Iraq Kurds digitize books to save threatened culture

Iraq Kurds digitize books to save threatened culture
The Kurdistan Center for Arts and Culture, founded by the nephew of regional president Nechirvan Barzani, launched the digitization project in July. (AFP)
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Updated 11 March 2024
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Iraq Kurds digitize books to save threatened culture

Iraq Kurds digitize books to save threatened culture
  • In Dohuk’s library, the archiving team scours the wooden bookshelves for hidden gems

DOHUK: Huddled in the back of a van, Rebin Pishtiwan carefully scans one yellowed page after another, as part of his mission to digitize historic Kurdish books at risk of disappearing.

Seen as the world’s largest stateless people, the Kurds are an ethnic group of between 25 and 35 million mostly spread across modern day Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkiye.

In Iraq, the Kurds are a sizeable minority who have been persecuted, with thousands killed under the rule of late Saddam Hussein and many of their historic documents lost or destroyed.

“Preserving the culture and history of Kurdistan is a sacred job,” said Pishtiwan, perusing volumes and manuscripts from Dohuk city’s public library in Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdistan region.

“We aim to digitize old books that are rare and vulnerable, so they don’t vanish,” the 23-year-old added, a torn memoir of a Kurdish teacher published in 1960 in hand.

In Iraq, the Kurdish language was mostly marginalized until the Kurds’ autonomous region in the north won greater freedom after Saddam’s defeat in the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

After the US-led invasion of 2003 toppled the leader, remaining documents were scattered among libraries and universities or held in private collections.

Once a week, Pishtiwan and his two colleagues journey in their small white van from the regional capital Irbil to other Kurdish towns and cities to find “rare and old” books.

They seek texts that offer insights into Kurdish life, spanning centuries and dialects.

In Dohuk’s library, the archiving team scours the wooden bookshelves for hidden gems.

With the help of the library’s manager, they carefully gather an assortment of more than 35 books of poetry, politics, language and history, written in several Kurdish dialects and some in Arabic.

Pishtiwan holds up a book of old Kurdish folk stories named after 16th-century Kurdish princess Xanzad, before gently flipping through the fragile pages of another religious volume, tracing the calligraphy with his fingers.

Back in the van, equipped with two devices connected to a screen, the small team starts the hours-long scanning process before returning the books to the library.

In the absence of an online archive, the Kurdistan Center for Arts and Culture, a non-profit founded by the nephew of regional president Nechirvan Barzani, launched the digitization project in July.

They hope to make the texts available to the public for free on the KCAC’s new website in April.

More than 950 items have been archived so far, including a collection of manuscripts from the Kurdish Baban principality in today’s Sulaimaniyah region that dates back to the 1800s.

“The aim is to provide primary sources for Kurdish readers and researchers,” KCAC executive director Mohammed Fatih said.

“This archive will be the property of all Kurds to use and to help advance our understanding of ourselves.”

Dohuk library manager Masoud Khalid gave the KCAC team access to the manuscripts and documents gathering dust on its shelves, but the team was unable to secure permission from the owners of some of the documents to digitise them immediately.

“We have books that were printed a long time ago — their owners or writers passed away — and publishing houses will not reprint them,” Khalid said.

Digitising the collection means that “if we want to open an electronic library, our books will be ready,” the 55-year-old added.

Hana Kaki Hirane, imam at a mosque in the town of Hiran, unveiled a treasure to the KCAC team — several generations-old manuscripts from a religious school established in the 1700s.

Since its founding, the school has collected manuscripts but many were destroyed during the first war pitting the Kurds against the Iraqi state between 1961 and 1970, said Hirane.

“Only 20 manuscripts remain today,” including centuries-old poems, said the imam.

He is now waiting for the KCAC website launch in April to refer people to view the manuscripts.

“It is time to take them out and make them available for everyone.”


Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
Updated 15 July 2024
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Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
  • The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The civil defense agency in Hamas-run Gaza said Sunday that 15 people were killed in a strike on a school sheltering war displaced where the Israeli military said it had targeted “terrorists.”
The strike on the UN-run Abu Araban site in central Gaza’s Nuseirat camp was the fifth on a school-turned-shelter in eight days.
The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children.
Schools in Nuseirat were the target for two of the earlier school strikes as Israel keeps up its offensive against Hamas Palestinian militants who triggered the war with their October 7 attack on Israel.
The Israeli military said its air force “struck a number of terrorists who were operating in the area of UNRWA’s Abu Araban school building in Nuseirat.”
It said the building had “served as a hideout” and base for “attacks” on Israeli troops.
AFPTV images showed the three-story complex standing, with clothes and bedding airing out over its railings. A wall bearing the UN logo had been blown out, and rooms inside were damaged.
On July 6, Israeli aircraft hit Al-Jawni school, also run by the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), in Nuseirat. UNRWA said about 2,000 people were sheltering there at the time.
The following day, four people died in a strike on the church-run Holy Family school in Gaza City, in the territory’s north, according to the Civil Defense agency.
On Monday, Israel hit another Nuseirat school, again saying it was targeting “terrorists.”
The next day, a hospital source said at least 29 people died in a strike at the entrance to Al-Awda school in the Khan Yunis area, southern Gaza.
Israel says Hamas uses schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure for military purposes. Hamas denies the accusation.
France and Germany on Wednesday called for an investigation into the school strikes.
After the Al-Jawni strike, UNRWA spokesperson Juliette Touma told AFP that when the war began “we closed the schools and they became shelters.”
UNRWA is the main relief agency in Gaza but more than half, or 190, of its facilities have been hit — “some more than once” — in the military response to the October 7 Hamas attacks, she said.
 

 


As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
Updated 14 July 2024
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As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
  • About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian

TEL AVIV: Comedian Ayman Nahas said he has kept a “low profile” since Oct. 7, fearing reprisals as an Arab artist in Israel while the country wages war in the Gaza Strip.
He is one of many Arab artists in Israel or annexed East Jerusalem who describe facing increasing hostility and harassment and fearing looming funding cuts or arrests.
“You never know where your place is, and that is not the right atmosphere to perform,” said Nahas, the artistic director at the Arabic-language Sard theater in Haifa, in Israel’s north.
He said that his theater depends on government subsidies “like 99 percent of cultural spaces” in Israel.
But he fears the money could be cut, as happened in 2015 to Al-Midan, another theater in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Haifa, after it put on a play inspired by the story of a prisoner jailed by Israel over an attack on troops.
One 25-year-old performer, who asked to use the pseudonym Elias to avoid a backlash, said he has put acting aside and became a swimming pool attendant because he was fed up with only getting stereotyped roles.
Other Arab actors say that since the war, they can no longer find work in Israel. Elias has finally found a role in Berlin.
“I have had to go into exile to practice my art,” he said in a Tel Aviv cafe.
“I don’t wear my ‘Free Palestine’ bracelet anymore, and I take care of what I put on social media. I have friends who the police have visited.”
Nonprofit group Mossawa has documented an increase in human rights violations against Israel’s Arab minority since October, including arrests, discrimination at work, and harassment at schools, as well as curbs on the right to protest.
Singer Dalal Abu Amneh, who is also a neuroscientist, was detained for 48 hours for a social media post after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack that said “the only victor is God.”
Abu Amneh later said she had been harassed in her Jewish-majority hometown of Afula in northern Israel. Her lawyer said she had received hundreds of “death threats.”
About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian.
They say they are frequently the targets of discrimination by the Jewish majority, and those complaints have grown through more than nine months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Huda Imam, who promotes Palestinian cultural sites in Jerusalem, said that “a cultural silence has taken hold since Oct. 7.”
“There has been a shock, an inability to produce out of fear and respect” for the war’s victims, she added.
“There was a Palestinian cultural life before the war, especially in east Jerusalem,” Imam said, referring to the sector Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by most of the international community.
“Now people don’t go out.”
And it is primarily exiles “who give a voice to Palestine,” said Imam, highlighting the rapper Saint Levant, who played at the Coachella music festival in the US in April, and the European-based singer and flute player Nai Barghouti.
Palestinians still express themselves through their “living heritage, like drinking coffee or dancing dabkeh,” a traditional dance, said artist Hani Amra.
Some artists wondered about the relevance of their work now.
“You turn on the television, and you see the war live. The reality is more powerful than any artistic work,” Amer Khalil, the director of east Jerusalem’s Al-Hakawati, also known as the Palestinian National Theater.
The theater, founded in 1984, “has been closed more than 200 times in 40 years” and is again in the crosshairs of Israeli authorities, said Khalil.
“Running a theater is always difficult, but after Oct. 7 things became even more complicated,” he said, adding that Al-Hakawati was preparing a play about that day.
“It is a game, like censorship. It comes and goes.”

 


UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
Updated 14 July 2024
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UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
  • The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday
  • The aid includes supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries and insulin

DUBAI: The UAE delivered three tonnes of medical supplies and a range of medicines to support the healthcare sector and hospitals still operating in the Gaza Strip, the UAE state news agency reported on Sunday.

The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday.

The medical aid includes medical supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries, insulin for diabetic patients, and other solutions to bolster the healthcare sector during the crisis.

The UAE on Sunday condemned Israel’s attack on refugee camps in Khan Younis, which claimed the lives of 100 people.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday expressed its strongest condemnation and denunciation of what it termed “continued genocidal massacres against the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli war machine.”


Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth

Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth
Updated 14 July 2024
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Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth

Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth
  • Its statement added expenses were estimated at 24.5 billion dinars and revenues at 18.9 billion dinars

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait's budget is projected to show a deficit of 5.6 billion dinars ($18.33 billion) for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, the Kuwait News Agency reported on Sunday citing the Ministry of Finance. 

Its statement added expenses were estimated at 24.5 billion dinars and revenues at 18.9 billion dinars.

Government spending must be fixed at 24.5 billion Kuwaiti dinars in the 2027-2028 budget to control budget growth, the ministry also said.

The liquidity of the General Reserve Fund, from which the budget deficit is financed, decreased to 2 billion dinars last March from 33.6 billion ten years ago due to increasing withdrawals, it added.


Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis

Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis
Updated 14 July 2024
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Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis

Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis
  • Egypt called on Israel to cease its disregard for the lives of unarmed civilians and to adhere to international humanitarian law

CAIRO: Egypt has condemned the Israeli airstrikes on the Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

The deaths in Al-Mawasi, an Israeli-designated “safe zone” where aid groups said hundreds of thousands of people were sheltering, drew condemnation from governments across the region.

The Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip said at least 92 people had been killed, more than half of them women and children, and 300 wounded in Saturday’s strike

In a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Emigration and Egyptian Expatriates, Egypt condemned in the strongest terms the Israeli bombing of Al-Mawasi, which is crowded with displaced people, resulting in the death and injury of dozens of innocent Palestinian civilians.

Egypt called on Israel to cease its disregard for the lives of unarmed civilians and to adhere to international humanitarian law.

It also stressed that such crimes would not be subject to a statute of limitations and could not be justified under any pretext.

Egypt emphasized that these continuous violations against Palestinian civilians add serious complications to the current efforts aimed at reaching de-escalation and a ceasefire and exacerbate their suffering amid disgraceful international silence and inaction.