Providing Stavanger’s public with deeper understanding on the literary, cultural, and political developments in Iraq, several current and former ICORN residents from Iraq joined the week-long programme at Sølvberget. Through their professional expertise and lived experience, Safaa Khalaf, Selma M. Yonus, Mizar Kemal, Otba Fathalla Jakob, and Basim Mardan addressed issues surrounding democracy, free expression, human rights, and cultural heritage in Iraq.
With the thread of freedom of expression running through all events, Basim Mardan kicked off the ‘Understanding Iraq’ week with a lecture on the topic of ‘Freedom of Expression in Iraq’. Approached through the lens of constitutional and legislative changes, Mardan offered a compelling analysis of the past and present conditions and contradictions of free expression in modern Iraq. As an Iraqi writer and translator who has faced persecution because of his work, Basim Mardan’s lecture explored the consequences for democracy, civic engagement, and everyday live in Iraq. You can listen an audio recording of the lecture here.
The week continued with shared group reading in Arabic led by writer, poet, journalist, and former ICORN resident in Stavanger Selma M. Yonus, and a literature event with writer and journalist writer and Mohamed Saif Al-Mofty on Tuesday 25th April.
Investigative journalist, and poet Safaa Khalaf delivered a ‘Global Morgen’ lecture on the topic of environmental and climate change in Iraq. Through in-depth research and sharp analysis, Khalaf reported on the devastating, yet underreported, consequences of the climate catastrophe on the lives of Iraqi people. From highlighting the ramifications of water shortages on Iraq’s social and economic structures, to the deadly health impact of oil and gas extraction, Safaa shared the difficulties activists and journalists face in holding authorities and corporations accountable. Safaa Khalaf is originally from Basra in southern Iraq and was the ICORN resident in Stavanger between 2020 and 2022.
On Thursday 27th April, Basim Mardan returned to Sølvberget’s stage for a discussion on Iraqi cultural heritage. Joined by Håkon Roland, Professor at the Cultural History Museum at the University of Oslo, and Hannah Ersland, the Head of the Kielland Centre at Sølvberget, the conversation offered both scholarly and real-life perspectives on the topic. The panellists explored the impact of conflict and political change on the Iraq’s cultural heritage, whether through its preservation, or its disappearance and destruction. Basim Mardan grew up and lived in Mosul, Northern Iraq. He currently works as ICORN’s Training and Development Coordinator and was the ICORN resident in Skien, Norway between 2006 and 2008.
Thursday evening saw a literary event, celebrating Iraq’s great poetry tradition and its modern incarnations. Selma M. Yonus, Otba Fathalla Jakob, and Safaa Khalaf, all poets and former ICORN residents in Stavanger.
Alongside events with Iraqi music and food on the weekend, the literary quest continued with a talk by Selma M. Yonus on Saturday 29th April. Yonus discussed classical Iraqi poetry and one of its 1940s pioneers, Nazik Al-Malaika, the first Arabic poet to use free verse.
Given the success of the ‘Understanding Iraq’ week, the project will continue in 2024. Next year’s theme will be ‘Yemen’, with photographer, photojournalist, and current ICORN resident in Stavanger Hayat Al-Sharif, and poet and former ICORN resident Mansur Rajih both from Yemen.