Over two days in late August, Bergen Public Library hosted the celebrations marking Bergen ICORN City of Refuge’s 15th anniversary in hosting writers, artists, and journalists at risk due to their professional activities.
The opening ceremony on Friday 25th August started with an address by the Mayor of Bergen Linn Kristin Engø. Mayor Engø reminded everyone that:
‘Without critical voices, we won’t have the democratic development the world so badly needs’.
Ingeborg Kværne, the National ICORN Coordinator for Norway and Elisabeth Dyvik, ICORN’s Programme Director also congratulated Bergen on its anniversary, from the perspectives of Norwegian PEN, and the ICORN Secretariat, respectively.
The anniversary celebrations were organised by Bergen ICORN City of Refuge and were led by Kjersti Egge, the ICORN coordinator in the city. The programme included a wide and diverse range of events, all featuring writers, artists, and journalists who are current or former ICORN residents in Bergen or one of the other Norwegian ICORN Cities of Refuge.
The opening ceremony saw a powerful and touching song performance by writer, translator, singer, and activist Meryem Sultan, who is the newly arrived ICORN resident in Lillehammer. Sultan performed two songs with the lyrics of forbidden poems by Uyghur poet Melike Ziyawdun. The film ‘You do not belong to this land’ by actor, theatre director, writer and current ICORN resident Kaveh Ayreek was also screened at the opening.
With the celebrations continuing throughout Saturday 26th August, Bergen Public Library hosted another eight public events, led by writers, artists, and journalists from the ICORN network. The day started with a ‘Shadow and Light’ drawing workshop for children led by illustrator Evak Hikmat. The programme continued with a conversation between linguist, writer, and human rights activist Weli Ayup and journalist Kjersti Strømmen on the situation of Uyghur people in China. Later, an event dedicated to the project ‘Invisible Voices’ with Amani Abo Shabana, Wesam Almadani, Benyamin Farnam and Emmanuel Shokrian explored the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people with refugee background in Norway, drawing on both lived experience and professional expertise.
Saturday afternoon saw a poetic exchange between and Brynjulf Jung Tjønn, who read each other’s poetry, followed by a discussion between journalists Shoaib Durrazai and Kadafi Zaman on the present and future of Balochistan and Pakistan. Likewise, Ratan Kumar Samadder and Weli Ayup dived into the topic of self-publishing, while an event focused on Uyghur culture gave insight into the history, music, language, and food of the Uyghur people. The programme culminated with a screening of ‘The Weaver’ by Kaveh Ayreek, telling the story of a grown-up Afghan child labourer coming to terms with her childhood memories and trauma.
Since becoming a member of ICORN, Bergen has hosted nine ICORN residents, including journalist and human rights activist Shoaib Durrazai, and theater directors and actors Fatima and Kaveh Ayreek, who are the current ICORN residents. Previously, Bergen ICORN City of Refuge has welcomed linguist, writer and activist Weli Ayup, blogger Ratan Kumar Samadder, journalist Kareem Amer, writer Lookeesan Appuththurai, poet Ayaz Khonsyawashan, and journalist, director, and actor Hossein Heydari.
Preceding the anniversary celebrations, Bergen hosted the Norwegian ICORN Network Meeting on the 24th and 25th August, whose programme also included a variety of insightful presentations, discussions, and talks.