustainable reconstruction. So we launched “Revive the Spirit of Mosul”, an initiative for the reconstruction of the Old City, both its physical infrastructure and restoring the dignity of its people. When war is waged against culture and education, response must be culture and education. This is the only long-term solution against extremism.

The destruction of the University of Mosul Library, the dynamiting of the Al-Hadba minaret and the pillaging of the Nabi Yunus Shrine, emblem of the religious coexistence of the three religions of the Book – shocked the world. Public libraries were burnt, music was silenced, artists attacked and cafes closed.

Thousands of children have learned war and been indoctrinated with an intellectually corrupt ideology. They have not received an education – the essential tool for building the future. To avoid raising a lost generation, we must teach peace but also reinfuse these communities with the culture of peace, steeped in Iraq’s rich history and cultural life.

The revival of the Old City of Mosul is the cornerstone of our initiative, supported by both UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi. This initiative means restoring architectural symbols that bring the Iraqi people together, in all its diversity. Many key actors like the European Union, neighboring countries and international organizations expressed great interest in participating in this effort that UNESCO will coordinate.

UNESCO will bring its expertise in damage assessment to restore and reconstruct the emblematic sites of the historic center. We will work hand-in-hand with the local population and the government to restore bookshops, cultural centers and museums – including the Museum of Mosul, which was tragically ransacked.

We will provide opportunities for technical and vocational training, particularly in traditional building techniques, so that Iraqis will have the skills to actively contribute to this reconstruction.

The great civilizations of this region defined the course of humanity, through a thousand-year dialogue, which gave birth to the wheel, writing, mathematics and law. We will work with our Iraqi counterparts to ensure future generations will learn of their proud heritage, through the school materials that we are developing, including a new school curriculum, which puts humanities at its core along creativity, critical thinking and values of respect. This is the only way to ensure that fanaticism does not prevail once more.

This “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative will be UNESCO’s main contribution to the United Nations’ Response and Resilience program designed to help Iraq’s government fast-track the social dimensions of reconstruction.

Later this year, we will organize an international conference at UNESCO Headquarters, with the Iraqi government and all our partners, to design a blueprint for this reconstruction.

Through culture and education, we can restore trust and create the conditions for a common future. This reconstruction will take time but, brick-by-brick, lesson-by-lesson, together we can revive the true spirit of Mosul.

First published in Asharq Al-Awsat

Arts & Culture

“Kharibulbul” festival represents a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional and multicultural Azerbaijan

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As a country of multiculturalism, Azerbaijan promotes the cross-cultural dialogue inside the country, but also at the regional level. The modern Republic of Azerbaijan regards the existence of a people as the result of the civil and political self-determination of the peoples in Azerbaijan. For the time being, Azerbaijan is populated by representatives of over 30 national minorities such as Talysh, Kurd, Lezghi, Tat, Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Inghiloy, Tatar, Avar, Ahyska Turk, Jewish, German, Greek and others. All of them enjoy the cultural societies. Representatives of three main religious confessions – Islamic, Christian and Judaic communities participate jointly at various public ceremonies and cultural events. Support and preservation of the cultural diversity are reflected in the State policy of Azerbaijan.

The ongoing clashes near Nagorno-Karabakh started after Armenia attacked Azerbaijani civilians and military on September 27. Azerbaijan won its historic Victory in 44 days, liberated its lands, dealt crushing blows to the enemy, and defeated Armenia. As a result of this defeat, Armenia was forced to sign capitulation and surrender. Thus, Armenia’s 30-year policy of aggression has come to an end. During this time, the glorious Azerbaijani Army has liberated many settlements from the enemy. Thousands of citizens have volunteered for military service across the country to fight Armenia’s increased military aggression. The volunteers come from various ethnic, religious, social backgrounds and are united around the cause to restore the country’s territorial integrity as well as justice.

Despite all this, Azerbaijanis are not the enemy of the Armenian people. Azerbaijan is a multinational state. Thousands of Armenians live in Azerbaijan, primarily in Baku. Armenia, which has created a society intolerant towards other nations and religions, has tried to completely erase the ancient Albanian, Orthodox, Muslim religious and cultural heritage that historically existed in the occupied territories of multi-ethnic and multi-religious Azerbaijan. It has either completely destroyed cultural and spiritual heritage of the Azerbaijani people or falsified their history and origins by Armenianizing and Gregorianizing it. In the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, mosques, temples and cemeteries, historical monuments, museums, libraries have been destroyed and looted, Caucasian Albanian Christian temples and Russian Orthodox churches have been Gregorianized, mosques have been turned into barns and subjected to unprecedented insults such as keeping animals forbidden in Islam in them. The Armenian regime, which has been pursuing aggressive policies for years, has ignored the norms of international law and international humanitarian law, has committed environmental crimes in the occupied territories through fires, the use of phosphorus bombs, poisonous substances and mines. Today, Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh region, also they can normally live only within the Azerbaijani state. The Azerbaijani people are tolerant.

It is also well known by the world public that the Republic of Azerbaijan, diverse in terms of ethnic and religious background, fought to liberate its historic territories from occupation that had nothing to do with Christianity. Secondly, Muslims, Christians, and Jews – representatives of all nations and religions living in our country – fought alongside Azerbaijanis in the armed forces of Azerbaijan. These people were united around the “ Karabakh is Azerbaijan!” slogan by Mr. Ilham Aliyev, Commander – in – Chief of the victorious army, and not false religious appeals. Among them are those who displayed unequalled heroism falling martyrs, wounded, and awarded with supreme orders and medals of the Republic of Azerbaijan. 

 As with the beginning of the conflict, there are lots of officers and soldiers – representatives of the nations and religious communities living in Azerbaijan – who serve in Azerbaijan’s national army and display outstanding valor in liberating our country from occupation. Azerbaijani nation doesn’t discriminate between its heroic sons and martyrs on ethnic and religious background.

Mr. President Ilham Aliyev, who played a major role in this historic victory of Azerbaijan, said the followings: “Our advantage lies in the fact that representatives of all nations living in Azerbaijan feel themselves as comfortable as in their families and motherland. The fraternity and friendly relationships between various nations is our big wealth and we have to protect it. Our policy will also be pursued in the future. Representative of all the nations living in Azerbaijan displayed outstanding courage and heroism in the Second Karabakh war, falling martyrs, fighting for the cause of Motherland, and embracing death under the Azerbaijani flag. This is the society we have in our country and it is our big wealth».

For your information, “Kharibulbul” music  festival, bearing the name of symbolic flower growing in Shusha, was first organized in Shusha’s fabulous Jidyr glade in May 1989.  30 years later on May, the 12th “Kharibulbul” music  festival in Azerbaijan’s cultural capital Shusha was organized by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and will be held every year hereafter.

Musical creativity of different nations living in Azerbaijan on Jidyr glade within the festival was introduced devoted to “ Multiculturalism in Azerbaijani music” as a program comprising folk and classic musics.

Representatives of various nations living in our country demonstrated stage performance. All nations living in Azerbaijan have contributed to our joint victory. The Patriotic War once again proved that all nations live in fraternity, friendhips, and solidarity in Azerbaijan and there is national unity and solidarity in the country.We are sure that Shusha will host numerous music festivals and international conferences.

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Arts & Culture

Priyanka Banerjee exposes the harsh realities of rape culture in India in her short film “Devi”

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Priyanka Banerjee is the writer and director of the award winning film “Devi”. Devi as a film explores ideas related to rape culture in India. The entire short film is shot inside a theatre style single room. All the women in the film are sitting together in a room after their death and discussing how crowded the room is getting. The plot soon reveals that all these women have been raped.

The climax of the film catches all viewers off-guard and exposes them to the harsh realities of today’s India.

Tell us more about your journey as a director and writer

I have no formal education in writing and direction. I took theatre arts in school and got a little experience there and then started a theatre company, Leogirl Productions (today it does content and video for clients). Along the way, I taught myself screenwriting from online courses. Many people believe that films are very technical. However, I think that if you are curious enough, you can learn it on the job. My first short film was released in 2016. I did not then imagine that I would work on a film which will win the filmfare. The idea for Devi came along in 2018 and it took a while to work on the idea and bring it to the screen.

What inspires you to make films?

Movies are very relatable. I end up thinking of movies most often when I am having a moment – good or bad. I think of movie scenes which relate to how I am feeling all the time. I think movies are capable of leaving a deep impression on people and creating an impact. I want to create an impact on people via my storytelling and make films which people will remember.

What inspired you to write and direct Devi?

My very first draft was actually called candlelight. However, once the film was ready, our producer Niranjan Iyengar suggested we call it “Devi” and that immediately stuck.

When the Kathua Rape case happened a few years ago, I watched the news on television and felt numb. For the first time ever, I did not have a reaction to something that usually impacted me a lot. This scared me a little. Not having a reaction meant that rape news was normalised, I was desensitised. I wrote Devi with that frustration in mind.    

I am someone who takes time to write and work on films. I started working on Devi in 2018 however, it finally only released in March 2020.

Why was Royal Stag barrel select short films chosen as a platform to launch Devi?

The producers generally choose which platform a film should release on. Royal Stag Barrel Short Films has a great collection of films and I am happy that the film found the right platform for release.

What strikes you as the most impactful scene in “Devi”?

I was deeply impacted by two scenes in the film, even as I was writing them. One scene was when the maushi told the medical student,  “You are studying for an exam you are never going to give”. The second impactful scene is a more popular one. It was when the little girl walked into the room and the deaf girl signed and told her,  “You are safe here”. The scene implied that the girl was finally safer after her death than while alive. Both scenes impacted me as I was writing them, and I’m glad they were received the same way.

What can be done to change rape culture in India?

I think rape is not so much about sex as it is about power. Many Indians’ sexual desires are repressed, desires are considered taboo, not to mention there is a total lack of empowerment even when it comes to education or employment. Therefore, they find empowerment is hurting another. Not to mention the total lack of sensitivity when it comes to how women are spoken of by the media, by politicians, by influencers in everyday life. Each of these things causes a systemic rot which has to be cleaned out with every generation. Awareness of these various aspects of what can take us to the root of the problem, I think.

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Art Is a Mirror Of The Magnitude Of Human Achievement

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Dr. Sofija Bajrektarevic, Culture for peace to culture of peace(left); Reine Hirano, Artist (right)

The ‘From Culture for Peace to Culture of Peace’ (known also as the Culture for Peace – Unifying Potentials for the Future) Initiative was once again participating in the ‘Vienna Processes’ conference series program by wishing to emphasize the importance of cultural diplomacy in the processes of creating and maintaining dialogue and the well-being of society.

On the historic date of March 08th – International Women’s Day, a large number of international affairs specialists gathered for the second consecutive summit in Vienna, Austria. This leg of the Vienna Process event titled: “Europe – Future – Neighbourhood at 75: Disruptions Recalibration Continuity”. The conference, jointly organized by four different entities (the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace) with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, was aimed at discussing the future of Europe and its neighbourhood in the wake of its old and new challenges.

This highly anticipated conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from three continents, and the viewers from Australia to Canada and from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the rethinking and revisiting Europe and its three equally important neighbourhoods: Euro-Med, Eastern and trans-Atlantic (or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”); the socio-political and economic greening; as well as the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials and Code, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century.

The event was probably the largest gathering since the beginning of 2021 for this part of Europe.

For this occasion, the selected work of artist Alem Korkut is on the Conference poster.This artist work with the motto/message: ‘Sustainable Future – Quo Vadis?’ is a standing part of the Initiative project. This previously launched initiative refers to the visual arts and the engagement of artists in the field of ‘culture for peace and culture of peace’.

“Europe Future Neighborhood” Conference poster

In addition to the artistic visualization of the theme and message of the conference (same as it was a case with the first conference in the series ‘Vienna Process’), this Conference leg was closed in the big hall of the Austrian Diplomatic Academy with a well-chosen artistic musical performance.

This time, conference participants and attendees were able to listen to the selected parts of Suite No. 1 in G major for solo cello from J.S. Bach, performed by Japanese artist Reine Hirano.As a solo and chamber musician she performs in concert halls worldwide, including the Konzerthaus in Vienna and the Suntory Hallin Tokyo.

It was to emphasize the importance of culture, science and arts as essential binding and effective tool of cultural diplomacy. Utilized to support dialogue, these types of interventions of the Culture for PeaceUnifying Potentials for the Future Platform already became a regular accompanying part of the ‘Vienna Process’, which makes it special – quite different from the usual conference forms of geopolitical, legal and economic contents.

Conclusively, art – indeed – is a mirror of the magnitude of human achievement, but also a message of how fragile those achievements are.

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