SINGAPORE, Dec. 9, 2013 — /PRNewswire/ – The Middle East’s billionaires – with a combined net worth of US$354 billion – hold a higher percentage of total wealth than in any other region in the world, findings from the Wealth-X and UBS Billionaire Census 2013 show.
Forty percent of the Middle East’s ultra high net worth (UHNW) wealth is being held by the region’s 157 billionaires, compared to 28 percent in Europe, 22 percent in North America and 18 percent in Asia.
Billionaires in Saudi Arabia control more than 70 percent of the country’s wealth, while their counterparts in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hold 24 percent.
Saudi Arabia leads the region with the most billionaires (64), and 25 of these individuals are based in the country’s capital, Riyadh.
The total wealth of Saudi billionaires (US$204 billion) is more than half the combined net worth of their counterparts in the Middle East, according to data from the Wealth-X and UBS Billionaire Census 2013, the first-ever global study on the billionaire population.
The report shows that there are 157 billionaires among the 5,300 UHNW individuals (defined as those with net assets of US$30 million and above) in the Middle East. This makes the Middle East the region with the fourth most billionaires – after Europe (766), North America (552) and Asia (508), but ahead of Latin America (111), Africa (42) and Oceania (34). Middle Eastern billionaires increased their wealth in the last year by US$39 billion (12.4 percent) with five additional billionaires (3.3 percent).
Download the Wealth-X and UBS Billionaire Census 2013 at www.billionairecensus.com
About Wealth-X Wealth-X is the definitive source of intelligence on the ultra wealthy with the world’s largest collection of curated research on ultra high net worth (UHNW) individuals, defined as those with net assets of US$30 million and above. Headquartered in Singapore, it has 12 offices in five continents. (www.wealthx.com)
About UBS UBS draws on its 150-year heritage to serve private, institutional and corporate clients worldwide, as well as retail clients in Switzerland. Its business strategy is centered on its pre-eminent global wealth management businesses and its universal bank in Switzerland. Together with a client-focused Investment Bank and a strong, well-diversified Global Asset Management business, UBS will expand its premier wealth management franchise and drive further growth across the Group. UBS is present in all major financial centers worldwide. It has offices in more than 50 countries, with about 35 percent of its employees working in the Americas, 36 percent in Switzerland, 17 percent in the rest of Europe, the Middle East and Africa and 12 percent in Asia Pacific. UBS employs about 61,000 people around the world. Its shares are listed on the SIX Swiss Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). (www.ubs.com)
© UBS 2013. The key symbol and UBS are among the registered and unregistered trademarks of UBS. All rights reserved.
She’s blond, claims English, Scottish, and Native American descent, and doesn’t speak Arabic.
But 23-year-old Jennifer Grout, who grew up in Cambridge, has emerged as an unlikely favorite in the finals of this year’s “Arabs Got Talent” contest in Beirut on Saturday.
Her rise is fueled not by heritage but by her gift — an astonishing voice that has wowed millions of viewers in the Middle East and northern Africa with her soulful renditions of classical Arab songs.
Not all in the region are thrilled, to say the least. It rankles some that an American woman with no connection to the culture — except a love of its music — might take home the top prize in the Arab world’s version of “America’s Got Talent.”
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Mazen Hayek, spokesman for MBC Group, the Dubai-based media conglomerate that produces and airs the show, dismisses the criticism. “Jennifer’s popularity is expected, well-earned, and deserved,” he said. “She’s a young American woman with a remarkable singing talent and a great voice in any language.”
Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images
Singer Jennifer Grout grew up in Cambridge.
Grout will face 11 Arab finalists, many of whom will be performing more Western-style acts, including comedians and hip-hop dancers, and one acrobatic dancer with a routine inspired by Spider-Man. She will be the only contestant performing classical Arab music.
Since June, Grout has waded through a series of auditions and elimination rounds in the contest, which requires participants to either be citizens of an Arab nation or have an act with Arabic cultural roots.
Throughout, the judges have been largely effusive about her singing and her skill with the oud, an Arab lute that she sometimes plays.
In her September debut round after performing “Baeed Anak (Away from You),” a love ballad by Egyptian singing legend Umm Kulthum, Najwa Karam, a popular singer and one of the judges, exclaimed, “You don’t speak a word of Arabic, yet you sing better than some Arab singers.”
How does she do it? “I learned the song and many others by listening to them and embracing them,” Grout said in a phone interview from Beirut.
Long before Umm Kulthum, there was Bach, and Mozart, and Brahms for Grout, who was born in Boston and attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and Natick’s Walnut Hill School for the Arts.
Her parents, Daryl Grout and Susan Montgomery-Grout, who both work in technology but have music degrees, say she began singing at age 4 and performed with them in church choral groups. But up until a few years ago her focus had been Western classical music.
“There was a period when I was a little girl where I wanted to be a pop star. I wanted to be Christina Aguilera,’’ Grout said. “But my first love and only love until a few years ago was classical. It was while I was studying at McGill [University in Montreal] that I developed my love for Arabic music.”
Grout recalls that she read an article in 2010 about Lebanese singer Fairouz, which prompted her to explore other Arab stars and eventually led her to have an oud made in Syria. Within months of discovering Fairouz, Grout was playing her oud in a Syrian restaurant in Montreal, and then she began learning to sing the songs.
“After about three months of learning to play, I sang my first note,’’ she said. “It was beautiful. I tell people often that it was magical. Until I found Arabic music, I had not thought of music as a performance career.”
But as her passion for Arabic music developed, friends and colleagues began advising Grout that she would need to learn to speak Arabic to advance her career.
“Other people saw it as a problem, but I never did,” says Grout, who asked her parents for a one-way ticket to Marrakesh, Morocco, after graduating from college so she could start absorbing a culture that birthed some of the music she had embraced. After living in Morocco for a year, Grout heard about “Arabs Got Talent” and flew to Beirut to audition.
“The reality is that in the classical genre it’s common to sing songs in languages you can’t speak,’’ Grout explained. “Opera singers do it all the time, singing in Italian and German.”
Therese Sevadjian, Grout’s voice coach at McGill, said that Grout’s voice and her control and range allow her to capture the nuances and rapidly changing landscape of classical Arabic music.
“Our music students are required for finals to perform in four different languages — in her case, English, German, Italian, and French,’’ Sevadjian said. “And she always excelled in those exams. So she may not speak Arabic, but her ability to feel and interpret languages paired with her natural vocal talent are why she has done so well in this competition.”
While Grout has received much encouragement, her appearance in the contest has triggered some controversy. One commenter on a Sept. 18 YouTube video about Grout and her appearance on the show wrote, “Beautiful voice but she speaks Arabic and the jury is pretty aware of that fact. It’s a trick in order to gain publicity.’’ Another opined, “She’s great but this is Arabs Got Talent, not America’s.’’
One persistent theory on the Internet is that Grout really knows Arabic, and that the judges are covering for her.
“It is unfortunate that some critics — largely on the Internet — have made ridiculous accusations against Jenni and have complained about her,” said Daryl Grout in a telephone interview from Raleigh, N.C., where he and his wife now live.
Part of what fuels speculation about her true roots is Grout’s hard-to-place accent when she speaks English. “I have been asked about my accent a lot,’’ she said with a chuckle. “I’m not sure what to say. It’s mine. It’s unique. I’ve always spoken differently, since childhood.”
Beyond the controversy and rumors, a number of commentators have noted that Grout’s performance may mark a watershed in East-West cultural exchange. “Especially in an age of increasingly globalized popular culture, where so-called Western cultural forms have crossed all kinds of geographic boundaries, it was striking to see the directional arrow point the other way. Instead
of Middle Eastern artists seeking to emulate American music, this time it was the other way around,’’ said Matthew Ellis, a Middle Eastern studies professor at Sarah Lawrence College.
Whether she wins or loses Saturday, Grout says she plans to continue her Arabic music career.
“My biggest hope is to go on performing it for an audience on a bigger scale and eventually form an ensemble to perform with and travel with,’’ she said. “I think that’s the only way — live, intimate performance — to demonstrate that music really is a universal language.”
Last week China escalated, yet again, the conflict over the Senkaku islands. It announced an air-defense identification zone over the islands, and indeed over much of the East China Sea; according to the announcement, aircraft must get permission from China before entering the zone and must obey the rules China has established, or face “defensive emergency measures.”
The latest action is consistent with China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy dating back to 2009–10. The history of that policy is documented in the last two Reports of the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a standing commission that reports yearly to Congress on the relationship between the United States and China. But essentially it comes down to this: China claims sovereignty over the East and South China Seas, including a number of islands over which other countries have longstanding claims, and in some cases actually control.
China has refused to engage in multilateral talks over its claims or submit them to arbitration in accordance with international law. Instead, the Chinese are using “coercive but non-kinetic” means of asserting their jurisdiction. That means they simply act as if they are sovereign over the disputed areas, flooding them with ships and planes and issuing pronouncements, like the air-defense zone, that only a sovereign has the right to make. The effect is to escalate confrontations until competing claimants are left with two choices: either accede to China’s demands or start a shooting war with a superior military power.
In 2012, China used this tactic to take control over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Both China and the Philippines claimed fishing rights in the waters around the shoal. China established control over the shoal by patrolling it with maritime law-enforcement vessels and eventually roping off the entrance so that Philippine vessels could not operate there. China continues to maintain de facto control over the shoal; there is simply nothing that the Philippines can do about it.
There are three reasons the Chinese government is pursuing this policy. The first is economic and strategic. If the Chinese can control the resources of the western Pacific, they have a hedge against disruption of their supply lines from the rest of the world, in particular their oil imports from the Middle East. The second is historic and national. China views the world vertically, not horizontally. They do not recognize — except insofar as they must — the constraints imposed by a norm-based international system. Instead, China sees the world as one where powerful countries get most of the benefits; China has historically been the Middle Kingdom, and it is now reasserting its perceived right to hegemonic status in East Asia.
The third reason is political. The leaders of the Chinese Communist party rule without the benefit of having been elected, and they are well aware that the absence of democratic consent undermines the legitimacy and therefore the stability of their rule. To reinforce the regime, they have made an implicit deal with their people: In return for continuing in power, they promise a better quality of life at home and a reassertion of Chinese primacy in Asia. As the U.S.-China Commission put it (p. 270):
By promoting a sense of grievance among the Chinese people, and then aggressively asserting China’s claims against its neighbors, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) shifts attention away from the authoritarian nature of its rule and toward its role as the champions of China’s interests in the region.
It is in this context that the changing balance of power in the Pacific should be viewed. The Chinese are engaged in an unprecedented military buildup. They are upgrading their nuclear arsenal; by 2015, they could double the number of nuclear warheads they possess. By 2020 their navy will be substantially larger than America’s; their ships will be highly capable, comprehensively armed with long-range and advanced anti-ship missiles, and concentrated in the western Pacific. They will have a large inventory of conventional ballistic missiles and air- and sea-based cruise missiles capable of striking U.S. assets as far as Guam. They are improving their amphibious capabilities and significantly upgrading their intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems. They will have the ability to destroy or severely disrupt America’s space assets in every orbital regime. According to the Defense Science Board, they already have offensive cyber capabilities that can inflict existential damage on America’s critical infrastructure.
In short, China is becoming, if it is not already, a peer military competitor of the United States. It will be, if it is not already, the dominant military power in the Pacific, capable of attacking the United States and its allies simultaneously in the region’s air, sea, land, space, and cyber domains.
Control of the Scarborough shoal and the fishing waters around it is, by itself, not a big deal. But the new air identification zone is a big deal. And it is a very big deal that China has the will, the power, and the motivation to openly threaten nations that the United States is bound by treaty and interest to defend. That could not have happened ten or even five years ago. It means that the equilibrium of Asia is being deranged. We should expect the risk of armed conflict to grow unless and until the United States moves decisively to repair its defenses and reinforce its alliances.
— Jim Talent serves on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, to which he was appointed by the U.S. Senate in 2012. He has served on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees and is currently a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and co-chair of the American Freedom and Enterprise Foundation.
Perched on the tip of Istanbul’s historic peninsula, Hagia Sophia — with its spectacular dome, elegant curves and towering minarets — is an iconic sight for millions of tourists visiting the city each year.
But should it be a mosque, a church or a museum?
The 1,500-year-old complex overlooking the Bosphorus is at the heart of a bitter dispute over its fate after Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc called for it to be converted back into a Muslim place of worship.
His comments, though not official policy, have added to concerns over what critics say is the government’s increasing efforts to impose Islamic values on secular Turkish society.
And the Byzantine monument could become a political hot potato for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is seeking to shore up flagging support among conservative Muslims ahead of elections next year.
Hagia Sophia, which in Greek means “Holy Wisdom”, was built in the sixth century and served as an Orthodox church for centuries — and as the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople — before being converted to a mosque by the Ottomans in the 1400s.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic, declared it a museum in 1934 and it opened the following year.
“We are looking at a sad Hagia Sophia, but hopefully we will see it smiling again soon,” Arinc said earlier this month.
Greece, whose territory was once part of the Ottoman Empire and is often at odds with Turkey over religious issues, reacted furiously, saying such comments offended the religious feelings of millions of Christians.
Mihail Vasiliadis, editor-in-chief of Istanbul-based Greek daily Apoyevmatini, says Hagia Sophia is an important symbol for the entire Orthodox Christian community.
“There are some who have been seeing a sad Hagia Sophia for more than 500 years and they are the ones who want to see it returned as a church,” he said.
Istanbul’s tiny Greek community, which numbers just a few thousand, is already irked over the issue of Ankara’s insistence on reciprocal steps from Athens to improve their religious rights.
“There is no need to add salt to the wound,” Vasiliadis said.
Last month, Greece flatly rejected the idea of reviving two mosques in Athens in return for the reopening of an Orthodox clergy school in Turkey.
Two other churches that also bear the name Hagia Sophia have recently been turned into mosques in Turkey.
There are already an estimated 83,000 mosques across the country — up around seven percent since Erdogan took office 11 years ago.
Istanbul itself has around 3,000, including the stunning 17th century Blue Mosque just a short distance from Hagia Sophia.
For devout Muslims, however, opening Hagia Sophia for worship is also about paying a homage to Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the Ottoman emperor who turned it into a mosque following the conquest of Constantinople and joined the first prayers in 1453.
The nationalist Islamist Great Union Party (BBP) has staged several demonstrations to seek a repeal of the ban on Muslim prayers in Hagia Sophia, part of a UNESCO World Heritage site encompassing the Byzantine and Ottoman treasures of old Istanbul.
Armed with a land registry certificate dated 1936 that describes the complex as a mosque, BBP deputy leader Bayram Karacan claimed that its conversion into a museum was illegal.
“The fact that Hagia Sophia is a museum has never been accepted by the Turkish people… restoring it as a mosque would be akin to reclaiming sovereignty over it,” Karacan said.
Outside Hagia Sophia, visitors and local residents were divided over the possible conversion of the monument, described by UNESCO as one of the historic quarter’s “unique architectural masterpieces”.
“We have plenty of mosques here and many of them are empty. Who will fill all these mosques if it is converted? Tourists will not come here anymore,” said 52-year-old shopowner Fehmi Simsek.
Emerging from Hagia Sophia, 23-year-old German tourist Tamara said the complex was a testament to Istanbul’s historical and religious importance throughout the centuries.
“Why would you want to change such a remarkable building?”
Historian Ahmet Kuyas of Galatasaray University in Istanbul said the debate could be linked to Turkey’s upcoming elections, with local polls in March, a presidential ballot in August and parliamentary elections in 2015.
Erdogan, nicknamed the “Sultan”, has frequently touched a nerve over his conservative religious policies, including crackdowns on the sale and advertising of alcohol and allowing women working in the public service to wear Islamic headscarves.
“Turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque would be another blow to secular Turkey,” Kuyas said, describing the site as “a symbol of universal peace, peace between nations, between religions”.
Sevda, a veiled Turkish woman, said it would be more accessible to all as a mosque, as currently there was a fee to enter the museum.
“It belongs to us and therefore it should be a mosque,” added her companion Kubra.
A visitor from Spain who gave his name only as Alex said he did not object to a change in the status as long as people could still visit.
“It is a beautiful place that everyone should see,” he added.
Article source: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=62984
INDONESIA, the largest country in south-east Asia, had a significant presence at this year’s World Travel Market (WTM) featuring more than 40 travel and tourism companies in its stand. It highlighted the ‘Beyond Bali’ theme and seven special interest products such as nature-based eco-tourism, sports, cruises, culture and heritage. The Indonesia pavilion featured a design inspired by the traditional wooden phinisi sail boat of the Bugis seafarers in South Sulawesi, which survives today as the last living traditional wooden sail ship in the world. Traditional dances and musical performances from various regions provided insights into the 700 different languages and cultures of the 300 ethnic groups of the Indonesian archipelago. In 2012, Indonesia welcomed 8.4 million tourists and is aiming to increase this to 8.6 million tourists in 2013. With international arrivals during September this year up by a significant 12.7 per cent due to a large number of events and conventions, including the Miss World pageant, it would seem the destination is in line to achieve its goal. As a result, by September 2013, Indonesia had attained 75 per cent of its total target for the year. Focusing on 16 key source markets, Singapore (15.11 per cent), Malaysia (13.86 per cent), Australia (11.42 per cent), China (9.85 per cent) and Japan (5.78 per cent) consistently remain the top five markets for arrivals. European countries still lagged behind due to the recession. However, the UK remains the biggest market from Europe with approximately 201,000 tourists in 2012. Visitors from the British Isles will also most likely increase in 2014 thanks to the London-Jakarta launch of Garuda Airlines which will fly five times a week from May, 2014. It’s been 10 years since the airline has been in London, and is a major development for the airline. As a member of G20 and having a strong economy, the variety of the destination appeals to all segments of travellers including Mice, business and leisure. A strategy has been devised which is called the 16-7-16 formula which focuses on 16 key markets with seven themed tourism sectors, promoting 16 destinations within Indonesia. Particular emphasis will be on cruising, especially in the relatively unspoilt eastern part of the country building on the 120,000 tourists who visited on cruise ships in 2012. Another major focus will be golf tourism where average spend per person is almost double that of the average visitor. Home to 17,500 islands, the tag line ‘Beyond Bali’ is a campaign designed to attract people to explore other parts of the country. Bali still tops the number of arrivals at 2.38 million followed by Jakarta at 1.66 million during January to September, 2013 but tourism authorities are keep to develop and promote new destinations that offer a glimpse of Indonesia’s outstanding natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. While visitors can choose from a beautiful beach holiday in the world-famous ‘Island of the Gods’, other attractions will tempt travellers such as the archaeological wonders including the Unesco World Heritage Sites of Borobudur and Prambanan Temples in Central Java, shopping sprees in Jakarta and Bandung, eco-tourism destinations in Kalimantan and Sumatra, the unique Komodo ‘dragons’ in the Komodo islands, and the fascinating Spice Islands. Augustini Rahayu, deputy director of International Promotion for Europe, told TTN she was confident of the tourism strategy but was also aware of potential challenges. “We have to ensure we keep up with the digital era and participate in events such as WTM. We also have plans to attract visitors who land in Bali to others parts of the country,” she said. By Karen Osman
INDONESIA, the largest country in south-east Asia, had a significant presence at this year’s World Travel Market (WTM) featuring more than 40 travel and tourism companies in its stand. It highlighted the ‘Beyond Bali’ theme and seven special interest products such as nature-based eco-tourism, sports, cruises, culture and heritage.
The Indonesia pavilion featured a design inspired by the traditional wooden phinisi sail boat of the Bugis seafarers in South Sulawesi, which survives today as the last living traditional wooden sail ship in the world.
Traditional dances and musical performances from various regions provided insights into the 700 different languages and cultures of the 300 ethnic groups of the Indonesian archipelago.
In 2012, Indonesia welcomed 8.4 million tourists and is aiming to increase this to 8.6 million tourists in 2013. With international arrivals during September this year up by a significant 12.7 per cent due to a large number of events and conventions, including the Miss World pageant, it would seem the destination is in line to achieve its goal. As a result, by September 2013, Indonesia had attained 75 per cent of its total target for the year.
Focusing on 16 key source markets, Singapore (15.11 per cent), Malaysia (13.86 per cent), Australia (11.42 per cent), China (9.85 per cent) and Japan (5.78 per cent) consistently remain the top five markets for arrivals. European countries still lagged behind due to the recession.
However, the UK remains the biggest market from Europe with approximately 201,000 tourists in 2012. Visitors from the British Isles will also most likely increase in 2014 thanks to the London-Jakarta launch of Garuda Airlines which will fly five times a week from May, 2014. It’s been 10 years since the airline has been in London, and is a major development for the airline.
As a member of G20 and having a strong economy, the variety of the destination appeals to all segments of travellers including Mice, business and leisure. A strategy has been devised which is called the 16-7-16 formula which focuses on 16 key markets with seven themed tourism sectors, promoting 16 destinations within Indonesia. Particular emphasis will be on cruising, especially in the relatively unspoilt eastern part of the country building on the 120,000 tourists who visited on cruise ships in 2012. Another major focus will be golf tourism where average spend per person is almost double that of the average visitor.
Home to 17,500 islands, the tag line ‘Beyond Bali’ is a campaign designed to attract people to explore other parts of the country.
Bali still tops the number of arrivals at 2.38 million followed by Jakarta at 1.66 million during January to September, 2013 but tourism authorities are keep to develop and promote new destinations that offer a glimpse of Indonesia’s outstanding natural beauty and rich cultural heritage.
While visitors can choose from a beautiful beach holiday in the world-famous ‘Island of the Gods’, other attractions will tempt travellers such as the archaeological wonders including the Unesco World Heritage Sites of Borobudur and Prambanan Temples in Central Java, shopping sprees in Jakarta and Bandung, eco-tourism destinations in Kalimantan and Sumatra, the unique Komodo ‘dragons’ in the Komodo islands, and the fascinating Spice Islands.
Augustini Rahayu, deputy director of International Promotion for Europe, told TTN she was confident of the tourism strategy but was also aware of potential challenges.
“We have to ensure we keep up with the digital era and participate in events such as WTM. We also have plans to attract visitors who land in Bali to others parts of the country,” she said.
By Karen Osman
Article source: http://www.ttnworldwide.com/articles.aspx?ID=2113&artID=14453
These are a few of the black and white images, many of them powerful and haunting, that will eventually constitute a digital archive compiled by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the first part of which was unveiled Thursday at a gallery in the Old City here. Together, they capture the Palestinian refugee experience from the 1948 war onward, giving form to a seminal chapter in Palestinian history, identity and collective memory.
For decades, about half a million negatives, prints, slides and various forms of film footage have been hidden away in the archive of UNRWA, the organization that assists Palestinian refugees. Stored in buildings in Gaza and Amman, Jordan, the materials had begun to grow moldy.
So officials started a preservation mission, digitizing the archive, which also documents the work of the agency. The exhibit that opened Thursday, called “The Long Journey,” will soon go on tour to large cities in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and possibly Syria, and will also be shown at cultural and political centers in Europe and North America. The images will also be made accessible to the general public on a special website.
“This is an important piece of work,” Filippo Grandi, the agency’s commissioner-general, told reporters at the opening in the Old City. “It is a contribution to building a national heritage for the Palestinians.”
Palestinians refer to the events of 1948 as al-Nakba, Arabic for “the catastrophe.” About 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes during the Arab-Israeli war over the foundation of Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were later displaced by the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, some becoming refugees twice over. Tens of thousands have recently been displaced again, reliving the trauma, because of the civil war raging in Syria.
But the refugee issue remains one of the most delicate and complex elements of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at the core of the two sides’ clashing historical narratives. So it was perhaps inevitable that some Israelis would view the new memorialization of the refugee experience through a prism of politics and contention.
“When was the last time that any United Nations agency raised so much money and invested so much effort in organizing and circulating around the world the documentation of a specific plight like that of the Palestinian refugees? Never,” said Yigal Palmor, the spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
“This only emphasizes the strident anomaly of the dedication of a disproportionate part of the United Nations budget, staff, time and resources to the Palestinian issue exclusively at the expense of, and to the detriment of, all other similar issues,” he added.
Israel vehemently rejects the Palestinian demand for a right of return for the refugees who, by the agency’s count, now number around five million, including the descendants. It says that any mass influx would spell the end of Israel as a predominantly Jewish state. Israelis often blame the very existence of the agency — which was set up in 1949 to deal with the Palestinian refugees and which provides relief, education and health services — for prolonging their sense of impermanence.
The world’s other refugees are handled by a single agency that was set up later, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Mr. Palmor said that while the agency mostly did good work on the ground, it was “dedicated to preserving the refugees’ status rather than encouraging their resettlement or integration in their current or alternative locations, contributing to the perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee problem.”
At the exhibit, Mr. Grandi said he was aware that the refugee issue had its political aspects. But, he added, “Remember, this is also about people, about individuals with their own plights and achievements.”
Christopher Gunness, an agency spokesman, said its mandate was to help the refugees and to advocate for their rights until all sides to the conflict negotiated a just and durable solution.
“What is perpetuating the refugee problem,” he said, “is the failure of the political parties to resolve it.”
Mr. Gunness added that the Palestinian refugees would have the same rights and status under any United Nations agency.
“Everyone has a right to understand, to study and feel a part of their history,” he said. “Are we supposed to engage in denial of the events of 1948? The refugee experience is an essential part of Palestinian identity.”
Funding for the project, about $1 million so far, has come from the Danish and French governments and from the Palestinian private sector. It comes as the agency is struggling with a budget deficit and appealing for emergency funds to cover its needs in the West Bank and Gaza and to contend with the crisis in Syria.
Mr. Gunness said that the money raised for the archive project had nothing to do with the budgets for staff salaries or refugee welfare.
Standing next to a newly refurbished bell tower, priest Aristakes Aivazyan says it needed divine intervention to save Armenia’s medieval Haghartsin monastery.
But it also took a lot of money from a very unlikely benefactor — the Muslim ruler of the resource-rich Arab emirate of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed al-Qasimi.
“I cannot recall anything similar to this happening in our history that some Arab sheikh, a Muslim, helped to restore and rescue an Armenian Christian church,” Aivazyan said.
“Without doubt it was God who brought the sheikh to Haghartsin,” the priest, dressed in long black robes, said.
Perched spectacularly amid thickly forested mountains about 100 kilometres northeast of Yerevan, Haghartsin monastery is a masterpiece of medieval Armenian ecclesiastical architecture.
Founded in the tenth century, the monastery — which includes three churches and once housed some 250 monks — survived attacks from Arab and Ottoman invaders and anti-religious campaigns under Soviet rule during its turbulent history.
But after weathering those storms, decades of neglect in recent years meant the complex looked headed for collapse as plants twisted through walls and cracks threatened to send buildings tumbling.
“The monastery was in need of serious reconstruction but the repairs were always delayed by the lack of finances,” father Aivazyan said.
That was until a fortuitous visit from al-Qasimi, who had been invited to Armenia by former president Robert Kocharian on a trip set up by the Armenian business community in the emirate.
“In 2005 his royal highness visited Armenia and generously offered to renovate the complex during a tour of various Armenian regions,” says Varouj Nerguizian, a Sharjah-based Armenian businessman who has advised the sheikh.
Nerguizian refused to say how much the sheikh had given for the refurbishment but local media reported that it could be around $1.7 million.
Now, after years of building work including a new road up to the monastery to help boost visitor numbers, the refurbished structure was finally opened last month.
“It falls within the natural context of his royal highness’ philanthrophy as well respect for other religions,” Nerguizian.
Perched on the Persian Gulf, after Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Sharjah is the third largest of the seven emirates that make up the UAE.
Al-Qasimi, 74, — who came to power in 1972 after his brother, then king, was killed in a failed coup — has sought to boost the emirate as a tourist and cultural hub in the region.
Despite a thriving community of Armenian businessmen that now boasts its own church in the emirate of some 900,000 inhabitants that now boasts its own church — there have been few links between Yerevan and Sharjah.
For those working at the monastery, the surprise of seeing an Arab leader visiting the holy Christian site remains a vivid memory.
“He came with his entourage of about 10 people and looked around for quite a while at all the churches and stone crosses before asking to go into the main Church of Our Lady,” recalled Artak Sahakyan, who sells candles to visiting worshippers.
“When he came out he said that he believed that the word of God was really heard here,” Sahakyan said.
Armenia is considered to be the oldest Christian country in the world and its Apostolic Church belongs to the ancient Oriental Orthodox branch.
The church is hugely influential in Armenia and two monasteries and its main cathedral are already listed on UNESCO’s list of world heritage site.
After a history of conflict between Armenia and its Muslim neighbours of Turkey and Azerbaijan, those working at the Harghartsin monastery say they hope the support they have received from a Muslim ruler shows that the two faiths can get along.
“The sheikh is a deeply religious man so seeing a monastery is such a bad state it is not surprising that he felt touched,” says father Aivazyan.
“It is as if the with this generous gesture the sheikh is saying that we need to be tolerant of other religions as in the end we all serve one God,” Aivazyan said.
Article source: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=62841