Muftah Editors | 22 Apr 2013
Between marginality and participation: Rethinking minorities and majorities in the Middle East
BRISMES Graduate Conference,
8–9th May 2013
While the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) has always been home to many minority groups, and Middle East studies has addressed the issue with regularity, the shifting balances across the region have made these issues even more pressing to address. There is today, a felt need to rethink the place, situation and means of participation for these groups in the region. To unpick, contextualise and probe the topic, 30 graduates and young researchers based in the United Kingdom and beyond will come together to share their on-going research and to debate these fundamental but often marginalised groups.
Between 8th and 9th May at Oxford’s St Antony’s College, participants will ask and seek answers the following: What does it mean to be a minority in the Middle East? How have minority groups reacted to impediments to their participation within society as a whole and to threats to their cultural identity? What can we learn about individual and group motivation within minorities? In which ways have minority groups taken part in overall reform? What are the alternative mechanisms for minority participation in the region and how have they shaped majority politics?
The Graduate Section of BRISMES and its co-hosts look forward to welcoming participants and non-paper presenting delegates to Oxford on 8th and 9th May 2013. To attend, please complete the registration form on the conference website before the 1st of May: (https://sites.google.com/site/brismesgs2013/) Further information including the provisional programme is also on the website.
Livia Bergmeijer | 21 Apr 2013
The Guardian Development Network published a wonderful story yesterday about a new project in Iraqi Kurdistan: a ski school. What years ago felt like nothing more than a distant dream to its Basque founder has finally become a reality. This past winter over a hundred people visited the unlikely tourist spot to try out the sport. With a positive response from locals, the project’s future looks promising and certainly provides a welcome change of scenery in a region long riddled with conflict.
“When 37-year-old Igor Urizar first happened upon the isolated mountain village of Penjwin, 300km north-east of Baghdad, he had a vision of this border town – nestled in the pristine, snow-capped mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan – transformed into a haven for skiers.
Now, after four years of hard work, Urizar is the proud founder of the first ever ski school in Iraq, and can hardly contain his satisfaction. “It has been a long way to get to this point but I really think it was worth the effort,” the Basque ski instructor told IPS.
This past winter, until the early months of 2013, over 100 visitors flocked to this long-forgotten region that has witnessed scores of conflicts – from the Gulf war in 1990-91 to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 – and discovered something other than war: the pleasure of donning a pair of skis and gliding through the powdery snow.
But most visitors are happily oblivious to the challenges of establishing this recreational site in one of the world’s most volatile geopolitical regions.
“My first attempt was in 2009 in Baskale – a Kurdish village in Turkey about 1,000km east of Ankara,” Urizar said. “Snow conditions were perfect but the Turkish police were so suspicious of a westerner in a Kurdish village on the border with Iran that I was forced to leave the place a week after I arrived.”
Back in his hometown of Durango, 400km north of Madrid, Urizar contacted the Tigris Association, a non-profit organisation of Basques and Kurds supporting development projects in Kurdish areas, which suggested that he try again in 2010 – only this time in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the local Kurdish population has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since 1991.
Urizar discovered Penjwin on a hunt for the best skiing spots in the region. Luckily, he said, he had brought a few pairs of skis with him so was able to present his project to the local authorities, who finally gave him the green light that year.
The initiative would not have been possible without the help of Falah Salah, a Kurdistan Regional Government official and member of the Tigris Association. “Our long-term goal is to import the successful ‘white week’ model into Kurdistan,” Salah told IPS, referring to the annual 14-week period when over 5,000 schoolchildren from northern Spain’s Navarra region converge for skiing trips in the Pyrenees mountain range that forms the natural border between France and Spain.
Over the past 30 years, this programme has become such an integral part of the economy of Spain’s Roncal valley that many fear it will not be able to sustain itself without the ski industry. Innkeepers in the region told IPS that they earn 70% of their annual income during the winter months.
Salah believes the economically depressed Iraqi border region, where cattle rearing and farming have traditionally been the primary means of subsistence, could benefit greatly by promoting a similar scheme.
Skiers demand equipment rentals, they eat kebabs at local restaurants and eventually spend the weekend in a village that has hitherto only served as a transit spot for refugees fleeing from either side of the Iran-Iraq border.
It was not difficult to cultivate a love of snow and winter sports among the local population here. Having grown up in the rocky mountains that are covered for several months of the year in a thick white blanket, Kurds of almost all ages have been quick to participate in this playful activity, which Urizar labels “sustainable skiing”.
No ski lifts or other metallic eyesores ruin the beautiful landscape here. Instead, a simple municipal building, located close to a ski site, houses the equipment. Just outside, an unobtrusive track guides cross-country skiers through the shrubbery.”
Read the full story here.