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Rare books provide insight into Saudi Arabia’s past

Monitoring Desk

JEDDAH: Books and libraries play a key role in nation building. For nations to prosper, it is necessary to delve deeper into the past to lay foundations of a stronger future.

Saudi Arabia is well on the path to preserving the remnants of its rich past — in the form of heritage sites and collections of rare manuscripts about the region’s past.

In this regard, a new collection of rare books which the King Abdul Aziz Public Library in Riyadh has acquired shed important new light on the history of the Arabian Peninsula. The collection contains archaeological and linguistic information about civilizations that once thrived in the northwest of the Kingdom.

Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Orabi, a professor of modern history and international relations at King Abdul Aziz University, said: “Many of these rare books are written by travelers of different nationalities: English, French and German. Their explorations led to many discoveries.”

Sean Foley, a professor of the Middle East/Islamic history at Middle Tennessee State University, told Arab News: “The new collection will help scholars around the world to further understand the Kingdom.”

“(It) will be welcomed by scholars like me, who focus on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, and world history. It illustrates clearly that there has long been an interest in the history of the Kingdom — seen as a mysterious and distant land by audiences around the world,” he said.

The northwestern areas of the Kingdom have always been a destination for Western travelers, foreign missions, and orientalists, led by their passion and thirst for knowledge. Muslim travelers also wrote extensively about this region’s history and geography but their works, unfortunately, were never translated into Latin, which was then Europe’s lingua franca. This led to a knowledge gap, which motivated Westerners to explore this part of the world.

One of the books is “Travels in Arabia Deserta” by Charles M. Doughty, who visited the north of the peninsula between 1875 and 1877. He wrote about the archaeological treasures of Madain Saleh.

Around the same time, French traveler Charles Huber also undertook a scientific trip to the area accompanied by M. Euting, an expert in Semitic inscriptions, which they detailed in a book titled “Journal of a Journey to Arabia” in 1891.

Most of the books were written by Western travelers and give an informative account of their journeys to regions that are part of Saudi Arabia today.

In 1907 and 1914, Jaussen and Savignac were sent to the same region to finish what Doughty, Huber, and Euting had started. Their detailed study was written up in the three-volume “Mission Archeologique en Arabie” in French.

The book mentioned that the inscriptions and antiquities found in the area reflected the site’s resemblance to Petra. Some inscriptions even mentioned the name of the sculptor.

“Their writings deal with the transcripts and civilizations of the Tayma, Tabuk and Madain Saleh regions. Their books were registered officially and preserved for generations,” Al-Orabi told Arab News.

The expeditions of Western travelers took place between the end of the 15th century and the first half of the 20th century, for individual, religious, political, scientific, or historical purposes.

“Recent years have seen a proliferation of new scholarly works on the Kingdom and its history. The new collection will undoubtedly help scholars better understand the Kingdom and its important place in the history of the Middle East and the world,” Foley said.

Courtesy: (Arabnews)

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First Palestinian cookbook brings love to the table

Monitoring Desk

DUBAI: The first recipe book from Palestine, which features multiple contributors and is soon to be published, brings together accomplished Palestinians to celebrate their love of food, culture and giving.

For Lama Bazzari, an entrepreneur and philanthropist from Nablus who resides in Dubai, as well as her daughter Farrah Abuasad, an eager poet and high school student, Palestine, their native home, is always close to their hearts.

Farrah uses her writings to connect people through food, as well as to help raise awareness over the difficult situation that Palestinian refugees and communities in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan face.

Lama has dedicated years of work to running micro loans and angel investment funds to help set up small businesses for underprivileged women in Palestine and across the MENA region.

Last year, the mother and her teenage daughter joined arms and conjured up a noble project: to raise awareness and funds in aid of Palestinian communities through the sale of a not-for-profit recipe book. That resulted in “Craving Palestine”, a compilation of more than 100 recipes and stories generously donated by Palestinian chefs, musicians, artists, writers, poets, film-makers, entrepreneurs and many others, along with recipe dedications to Palestinian literary icons Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish.

The book showcases a wide variety of recipes from traditional classics, passed down through generations, to modern, innovative reinterpretations of favourite dishes that will take any gastronome on a unique journey through Palestine. The many different contributing voices help others discover authentic, delicious specialties by introducing distinct aromas and flavours from each region of the Palestinian terroir.

“Food is one of the best forms to show how rich and complex Palestinian society is. The book displays this beautiful diversity of Palestinians”, Fadi Kattan, a Franco-Palestinian chef from Bethlehem and co-curator of “Craving Palestine” remarked. “There’s a person with a story behind each of the contributions”.

The contributors include US congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, real estate developer Mohamed Hadid, businessman Zahi Khouri, acclaimed poets and writers Naomi Shihab Nye, Susan Abulhawa, Lisa Majaj, Nathalie Handal and more.

Sofia Halabi, a Chilean-Palestinian chef living in Santiago, learned to cook as a child having been shown the ropes by her grandmothers. They themselves were adept at adapting recipes from Palestinian cuisine using products available in Chile. As she grew up looking into the history of her family and that special way of cooking coming from afar, Halabi was eager to delve into her roots.

It was not until she first visited the West Bank last year that she became inspired to incorporate Palestinian culinary traditions into her everyday work. Throughout her three-month stay, she found a new sense of belonging. “Since day one in Palestine, I felt this very strong connection and realised that it was home more than Chile”, she said, reminiscing about her trip.

When her only living grandmother passed away two weeks after she returned home, she realised she would have to be the one to keep the tradition of cooking alive. Proud of her heritage, she has since devoted herself to promoting and increasing awareness about Palestinian food in the largest Palestinian community in Latin America through pop-up dinners and other food events.

As a contribution to “Craving Palestine”, Halabi chose a cheese samosa recipe which she suggested is reminiscent of the Latin American empanada that may indeed have originally travelled from Palestine with the diaspora, and been adapted from the original sambousak.

“This specialty is so simple but fine!”, the Chilean chef uttered, “Palestinian food is all about few ingredients but distinct flavours”.

The skills of Palestinian mothers

The Trio Joubran, a band composed of three brothers from Nazareth playing traditional Palestinian music, are not just world-renowned musicians, they are passionate about cooking and have always enjoyed making and sharing food with their friends.

When the trio last performed in Bethlehem at the end of last year, they stayed at the guesthouse owned and run by Fadi Kattan. Soon after meeting the well-respected chef, Adnan and his older brothers Samir and Wissam joined one of his morning market tours. Later, they ended up cooking together in his kitchen and tasting some delectable dish based on meat that he had come up with on the day.

“We were charmed by Fadi’s respect for every aspect of our culture. How he talks with farmers, buys local Palestinian produce daily, and shows passion at every stage of cooking”, the youngest brother recalled, “it was an unforgettable experience”.

The band was honoured to contribute to the cookbook, putting their names to a recipe of chicken and potato bake (sayniyeht djaj w batata).

“It’s a very modest dish but it evokes all the experience and skills Palestinian mothers put into cooking something straightforward yet delicious for their children”, Adnan said, expressing the same determination that has made the trio Joubran a symbol of Palestinian identity and resistance. 

“We’re here to say that we do exist and this is our culture. Being alive with our food, poetry, history and language is our most powerful weapon,” he said resolutely.

Kattan, who co-curated the first ever Palestinian cookbook compilation, scrupulously tested and modified the one hundred plus recipes, fine-tuned instructions, and made the text user-friendly. He took pride in working on a great range of recipes, and collaborating with a very culturally rich and diverse community.

“Many of the contributors are based outside Palestine, and the one thing they all share is this transmission through food which is really about keeping the identity alive”, the Bethlehemite chef said, evidently delighted. “What is enjoyable is to see how these recipes travelled, were changed but retained some very Palestinian character”. He considers himself very lucky to be a Palestinian living in Palestine.

Omar Sartawi, a Jordanian designer and food artist of Palestinian descent, participated in the book project with much enthusiasm as he welcomed the idea of coming together with so many from all walks of life in their love for food as well as for a meaningful cause.

As for his contribution, Sartawi picked a watermelon and cheese dish (bateekh w jibneh) and gave it an avant-garde twist. The end result was cooked watermelon rinds with cheese mousse on the top.

“I wanted to take a basic specialty, which my grandparents used to make at home, and turn it into something a little elevated, playful and exotic”, the conceptual artist explained.

Sartawi has always been closely connected with Palestinian food and the culture behind it. Until today, some of his most cherished memories about food stem from the days when his mother and grandmother were cooking delectable dishes with simple, high quality products.

He values the cookbook for its breadth of input from all the various voices featured in it. “It’s an interesting medley of recipes, original and modified, cooking styles and influences representing one of the oldest cuisines in the world. All in one book”, the Jordanian said.

“Craving Palestine” will be out in mid-September. Full proceeds of book sales will go towards NGO Anera’s education, health and development programmes which will benefit Palestinian communities in Gaza, the West Bank and in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

“Despite all that Palestinians have lived and are living through, there’s still a very strong sense of community”, Kattan noted, emphasising that everybody who contributed to the book acted pro bono for a great cause.

“This collection of recipes and stories will bring Palestine on the shelves of a lot of Palestinians and non-Palestinians.  It will make you feel at home”, the book’s co-curator said.

Courtesy: TRT World

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Istanbul’s Arter welcomes the season with five new exhibitions

Monitoring Desk

ISTANBUL: TRT World was able to preview autumn’s most hotly-tipped exhibitions at contemporary art museum Arter, and spoke with Alev Ebuzziya Siesbye’s curator, Eda Berkmen, about her show “Repetition”.

Contemporary art space Arter, in Istanbul’s Dolapdere district, is ready for the new season with five new exhibitions, in addition to two previous ones that have been extended.

Speaking at the news conference, Arter’s Founding Director, Melih Fereli, reminisces about how its new building was opened a year and a day ago. “If we are to count our Istiklal Street location, [which I do], it is our tenth anniversary this year,” he says.

Fereli speaks of having had to shut down operations due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 13, hoping that it would not last. Arter reopened briefly on June 16, he says, but then the administrators decided to close once more and return for the season of autumn with a host of fascinating shows.

Fereli is the curator of two audio-heavy shows, “For Eyes That Listen”, the third ‘sound art project’ by Arter, and “Rainforest V (variation 3)”, the fourth. “Eyes” can be viewed until April 25, while “Rainforest” ends on February 7.

Quoting famed Turkish pottery artist, Alev Ebuzziya Siesbye, who once said “the lever of my life is love and art,” Fereli says “health” has become the third element in the equation.

Alev Ebuzziya Siesbye says she was honoured to be featured at Arter, and that while she has been shown extensively abroad and in Turkey, this was the first contemporary museum show she has had, one that excited, thrilled and scared her at the same time.

TRT World was able to catch up with the curator of Ebuzziya’s show, Eda Berkmen. Berkmen says that the two had been planning it for the past two and a half years. She says many curators wanted the honour of curating Ebuzziya’s collection, but due to scheduling and other concerns, Berkmen ended up getting the job, she says with delighted laughter.

Berkmen tells TRT World that Ebuzziya planned her pottery works based on the space made available to her, and threw them in Paris, where she lives and works.

Asked about the Soren Kierkegaard connection, Berkmen says the exhibition borrows its title from the philosopher’s book “Repetition”. “Alev Ebuzziya had read the book when she was much younger and it has left a mark on her”.

“After all, Ebuzziya has been throwing bowls all her life, endlessly repeating herself; but at the same time, no two vessels are alike, as the viewer will find while walking through the exhibition”.

Quoting the exhibition guide, Berkmen says: “The inquiries addressed in the book on ‘whether or not repetition is possible, what significance it holds, and whether something is gained or lost in being repeated’ provide insight into the principles of Alev Ebuzziya Siesbye’s artistic practice.” She says the book explores the concept of repetition with sample stories, through which “you see that repetition is at once possible, and impossible.” She calls the book a very entertaining read which vacillates between two different perspectives.

Mentioning as an example the author repeating a trip to Berlin, Berkmen says “because he is trying to replicate his previous trip to a tee, his attempt is automatically a failure.”

“How can we define repetition so that it isn’t repetition? Or how can we define it, perhaps much more abstractly, intellectually, as a structure, maybe then it is possible [to arrive at repetition]” Berkmen muses.

“So perhaps Alev Ebuzziya is performing the ideal bowl in her works, we can say,” she clarifies. “She cannot specifically reproduce the exact same bowl, of course she can’t. So maybe she has an ideal in her head,” Berkmen says, noting that anything handmade is bound to have nuances, no matter how similar they may seem.

Asked if she would like to address future viewers of the exhibition, Berkmen says the works speak for themselves and that the intellectualisation is not necessary for their enjoyment.

Other exhibitions on display

In addition to the ‘sound art’ projects “For Eyes That Listen” and “Rainforest V (variation 3)”, and Alev Ebuzziya Siesbye’s “Repetition”, Arter has four more exhibitions on view.

Cevdet Erek’s “Bergama Stereotip”, a continuing exhibition curated by Selen Ansen, “takes the architecture and odyssey of the historical Great Altar of Pergamon as point of reference and reinterprets it.”

The Altan Gurman retrospective can be viewed until January 24, and provides an exhaustive look into the painter and graphic artist’s works.

Curated by Kevser Guler, “On Celestial Bodies” can be viewed until March 7, while the massive and highly impressive “KP Brehmer: The Big Picture” exhibition curated by Selen Ansen is on until January 24.

The Brehmer exhibition is a collaborative effort between Arter, Neues Museum Nuremberg, Hamburger Kunsthalle, and Kunstmuseum Den Haag. It is a colourful and thought-provoking look back on the artist’s oeuvre that is considered part of Capitalist Realism – and with more than a passing nod to Pop Art.

Courtesy: (TRTWorld)

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Being Muslim the Bosnian Way by Tone Bringa

Monitoring Desk

“I have been able to follow a Bosnian community over a period of 6 years, during which it has undergone dramatic changes. In the late 1980s people were working hard against economic crisis. In 1990 they were full of optimism for the future. In January 1993 the village was in fear, surrounded by war on all sides. In April 1993 it was attacked by Croat forces. In October 1993 none of the Muslims in the village remained. They had either fled, been placed in detention camps, or been killed.”

Thus begins Tone Bringa’s moving ethnographic account of Bosnian Muslims’ lives in a rural village located near Sarajevo. Although they represent a majority of the population in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnian Muslims are still members of a minority culture in the region that was once Yugoslavia. The question of ethno-national identity has become paramount in this society, and the author focuses on religion as the defining characteristic of identity. Bringa pays particular attention to the roles that women play in defining Muslim identities, and she examines the importance of the household as a Muslim identity sphere. In so doing, she illuminates larger issues of what constitutes “nationality.”

This is a gripping and heartfelt account of a community that has been torn apart by ethno-political conflict. It will attract readers of all backgrounds who want to learn more about one of the most intractable wars of the late 20th century and the people who have been so tragically affected.

Courtesy: (Arabnews)

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Turkey: 1,100-year-old Armenian church holds holy mass

By Mesut Varol

VAN (AA): A millennium-old Armenian church this Sunday celebrated a special mass in eastern Turkey.

The Armenian Akdamar Church of the Holy Cross – an invaluable piece of Turkish cultural heritage located in the Van province – hosted the mass amid precautionary measures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 1,100-year-old church is opened for worship once a year with special permission of the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry.

The mass, which normally draws thousands of local and international tourists, this year gathered a limited number of visitors due to virus safety measures.

The roughly two-hour mass ceremony aired live. A team of 25 people came from Istanbul to perform the ritual.

Speaking to the press afterwards, Van Governor Mehmet Emin Bilmez said that due to virus measures: “Today, a small group of the Armenian community performed a symbolic ritual here.”

Sahak Mashalian, head of the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul, thanked officials who made it possible to hold the mass.

Akdamar Church, a medieval Armenian place of worship in Turkey’s eastern Van province, was built around 915-921 A.D. by architect Bishop Manuel under the direction of King Gagik I Artsruni.

The church, which has a special place in East-West Christian art, carries the most important adornments and the most comprehensive wall reliefs of its time and was added to UNESCO’s Tentative List of World Heritage in 2015.

Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry has done extensive renovation and restoration work to bring the medieval church back to its former glory.

On Sept. 19, 2010, Akdamar Church hosted its first service after a 95-year break. The church opened for service every year for one day, with the last service in 2019 attracting thousands of local and international tourists to Van.

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Turkey: 2,400-year-old mask unearthed in ancient city

Monitoring Desk

ANKARA: A terracotta mask dating back nearly 2,400 years has been found during excavations in western Turkey, said the leader of the dig.

Archaeologist Kaan Iren, who heads the excavation team in the ancient city of Daskyleion in the Balikesir province, told Anadolu Agency that a mask of the ancient Greek god Dionysus, found in the city’s acropolis, is one of this year’s most interesting findings.

“This is possibly a votive mask. More information will become available over time with more research,” said Iren, a professor at Mugla Sitki Kocman University.

Legend has it that wearing a mask pays homage to Dionysus, the Greek god of carnivals and masquerades, by allowing you to free yourself from secret desires and buried regrets.

Dionysos is said to have concealed both his identity and his power, and is considered a patron of the arts.

Daskyleion is located on the shore of Lake Manyas in the Bandirma district of Balikesir, from when Asia Minor had many ancient Greek settlements.

Iren said that this year, a cellar was unearthed in the Lydian kitchen in the city’s acropolis.

“Work continues to obtain seeds and other organic parts from the excavated soil in the Lydian kitchen and its surroundings through a flotation process,” he added.

Through more research, the cuisine and eating habits of the region from 2,700 years ago will be better understood, the archeologist said.

In the seventh century BC, the city was named Daskyleion when the famous Lydian King, Daskylos, came to the city from Sardis due to dynastic quarrels, according to Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism website.

His son Gyges was born in Daskyleion, and later recalled to Lydia. After Gyges became the king of Lydia, the city was renamed Daskyleion – the place of Daskylos – around 650 BC.

Courtesy: (Yenisafak)

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Slow music: Chord change in Germany of 639-year organ piece

Monitoring Desk

BERLIN: Hundreds of fans have attended a special kind of musical happening at a church in Germany: a chord change in an organ piece that is supposed to last for an entirety of 639 years.

The performance of the “As Slow As Possible” composition began in September 2001 at the St Burchardi Church in the eastern town of Halberstadt and is supposed to end in 2640, if all goes well.

The music piece by the American composer John Cage is played on a special organ inside the medieval church. The last sound has been the same one for the last six years and 11 months, and therefore the chord change on Saturday was a big event among fans of the John Cage Organ Project.

A chord change means that the sound of the organ pipes changes either because new sounds are added or existing sounds end. On Saturday, two new organ pipes were added.

Organisers say the performance is “one of the slowest realisations of an organ musical piece”.

A compressor in the basement creates energy to blow air into the organ to create a continuous sound. When a chord change happens, it’s done manually. On Saturday, two people changed the chord.

When the piece officially started on September 5, 2001, it began without any sound. It was only on February 5, 2003, the day of the first chord change, that the first organ pipe chords could actually be heard inside the church.

Cage was born in Los Angeles in 1912 and died in New York in 1992. He’s known not only as a composer, but also as a music theorist, artist and philosopher.

Chord changes usually draw more than 1,000 visitors to Halberstadt but because of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of guests allowed into the church was limited this year.

Courtesy: (TRTWorld)

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After factory layoff, Filipino woman cashes in on ‘leaf art’ venture

Monitoring Desk

BINAN: When the coronavirus struck and cost Mary Mae Dacanay her factory job in the Philippines, the 23-year-old came up with a unique new source of income — turning leaves into celebrity art.

Dacanay saw her redundancy as chance to enjoy her favorite pastime — art — but at first had difficulty sourcing materials in a country that has had in place some of the world’s longest and strictest coronavirus measures.

With no luck finding canvas, Dacanay has instead picked leaves from a jackfruit tree outside her home, intricately cutting away tiny pieces to reveal well-known faces, from Robert Downey Jr and Oprah Winfrey to Michael Jackson and even the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte.

“Because of this pandemic, I wanted to try making artwork but purchasing art supplies in my town was very difficult because of the strict lockdown,” she said, speaking at her home in Laguna province, south of the capital Manila.

“The only way was to buy online but it was also difficult. I experimented using leaves as a makeshift canvas and it turned out really nice.”

After gaining thousands of followers on Facebook, Dacanay has sold hundreds of pieces of her “leaf art,” each for about 400 pesos ($8.24). The exact price varies according to the level of detail in each piece.

Now, instead of working seven days a week at the factory, plus overtime, she said her new venture allows her to enjoy her hobby, take things easier and still pay the bills.

“This leaf art has helped me so much financially during this pandemic,” she said.

“The money I use to pay bills, buy food for my family, and our other daily expenses are from my earnings from commissioned work.”

Courtesy: (Reuters)

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From part to whole: Archaeologists piece together ancient stones to reveal history of Hadrian Temple

Monitoring Desk

ISTANBUL: Pieces of numerous stone objects have been found at the temple of Hadrian located in the ancient city of Cyzicus in the western Balıkesir province in ongoing excavations.

These excavations in the ancient city on the outskirts of Kapıdağ Peninsula were resumed by a team headed by professor Nurettin Koçhan from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of Bandırma Onyedi Eylül University on July 2. The excavation team continues to work at the temple, which is named after the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

In an interview with Anadolu Agency (AA), Koçhan said that excavation work is supported by the General Directorate of Cultural Assets and Museums affiliated with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Balıkesir Metropolitan Municipality.

Estimated to be 116 meters (381 feet) in length and 62 meters in width, the temple is as large as the Temple of Artemis in the ancient city of Ephesus located in Izmir and the Temple of Apollo in the resort town of Didim in Aydın. Koçhan noted that the relief arch of the temple is longer than 1.60 meters and the column heads are 2.49 meters tall, which is one of the highest among their equivalents.

Indicating that construction of the temple could not probably be completed at the time, Koçhan said: “There was probably an agora – central public space in ancient Greek city-states – just north of the temple. In 166, philosopher Aristides of Athens gave a speech in this agora and said: ‘You have built such a great temple that it replaced the mountains. Sailors know cities from mountains, but your city is known by the temple.’ Indeed, the temple has a magnificent structure. The decorations in the temple are painted with red, blue and gold gilding. During the excavations we have conducted here, we have recently unearthed head parts belonging to the relief arch of the temple and encountered gilded paint on the hair of a woman’s head sculpture.”

The stone pieces found by the excavation team mostly belong to the relief arch of the temple, however. They also unearthed some sculptures belonging to the temple. Noting that they found these works in pieces, Koçhan explained: “This is because this place was used as a lime quarry for hundreds of years in the ancient city of Cyzicus. Therefore, the people of the city broke the materials here and made some of it lime. What we can find today is the remaining parts of the works. For example, we have found the body of a figure with a shield, as well as parts of the head and arms of other figures.”

More details on temple

The recent excavations also revealed that the heads of the outer columns of the temple, built in the Corinthian order – which was the last developed of the three principal classical orders of ancient Greek and Roman architecture – were painted with gilding. Telling that the roof tiles of the temple were made of marble, Koçhan said: “It is such a monumental building, but it was damaged by frequent earthquakes. The region came under the rule of the Seljuks in 1085 when Istanbul came to stand out. So, ports in Cyzicus, which is considered one of the important trade centers with its three historical ports, were closed over time, and the city came to lose its former importance. That is why it started to collapse.”

The professor stated that they also found the northwest corner of the temple last year which has helped them determine the exact dimensions of the temple. He noted: “Accordingly, we will be able to restore the temple this year, albeit at least on a drawing scale.”

Dusty pages of history

It is known that the oldest tribe of the ancient city of Cyzicus, whose history goes back to 5000 B.C., is the Doliones. The region, where some tribes immigrating from the Aegean and the Balkans settled in 1200 B.C., remained as the colony of Miletus, one of the most important cities of Ionia.

Cyzicus came under the Persian rule with the fall of the rich Lydian state to which it was affiliated in 546 B.C. The city gained its independence in 364 B.C. but later came under the rule of the Macedonians when Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in 334.

The region was finally seized by the Romans and began to lose its importance in the 300s. Cyzicus suffered great damage in two earthquakes in the 7th and 8th centuries and was almost destroyed in an earthquake in 1063.

Courtesy: (Dailysabah)

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Arab artists boycott UAE after Israel deal

Monitoring Desk

JERUSALEM: The United Arab Emirates’ move to pursue normalisation with Israel has prompted a backlash from Arab artists and intellectuals, who are boycotting Emirati-backed cultural awards and events to support the Palestinian cause.

“I announce that I am withdrawing from your exhibition,” Palestinian photographer Mohamed Badarne wrote to the Sharjah Art Foundation, based in one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE.

“As a people under occupation, we must take a stand against anything to do with reconciliation with the (Israeli) occupier,” Berlin-based Badarne told AFP.

The UAE agreed last month to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel in a US-brokered deal, making it the first Gulf state and only the third Arab country to do so.

The agreement was denounced by Palestinians as “a stab in the back”, and sparked widespread protests.

Many Palestinians see the deal as a betrayal, breaking a consensus that normalisation with Israel is permissible only after the Palestinian question has been resolved.

Palestinian Culture Minister Atef Abu Seif urged Arab intellectuals to stand against a decision which “strengthens the (Israeli) enemy.”

Cultural figures from Algeria, Iraq, Oman and Tunisia — as well as the UAE — condemned the accord.

Prizes rejected

“A sad and catastrophic day,” Emirati writer Dhabiya Khamis wrote, following US President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement of the deal on August 13.

“No to normalisation between Israel and the Emirates and the countries of the Arabian Gulf!” Khamis added. “Israel is the enemy of the entire Arab nation.”

The UAE has in recent years invested huge sums in culture, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a branch of the iconic Paris museum, which opened in the 2017.

The oil-rich Gulf state also funds several literary awards, such as The Sheikh Zayed Book Prize, named after the former Emirati president, which hands out gold medals and cash prizes totalling some $1.9 million each year.

Moroccan writer Zohra Ramij has announced the withdrawal of her latest novel from the competition, while Moroccan poet Mohamed Bennis resigned from its organising committee.

“It would be a sin to get an Emirati prize,” said Palestinian author Ahmed Abu Salim, who withdrew his entry from the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF).

The competition, which began in 2007 and is mentored by the Booker Prize Foundation in London, is funded by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism.

It awards $50,000 to the winner and $10,000 each to those shortlisted.

“I am an intellectual supporter of the Palestinian cause, whatever the price to pay,” Salim told AFP.

Several former prize winners and jury members, including Palestinian intellectual Khaled Hroub, wrote an open letter to IPAF trustees demanding a halt to Emirati funding.

“We call on the current Board of Trustees to assume its historical cultural responsibility in protecting the award by ending Emirati funding, in order to preserve the award’s credibility and independence,” the letter read.

IPAF did not respond to a request for comment.

Boycott, divestment, sanctions

Omar Barghouti, Palestinian co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, said such a boycott was “a natural and patriotic response of Arab intellectuals.”

Israel sees the movement, which encourages BDS measures as “civil resistance” to the Jewish state, as a strategic threat, accusing advocates of anti-Semitism.

The UAE last week repealed legislation from 1972 boycotting the Jewish state.

But Barghouti warned what he called the “corrupt tycoons” who ended the embargo that they would still feel the impact of the boycott.

Palestinian poet Ali Mawassi said that even if states normalise relations, citizens did not have to do the same.

Decades after Jordan and Egypt made peace with their Israeli neighbour, many Egyptian and Jordanian artists “still refuse to associate with anything related to Israel,” Mawassi said.

But, Mawassi said, other artists will still be wooed by cash.

“There are many artists who will remain silent… to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by Emirati money,” he said.

Courtesy: (AFP)