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Jerusalem: City of cities

Andreas Delsett

The ninth International Saladin Days held March 6th-8th 2017, will focus on Jerusalem, the city where Saladin in 1187, after conquering the Crusaders, rejected the idea of revenge, instead allowing different groups of different ethnicities and religions to live side by side.

Jerusalem is a holy city for three world religions, and has been a meeting place between different cultures, religions and various ethnic minorities for thousands of years. Today, the society is becoming increasingly segregated, with growing religious divisions and impasse. How is the reality for those living in Jerusalem today?

In addition to the historical and the contemporary Jerusalem, there is a third: the idea of Jerusalem, as it appears in literature, art, in religion and culture. In what ways do the real Jerusalem influence our imagination of the place – and vice versa? And what role can literature play in the shaping of our identity, and in giving us insight into the story and experiences of “the other”?

Jerusalem is in many ways the very core of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but perhaps it is also the place to search for solutions. In this year’s Saladin Days, writers, intellectuals and activists will meet to talk about the historical, contemporary and imagined Jerusalem.

The British historian and writer Simon Sebag Montefiore published the definitive biography of the city in 2011, entlitled Jerusalem: A Biography, in which the world city is portrayed through the lives and works of its citizens. Montefiore will give the opening lecture of this year’s Saladin Days.

Among the international guests for the Saladin Days are Israeli writer Nir Baram, and the former minister of Jerusalem affairs in the Palestinian National Authority, Hind Khoury. She is now General Secretary of the Christian Palestinian organization Kairos Palestine.

Full program and list of participants will be published in mid-February.

Former Saladin lecturer arrested

Andreas Delsett

Selahattin Demirtas at the International Saladin Days in Oslo, April 13th, 2016

Selahattin Demirtas at the International Saladin Days in Oslo, April 13th, 2016

Selahattin Demirtaş, chariman of the pro-Kurdish party HDP, gave the Saladin lecture during the 2016 Saladin Days, on April 13th. In his speech, held in Turkish, he advocated peaceful solutions to the conflicts in Turkey, and the need to strengthen the rights of Kurds and other minority groups in the country. HDP is the third largest party in Turkey with 59 deputies in the parliament, and has a policy of rejecting violence.

Early on Friday morning, November 4th,  Selahattin Demirtaş was arrested together with his co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ and several other HDP MPs. A judge has determined they must remain in arrest until trial. The arrest comes after the Turkish Parliament stripped its deputies of parliamentary immunity earlier this year.

Demirtaş is our first Saladin guest to be arrested by his own country’s authorities in the same year he held his lecture. Many are deeply worried about the developments in Turkey. To document the thoughts and principles of Selahattin Demirtaş, the House of Literature has published his speech in our podcast LitHouse.
he podcast can be found in iTunes here.

The first ever Saladin Days in Cyprus

Andreas Delsett

In May, the Saladin Days took a leap across the border as the first ever Saladin Days outside Norway were held in Nicosia, Cyprus May 5-7. The events were held in Home for Cooperation, situated in the buffer zone between the Greek-Cypriotic and Turkish-Cypriotic parts of the capital.

Conquered by Richard Lionheart on his way back from the Third Crusade, in which he had fought Saladin, and with a view of Syria across the waters, Cyprus has a physically close relationship to conflicts both old and new. And as a country made up of both Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, Cyprus is no stranger to complex identities, and the importance history, culture, literature and language has in shaping them. These were some of the referencing points for the lectures, talks and discussions, as well as the film screening and concert held during the Saladin Days in Nicosia.

From the theatrical reading of  Desert Storms  by Tariq Ali and Thorvald Steen.

From the theatrical reading of Desert Storms by Tariq Ali and Thorvald Steen.

Among the highlights were a panel a discussion about identity between the central Cypriotic academics Umut Bozkurt, Stavros Karayanni, Yael Navaro, and photographer Nicos Philippou, and a theatrical reading from Norwegian author Thorvald Steen and British historian Tariq Ali's play Desert Storms, about Saladin and Richard I's roles in the Third Crusade. Thorvald Steen, one of guests visiting the Saladin Days in Nicosia, elaborated on the history of they drew on for the play, in a breakfast talk entitled The Play Shakespeare Never Wrote. In his lecture Are The Crusades Over?, historian Tariq Ali connected the history of the Crusades to contemporary issues relating to the relationship between Christians and Muslims. The up-and-coming band DeynDar deomnstrated the value of cultural meetings through their music, mixing genres and languages in their songs, including tunes sung in Turkish, Kurdish, Farsi, Arabic and Armenian.

The Saladin Days in Nicosia was an impressive feat, generating interest both in national media and among the public with its thorough introduction to the history of the Crusades, and successful linking of history to contemporary issues and debates.

The 8th Saladin Days held in Oslo

Andreas Delsett

The 8th Saladin Days, held April 12-16 in Oslo, were among the most popular in the series of Saladin Days, judging by the audience numbers. More than 1400 people visited the House of Literature over the five days of events.

This year's Saladin Days, entitled The Kurds: A People Without a Land?, was supposed to shed light on the internationally under communicated situation of the Kurds, but gained relevance due to the central role of the Kurds in the fight against ISIS, as well as the current political developments in Turkey and the Iraq. These issues were all touched upon during the Saladin Days, with lines drawn to the histories of the Kurdish people in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, to Kurdish language and literature, and to the identities of the Kurds living in the areas making up Kurdistan, as well as the many diasporic Kurds.

Academic Dilar Dirik and writer Mustafa Can discussing  Badass Kurdish Women  with moderator Hannah Helseth.

Academic Dilar Dirik and writer Mustafa Can discussing Badass Kurdish Women with moderator Hannah Helseth.

Among the highlights were the Saladin Lecture by chairman of the Kurdish coalition party HDP Selahattin Demirtas, offering insight into the current political situation in Turkey, as well as historical and contemporary investigations of the Kurdish situation and identity by some of the most central academics studying Kurdish issues: historians Abbas Vali and Seda Altug, both from the Bogazici University in Istanbul, and political scientist Gareth Stansfield from the University of Exeter. Academic Dilar Dirik and writer Mustafa Can both contributed important perspectives on the identities and roles of Kurdish women in the ongoing war in Syria, Dirik from her field work in Rojava and Can from his visits to Kobane and his recent stage play, War Has a Female Face. The concluding concert, a musical meeting between Sami artist Mari Boine and Kurdish musician Ferhat Tunc, gave the audience a unique musical experience, and illuminated the power of music in the struggle for minority rights.


Andreas Delsett

The Eight International Saladin days in Oslo 12th to 16th of April 2016, with Selahattin Demirtas, Choman Hardi, Kawa Nemir, Ferhat Tunc and more

The Kurds are fighting ISIS in Kobane and controlling a de facto autonomous region in the northern parts of a civil war-ravaged Syria. In Turkey, the Kurdish coalition party HDP surpassed the 10% election threshold in June 2015, ensuring president Erdogan's party AKP's first loss of parliamentary majority since they came to power in 2002. Erdogan responded by calling off the peace talks with the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), and saw the country plunged into a civil war-like state. In Northern Iraq, one no longer talks about Northern Iraq but of Kurdistan, where president Masoud Barzani controls a region with a high degree of autonomy, an economy on the rise – until recently, with both the will and the strength to act as a regional player.

In a few years, the Kurds have gone from a marginal existence as the world's largest nation without a state to playing a key role in a Middle East creaking at the seams. Where does the road go from here? Many are saying that the borders in the region will have to be redrawn, and with the growing number of assaults on civilians taking place, more and more people are asking how the rights and the safety of the region's many minorities might be ensured. What part will the Kurds play in this situation? Is it possible to envision a new peace process in Turkey? And what will be the outcome for the Kurds of the Syrian civil war?

This political development forms the backdrop for the International Saladin Days 2016, where writers, intellectuals, artists and activists gather to discuss thehistory, literature, language and outlook of the Kurdish people. Among the confirmed participants are HDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas, writers Choman Hardi and Kawa Nemir, and singer Ferhat Tunc. Further information, more participants and a program will follow shortly.