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The Nahrein Network


Fostering the sustainable development of heritage in post-conflict iraq and its neighbours


Archive for December, 2022

A visit to Iraq: Planning for the future

By Mehiyar Kathem, on 6 December 2022

On our trip to Iraq last month, we had noticed that most of the passengers arriving at Baghdad International Airport were pilgrims intending to visit the shrine of Sufi founder Abdul Qadir al-Gailani. Knowing that the next few days would be made up of formal meetings, we decided to take the opportunity to visit on that evening the shrine in central Baghdad.

Pilgrims from Iraq, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, UK and South Africa and other countries had come to worship and contribute to the spirit of a shared and global Sufi community. As a central meeting point for Sufi Muslims, the Shrine of Abdul Qadir al-Gailani fused devotion and religious practice – commonly with poetry, song and chanting – with a fervour of celebration and on the main courtyard, one could experience the uniqueness of that cultural and social mergence.

The shrine of Abdul Qadir al-Gailani

Professor Eleanor and I also met with the new Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities, Dr Ahmed Fakak al-Badrani. Dr al-Badrani had previously been a lecturer at the University of Mosul, specialised in the political history of Iraq. The meeting was attended by Dr Laith Hussein, Deputy Minister and Director of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) and Dr Saad Iskander, an advisor at the Ministry. We discussed the Nahrein Network’s plans in the country and ways to support one of its key institutions, namely SBAH.

Professor Eleanor Robson and Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities, Dr Ahmed Fakak al-Badrani. Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities, Baghdad.

Professor Eleanor Robson and Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities, Dr Ahmed Fakak al-Badrani and Dr Laith Hussein (Director of SBAH in Iraq) and Dr Saad Iskander (Advisor at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities). Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities, Baghdad.

A meeting was also organised with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, led by Director General of Scholarships Dr Hazeem Taher and his colleagues. We spoke about the Nahrein Network’s current activities and efforts to support Iraqi universities and academics and ways to strengthen our work together. We also had the opportunity to meet with Dr Fatimah who is leading the ministry’s language centre and who would later be participating in the Nahrein Network’s AcademIQ workshops in Baghdad, which are part of our work to support Iraqi capacity for improved research in the country.

Meeting at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Baghdad.

As part of this trip to Baghdad, I went on to meet with Deputy Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities, Dr Naufel Abu Ragheef, where we discussed the work of the Nahrein Network. I also took the opportunity to visit some departments within the Ministry’s building, focusing on its modern art collections.

Dr Mehiyar Kathem of the Nahrein Network with Dr Naufel Abu Ragheef, at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities in Baghdad.

A day later, I also met with the current and future director of Diyala’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, Mr Ahmed Abduljabbar and Dr Ali Tameemi. Both had been recipients of a previous Nahrein Network grant to document and safeguard Diyala’s rich cultural heritage.

Dr Mehiyar Kathem with SBAH representatives, Ahmed Abduljabbar and Dr Ali Tameemi.

On a return visit to SBAH, I bumped into the Director of Al-Anbar SBAH’s provincial office, Mr Ammar. We spoke about his plans for revitalising the cultural heritage of Iraq’s largest province. Mr Ammar, whose office is based in Ramadi in Al-Anbar, spoke about the need to strengthen the capacity of their cadre to conserve and protect the province’s heritage, which has long been neglected.

Professor Eleanor Robson’s trip to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) was equally successful. It was organised by Dr Rozhen Kamal Mohammed-Amin, a Co-Director of the Nahrein Network working in Sulaimani and who is now affiliated with the Kurdistan Institution for Strategic Studies and Scientific Research (KISSR).

Eleanor, Rozhen and members of her team were welcomed by the provincial governor of Sulaimani, Dr Haval Abubaker, who stated his support for initiatives in the field of cultural heritage and the uses of new technologies.

Professor Eleanor Robson and Dr Rozhen Mohammed-Amin meet the Governor of Sulaimani, Dr Haval Abubaker.

In Erbil, an agreement between the Nahrein Network and Kak Kaify Mustafa Ali, director of the KRI’s General Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage was signed, paving the way for increased partnership.

Professor Eleanor Robson and Kak Kaify Mustafa Ali show the newly signed agreement between the Nahrein Network and the KRI’s Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage.

A visit to Erbil Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was also organised. Eleanor, Rozhen, and her deputy Tabin met with Lanah Haddad, Regional Director for the American NGO, the Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TARII). She introduced them to Salar Al-Agha, manager of the citadel’s interpretation centre, and spoke about creative ways to build visitor-learning at the site. The next day they were also introduced to Dr Georges Mouammar, the new director of the Institute Francaise du Proche-Orient (IFPO) in Erbil.

Traditional handicrafts for sale at the foot of Erbil citadel.

In Erbil, Eleanor and Rozhen also met with Dr Yasmin Abdulkareem Mohammed Ali, Dean of the College of Archaeology at the University of Mosul to discuss shared interests in digital cultural heritage.

Dr Yasmin and Dr Rozhen discuss the uses of digital cultural heritage.

Developing e-collections for University of Mosul Central Library

By Zainab, on 5 December 2022

We talk to Dr Mohammed Jasim Aal-Hajiahmed, from Central Library – University of Mosul. Returning scholar who came to finish the second phase of his scholarship in October 2022. He held a Nahrein – BISI Visiting Scholarship at The British Library.

What were the main things you learnt from your Visiting Scholarship?

Throughout the two phases of my scholarship, I gained knowledge in many aspects of my field, specifically:

  • I learned about setting up a digitization unit in the library and the process of restoring the physical and electronic library collections. I also acquired the know-how for digitizing the manuscripts and fragile materials.
  • I was introduced to new electronic library systems that can be applied during cataloguing, borrowing, interlibrary loan, etc.
  • I understood the importance of providing training courses for library staff in order to continuously develop skills.
  • I recognized the value of networking with other librarians and exchange of knowledge.

How has the scholarship helped you in your work in your home country?

This scholarship helped me in my work a lot because I was able to network with many friends at various great UK institutions such as the British Library, Oxford University, Cambridge University, UCL Library, etc. This networking will help us resolve any issues we could face during the process of restoring Mosul Library Collections as we are starting this process from scratch.

What was the main highlight of your scholarship?

The main highlight of this scholarship was discussing the possibility of forming a consultancy board that could meet twice a year to follow up the restoration of Mosul University Library Collections. This board consists of directors and librarians from different UK libraries that can provide consultancy and solutions for the issues that may be raised during the process of rebuilding Mosul Library Collections. Listen to Dr Mohammed talk about his future plans in this short video

What will you do to continue your research in Iraq?

I have kept in touch with my contacts in UK to make sure that the process of restoring the library collections goes smoothly and to get the required feedback if needed. Moreover, I look forward to applying what I have learned from my scholarship to make Mosul University Library one of the best academic institutions that can provide the best services for its users.

BP Archive: A Source for the Study of the Contemporary Economic, Social and Cultural History of Kirkuk

By Zainab, on 5 December 2022

We talk to Dr Dilshad Oumar Abdul Aziz, Head of the History Department at the University of Kirkuk. Throughout September and October 2022, he held a Nahrein – BISI Visiting Scholarship  at the BP Archive and History Department, University of Warwick. We talk to him about his experience as a Visiting Scholar here in the UK.

What were the main benefits of your scholarship?

During my stay at the BP Archive at the University of Warwick, we scanned and documented files previously reserved through the archive’s electronic database of 6000 – 7000 documents. These files included historical papers of Iraq’s economic, social and cultural history.

I also designed and wrote A Guideline for Researchers & Students to Contact the BP Archive, in three languages: English, Arabic and Kurdish. The purpose of this guideline is to show the significance of the BP Archive and the important documents it contains for the economic and social history of the countries of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Gulf. The guideline also familiarizes researchers with the history of these countries and how to benefit and use the BP Archive documents in their research projects.

“My aim is to familiarize local researchers and postgraduate students in the field of modern and contemporary history in Iraqi universities about the importance of the BP Archive”

What was the main highlight of your scholarship?

I organized a webinar via Zoom on September 28, attended by more than 150 researchers and postgraduate students from Iraqi universities. During the workshop, the guideline was launched, and the attendees were introduced to how to use the archive’s electronic database. You watch the recording of the workshop on the Nahrein Network’s YouTube channel.

My project has also captured the interest of several news outlets in the region. I conducted a 15-minute television interview with the Kurdsat News TV. We talked about the importance of my project, outputs, and support of Nahrein Network and BISI. I also talked about experiences gained from the visit, and how to transfer them to the academic reality at the University Kirkuk and other universities in Iraq. You can see the interview on Facebook (in Kurdish).

What will you do to continue your research in Iraq?

Since returning from the UK, I have been writing an academic research paper titled, “The Iraq Petroleum Company Archive: a source for study the economic, social, and cultural history of Kirkuk.” I am currently in the final stages of my research and I hope to publish the paper in both Arabic and English. Another output of our project is to prepare an index for all the scanned documents relating to Kirkuk’s economic, social and cultural history in the BP archive.

I aim to disseminate the knowledge gained from my scholarship with the BP Archive at the University of Warwick after returning by establishing of a series of workshops tailored to researchers, professors, graduate students and employees of research centers and central libraries, especially at the University of Kirkuk and the Central Library in Kirkuk, raising awareness of the documents available in the archive and urging the community to communicate and to benefit from the material available in their future studies and research.