Books of  Reconciliation - Interfaith Cultural Cooperation in Iraq

Project location: IRAQ
Project start date: June 2012 - Project end date: December 2013
Project number: 2012-040
Beneficiary: Unponteper

 

Iraq is home to a number of minority religious groups including Turkmens, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Sabean Mandeans, Yazidis, Shabaks, Armenian, Baha'i, Gypsis, Kurds Faili. Historically many of these groups have inhabited the region for more than 2000 years. Decades of war and political struggles have targeted and significantly affected each of these groups.
Human Rights Watch reports that extremist insurgents viciously attacked the Chaldo-Assyrian, Yazidi, and Shabak communities, labelling them crusaders, devil-worshipers, and infidels, respectively. Truck bombings in Nineveh in August 2007, killed more than 300 Yazidis and wounded more than 700 in the single worst attack against civilians since the start of the war. In late 2008 a systematic campaign of targeted killings and violence by insurgents left 40 Chaldo-Assyrians dead and more than 12,000 displaced from their homes in Mosul.
Attacks and threats against minorities continue nowadays, especially against Christian communities: in late October 2010 a bomb attack against a Church in Baghdad caused around 50 victims and wounded and 70 families fled to the north of the Country. 2011 and early 2012 reported fresh upsurge of inter-faith violence, especially against Christians. Iraq is now divided by political, tribal, resource, and religious clashes. As a result, not only the precious cultural heritage of the country is seriously at risk, but the loss of identity resulting from decades of land and political struggles, religious intolerance, and ensuing violence have significantly contributed to human suffering.

Northern Iraq
Many of the ethnic and religious minority groups of Iraq live in the northern Kurdistan region and in the disputed territories which border Kurdistan and Iraq. These territories are historically some of the most ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse regions of Iraq, and have for centuries been inhabited by Turkmens, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, and other minorities, as well as Kurds and Arabs. This region is disputed for several reasons. Historically it has been a place of significant political tensions resulting from decades of displacement and "arabization" efforts during the previous government regime. These tensions, combined with the presence of occupying forces and oil rich resources, have placed the indigenous ethnic populations and minority religious groups in the middle of land and resource struggles.
Moreover, the political contexts of Iraq/Kurdistan and their provincial governing bodies have required that minority group political leaders ally with parties who can best ensure their security. In the disputed regions, this has placed them in the middle of struggling militia often within their own communities. These political conflicts have often bled into issues of religious identity such that communities have begun to identify themselves more overtly by religion more than ever before in Iraq.

Twenty years of experience in Iraq and almost 10 years of strong collaboration with the INLA (please open this link for details )   in the protection of Iraqi cultural heritage, allowed UPP to enter in contact with representatives of many cultural and religious minorities in the north of the Country which hold a books and documents patrimony of inestimable value, improperly kept and at risk of being lost. The Chaldean and Assyrian Chiristians, Yadizis, Shabaks and Turkmens; all these communities have been involved in a multiannual program called "Books of reconciliation - Interfaith cultural cooperation in Iraq" launched by Un Ponte Per.. in 2012 (please see http://www.unponteper.it/sostienici/article.php?sid=2040 ), aimed at fostering interfaith and intercultural cooperation in Iraq through which protecting the Iraqi national cultural heritage and identity. The Iraqi National Library and Archives of Baghdad is the main partner, together with the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, the University of London, the Library of Congress of Washington, among others.
The relevance of this program has been acknowledged by the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana (CEI) which has recognized a co-funding to the program which will fund some of the activities foreseen. Nonetheless, some of the activities which will be described in the next paragraphs, are not covered by the available funds. The Nando Peretti Foundationhas awarded a grant which will allow to accomplish the program.

The historical coexistence between different religious communities in Iraq has severely suffered from the effects of the dictatorship first, and then the war. The dialogue among religious minorities is now a key factor for the stability and future of the country. The process of reconciliation is at the centre of Iraqi politics and can be undertaken only through effective communication between the majority and minority communities. To do this, it is crucial to create new neutral space, where different groups can communicate and cooperate for reconciliation. Iraq's culture heritage is immense and fundamental to the history of mankind: for this reason its security is one of the most important challenges of these years.
The action will be given to various religious minority communities that will have the opportunity to work together for the protection of their cultural heritage, developing best practices of multicultural cooperation and actively participating in the general process of reconciliation in the country. The project involves the detection and identification of the library collections of minorities involved; technical training and exchange initiatives and networking of the material collected in cooperation with the National Library and Archives in Baghdad.
All these efforts will give the different religious communities the opportunity to meet, know and recognize each other, overcoming stereotypes and facilitating mutual understandings. The seminars will be an opportunity for librarians, especially pertaining to the various minorities to undertake a training policy, the benefits of which will fall indirectly on the whole community. The sharing of concrete activities will be a tool to facilitate dialogue between those primarily concerned: learning to protect, share and disseminate their cultural heritage, the different community centres will find themselves engaged in forefront in the process of interfaith dialogue and reconciliation in the country. Thanks to the contacts and experience acquired through the project "The House of Books of Baghdad", collaboration with major international libraries and cultural institutions will also be strongly encouraged during the implementation of the action. This allows one side to give visibility to the history, identity and culture of Iraqi minorities across national borders, to build relationships with potential partners and international donors in order to have to their library collections and archives properly known, valued and preserved.

General Goal
To develop the inter-faith dialogue and the relationships among minorities as well as their acknowledgment in Iraq
The intervention main goal is to improve the interfaith dialogue and the acknowledgement among them and at national level. Indeed, the action will gather different groups giving them the opportunity to work together for the protection of their cultural heritage, creating a best practice of a multi-cultural collaboration and being part of the general reconciliation process. In addition, the dissemination and the visibility that each minority could give to their cultural heritage will allow a better knowledge of each religious group and the reduction of stereotypes and misbelieves.

Specific Objective
To build up interfaith cultural cooperation and exchange among different communities in Iraq
The intervention foresees a thorough assessment of the book holding of each minority, the technical training to protect it and actions of exchange and networking in collaboration with the National Library and Archive of Baghdad. All these actions will give the opportunity for religious communities to know each other, to collaborate and to develop a well-ground cooperation for the safeguard of their cultural heritage. International cooperation with relevant libraries and cultural institutions in Europe and in United States will be facilitated as well, with the aim of increasing the knowledge and acknowledgment of Iraqi minorities' cultures, history and identity as well as preserving their documental holdings.
Indicators of achievement:
No of minorities involved (from 5 to 7)
No. of sections of minorities books in INLA and communities libraries (5-6 sections)
Sources of verification
Interviews to minorities leaders
Catalogues of each library/archive.

Beneficiaries
Criteria of selection:
The intervention will try to involve the widest range of minorities groups present in the country including different religions and areas. Special attention will be given to involve a strong female presence.
Direct Beneficiaries:
• 5-7 Cultural centres and community based organizations from different minorities: Turkmen, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Sabean Mandeans, Yazidis, Shabaks, Armenian, Baha'i, Gypsies, Kurds Faili. Some Arabs and Kurds cultural centres interested in multi-cultural dialogue were identified and could participate in the intervention.
• 30-40 Librarians from different minorities will be trained.
• 500-1000 People will be sensitized about minorities' cultural heritages.
Indirect Beneficiaries:
• 5.000-10.000 visitors per year will have access to minorities' books holding in Iraqi National Library and Archive.
• 2.000-5.000 minorities members will have a better access and an improved quality to the minorities' book holdings.
Operational procedures and methodology
The intervention approach consists of involving a large number of national and international cultural institutions which have a strong mandate in the promotion and protection of cultural and religious heritage in order to share good technical practises, enlarging the international network of supports; give visibility to the crucial role of culture in protecting the language, cultural, religion of a community.
Starting from the strong and proficient collaborations tied during the implementation of the "House of books of Baghdad" project, the presented intervention will involve:
International Institutions
Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze; the Library of Congress of Washington, the British Library, the University of London; the European Union, Unesco.
National Institutions
Iraqi National Library and Archives of Baghdad, the Iraqi Ministry of Culture; the Sunni Endowement Institute, Zaytun Erbil Central Library.
Local Communities
All the minorities involved in the actions will have an active role in their participation in the training, in the assessment and in project implementation.
Moreover, UPP is coordinating a network of 50 non violent local NGOs, LAONF. Several of these organizations are formed by minorities groups (i.e. Christian and Yazidi) and can support the actions by their respective communities.

UPP will coordinate all the activities in collaboration with the INLA supported by researchers and trainers stemming from relevant national and international Institutions whose core activity is the safeguard of cultural heritage in Iraq or elsewhere.

Anticipated achievements or outcomes of the Project
Expected Result 1
The books, documents and manuscripts holdings of the religious minorities are assessed
A thorough analysis about the books holdings of the minorities in Iraq will be realised. The study will be conducted by Iraqi researchers with the support of INLA, one the most prominent cultural institution in the country, and will be disseminated through an international conference in Erbil.
The study will be a basis for the project activities, a cultural and scientific achievement for the country reconciliation process as well as an important lobby tool to demand the commitment of the international community for the safeguard of Iraqi cultural patrimony.
Indicators
No. of minorities directly involved in the research (from 5 to 7 groups)
No. of the articles/web/video on the research (from 5 to 15)
No. of the national actors involved in the international conference (from 7 to 10)
No. of the international actors involved in the international conference (from 3 to 5)

Foreseen activities
1.1 Identify and engage academic leaders from each of the religious minorities in northern Iraq to assess their interest and commitment at improving archival efforts in northern Iraq.
The minorities' framework in Iraq is very complex and sensitive. Some groups are divided internally at political level; other groups have very tense relationships with other minorities. Therefore, it will be necessary to identify key minorities leaders and think-tanks, contact them, appraise their needs and carefully involve them in the intervention.
Place: North Region of Iraq (Kurdistan region, Ninewa and Kirkuk areas). Central and south Iraq if there are reasonable security conditions.
Output: 10-15 leader/community representative are met.
Note: activity already accomplished at the time of writing this proposal.

1.2 Realise and publish a research about Iraqi minorities' books and documents heritage.
Literature and research about Iraqi minorities are rare and partial, since the dictatorship and the war repressed the richness and the differences present in the country. In addition, minorities' heritage is often considered secondary in the intercultural and inter-faith dialogues. Therefore, it is necessary to engage on a study that analyses the different communities culture heritages focused on books patrimony. Research will be concentrated in the northern part of the country (KRG, Ninewa, Kirkuk), because in the area there is the highest concentration of different ethnic and religious groups, and on the topic of archives and libraries. Local researchers will implement the study collaborating with the main academics and universities in the country.
Place: Based in Erbil, coordination with different areas of the country.
Output: 1 study is published.

1.3 Organize an international conference to promote and support Iraq minorities' heritage.
As the research study is finalized, an international meeting will be organized in Erbil. The meeting will aim at promoting the cultural heritages of minorities with the main international bodies and to lobby the national and international community for its safeguard. The conference will involve representatives from each minority, Iraqi authorities, international donors and the media.
Place: Erbil, Iraq.
Output: 1 international conference is held.

Expected Result 2
The technical capacities of minorities' archives and libraries are enhanced
The archives and libraries involved in the intervention will acquire/upgrade their capacities in terms of technical expertises, archive management. Moreover, they will be provided with needed technical equipment. This result will be achieved in different ways and levels according to the needs assessment realised on each cultural centre.
Indicators
No. of archives showing a better performance in restoration/Digitisation (80% of the target groups)
No. of librarians trained (30-40 Librarians)
No. of minorities trained and equipped (from 5 to 7).
2.1. Assess minority libraries and archives and their requirements in order to undertake to include in the appropriate capacity building programmes.
During the feasibility study, a very different level of knowledge and competences were registered among the different groups. Therefore, it is necessary to undertake a thorough analysis of each group including visit of the minorities' archives or cultural centres and interviews of key experts by a library specialist. This assessment will be implemented side by side with the activity 1.1. The appraisal has to report the needs in terms of know-how and equipment of each group in order to design in details the activities 2.2 and 2.3.
Place: North Region of Iraq (Kurdistan region, Ninewa and Kirkuk governorates). Central and south Iraq if there are reasonable security conditions.
Output: 1 Archives mapping is drawn up, 1 Needs assessment is prepared.

2.2 Organize three technical training sessions to mixed groups of minorities in Baghdad and/or Erbil.
Considering the different needs of the target groups, three technical sessions will be organized by the experts of the Iraqi National Library and Archives. The training will be focused on book holdings' topics like preservation, conservation, restoration, digitisation, cataloguing, preservation and sustainability of the digitised content as well as the use of the equipment acquired by the intervention (activity 2.3). Each session will last around 10 days and will be organized in Baghdad in the laboratories of INLA or, in case there are not appropriate security conditions, in other venues in KRG (i.e., Zaytun Erbil Central Library). Each session will be attended by 10-15 trainees from different minorities and in case a small presence of experts from the majority (Arabs and Kurds Sunni). Each library involved should send a post-training report to participate to the following training sessions. The trainers should be available for follow-up at distance for the whole training period and two months its conclusion.
Place: Baghdad and/or Erbil.
Output: 3 training courses are organized.

2.3 Support minority archives with essential technical tools, equipment and expertise to protect their book holdings.
Several minorities try to conserve their book holding or to build up a proper archive. They need basic equipment in terms of preservation, conservation and digitization. This kind of material is hardly present in Iraq and difficult to identify without a direct analysis of samples. Therefore, according to the experience developed in the previous interventions, INLA will support each archive to identify the proper equipment, to recognize the best supplier and organize the procurement for Iraq (shipping, customs clearance, installation). The material will be identified during the activity 2.1 and the librarians will be trained for its use during the activity 2.2.
Place: Different locations in Iraq.
Output: 5-7 archives/libraries equipment is enhanced.

Expected Result 3
Religious communities exchanged their book holdings, cultural traditions and practices.
A relationship among different organizations needs to be built up through activities and carried out in close collaboration. In addition, the activities will be coordinated with INLA in order to be integrated in the public system so that the different communities can share a common national system and data as well as they will be protected by an institutional coverage and mandate.
Indicators:
No. of sections of books of different minorities established (from 3 to 7).
No. of books exchanges among minorities libraries/archives.

3.1 Exchanges of books among INLA and minorities libraries/archives and of sections among communities archives and libraries
On one hand, the protection of the communities' cultural heritage and book holdings is a very sensitive aspect considering the pressure and violence on the minorities identities made by the dictatorship. On the other hand, the opening and spread of the cultural patrimonies of different group to all the Iraqi public is a key factor for their recognition of their importance to Iraqi society. Therefore, the sharing of books among the central national library and the community libraries will be crucial for both actors: the national library could provide books that cover all the different Iraqi traditions, the minority libraries can recover their collections and key documents. Exchange of books is a simple and effective action to start-up a form of sharing among different religious groups. Each community will be asked to donate books during the training sessions and the meetings, even digital copies produced thanks to the capacity building could be exchanged easily as exercise of digitization. At the end of the project, different sections of mixed minorities' books should be spread in different archives.
These actions will be implemented mainly through paper and digital copies and will aim at recovering minorities' patrimonies.
Place: Different location in Iraq.
Output: INLA set up 3-7 sections of minorities' books.
Output: Minorities exchanged books among them.

Monitoring
Aim: to verify the progress of the project and the fulfilment of the results.
Monitoring will concern the activities' implementation and the achievement of the results, and it will focus on the fulfilment of the indicators the respect of the action plan pointing out and explain contingent modification or shifting.
Evaluation
Aim: to verify the achievement of the project specific objective and reap the practice expertise.
The evaluation has to: A. involve the beneficiaries and the stakeholders, B. involve internal and external experts, C. be combined and compliant with donors' evaluations missions and standards. The evaluation takes into account the objectives and results indicators.


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