World’s largest roofed bazaar located in Tabriz   no comments

Posted at 12:44 pm in the places I would like to go

The Grand Bazaar of Tabriz, a historic complex located in Iran’s northwestern province of East Azarbaijan, is named the largest roofed bazaar in the world.

The bazaar, situated in the middle of Tabriz, is one of the oldest bazaars in the Middle East and the largest covered bazaar in the world.

It was nominated as a World Heritage site by the UNESCO World Heritage Center back in August 2010. The decision was made in the 34th meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Brasilia, Brazil.

The monument was the first bazaar that the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Center selected as a valuable cultural heritage.

Tabriz Historical Bazaar Complex consists of a series of interconnected, covered, brick structures, buildings, and enclosed spaces for different functions. This spectacular structure consists of several sub-bazaars and has different economic and cultural spaces.

Although numerous modern shops and malls have been established recently, the Bazaar of Tabriz still remains the economic heart of the city and northwestern Iran.


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Written by enfoquec on July 22nd, 2014

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She’s Israeli. He’s Assyrian. They’re Putting on a Comedy Show Together   no comments

Posted at 12:44 pm in the places I would like to go

click to enlarge

  • Photo by Nick Barta
  • Roni Geva and Daniel Younathan

Comedians poking fun of the Middle East isn’t the minefield it used to be. The Axis of Evil comedy tour helped spread post-9/11 humor, and clubs now devote entire nights to comics of Middle Eastern heritage. If all good comedy comes from pain, what better material than war, terrorism and bloodshed?

That’s the idea behind iO West’s new sketch show, The Arab Israeli Comedy Hour, which has upcoming performances on July 24 and 31. Roni Geva and Daniel Younathan run wild like two crazy infidels lampooning not only the political and social upheaval in that part of the world — including that biggest of minefields, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — but also Arab and Muslim stereotypes, including everything from territorial wars to fetishizing women with guns to the white-washing of ethnic cuisine. (Rosemary in falafel? Scary.)“The Middle East is rife with so many stories,” Younathan says during an interview with Geva at a Hollywood café. “Why not use those and bring those to the forefront and not just focus on one?”

When they enter the stage, Geva and Younathan greet the audience with a loud zaghareet, a high-pitched ululation, which, if you’ve ever heard at a Middle Eastern wedding will have your ears ringing. “Please don’t leave,” Geva says at the start of the show. “Because I strapped a bomb to the back of the door, so if you leave, you die.”

Geva is from Tel Aviv, where she’s done comedy and theater, including performing for Israeli soldiers. Younathan was born in London to an Assyrian-Christian family originally from Iraq. (Assyrians are descended from an ancient civilization that included part of what is now Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.) The two moved to different cities before meeting each other at the Groundlings. They conceived the idea of staging something that explored their seemingly opposite yet very similar backgrounds. (Geva performed a different version of the show at both the iO here and in Chicago in 2003 with another partner, who was of Lebanese descent.) They premiered The Arab Israeli Comedy Hour at iO West’s improv festival in June.

Geva and Younathan zip through more than a dozen skits, putting a comedic twist on even the most heady of subjects. In their hands, conflict over land is akin to fighting over a chair, each booting the other off with props like a dollar bill, dynamite and a machine gun, all set to the soundtrack from Jaws.

“If you boil it down, it can become juvenile and dumb and embarrassing on both sides,” Geva says. “So in my mind I thought of it as two kids fighting over the last cookie or a chair.”

“You could emote more with physicality,” Younathan says. “It’s more intelligent that way, because what could we possibly say that hasn’t been said.”

Other sketches take place at a Syrian voting booth, a Baghdad Holiday Inn Express, a terrorist cell with two, bickering terrorists and a UC Berkeley poetry slam, where two girls — a Jew and a Muslim — bemoan the West’s misappropriation of falafel.

“It doesn’t just represent food, it represents how we treat people,” Younathan says. “We change the food like we’re changing the people.”

Geva and Younathan even perform a couple of musical spoofs, including one in which they change lyrics to Katy Perry songs: “I kissed a girl and I got stoned” and “’Cause, baby, you’re an atom bomb.”

“These songs are super popular and super catchy, and they’re just burned into your psyche,” Geva says. “So when you change the lyrics people are immediately surprised,” Younathan adds. “And for a comedian, that’s what you look for — the element of surprise. We wanted to juxtapose the happiness with the sadness of these characters.”

In another, a West Side Story send-up called “West Bank Story,” they change the lyrics in “Somewhere” to: “There’s two states for us/Right here, two states for us/Peace and harmony fill the air/Drop your uzies and we’ll take you there.” (Though this concept isn’t completely fresh — there’s also an Oscar-winning short film called West Bank Story.)

Geva and Younathan don’t have any misgivings about satirizing such polarizing topics. They hope to — inshallah — take the show to different cities and upload bits onto Youtube, with the exception of one called “Epic Rap Battle” that involves the two dressed as Moses and Mohammed smack-talking each other.

“We got very strong advice against putting it on Youtube, so as to not get a Fatwa on our lives,” Geva says. “And I wanna live.” Younathan says.

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Written by enfoquec on July 22nd, 2014

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Science was rigorous for Tasmanian World Heritage listing   no comments

Posted at 12:44 pm in the places I would like to go

Contrary to a recent assertion, the scientific assessment of Tasmania’s World Heritage area was protracted and rigorous.

IT IS UNFORTUNATE THAT Mark Poynter, in his attempt to establish that politics rather than science has determined the World Heritage decision in favour of the Tasmanian forests, fails to focus on the science and instead attacks the people providing the science. In the familiar sporting aphorism, he plays the man not the ball.

As one of those whose credentials are questioned, I can briefly refer to my lifetime of expertise as forester, conservation scientist and heritage assessor, advising governments, international institutions, the private sector and organisations.

For the record, my 40-plus-year career in forests and conservation has included the past 25 years advising on most aspects of World Heritage both in Australia and in South-East Asia, Papua New Guinea, the Middle East, Japan and South America. It is for this well recognised professional expertise and experience that I am retained, not for any political position.

Now to the science and the detail of the World Heritage processes which Mr Poynter does not seem to understand. All nominations to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee whether for new sites or additions to sites must be formulated in accordance with the scientifically based ‘Criteria for the Assessment of Outstanding Universal Value’ and in addition must meet the relevant Conditions of Integrity.

The Commission of Inquiry into the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests in the 1980′s, a host of subsequently published papers and more recently the Independent Verification Group all provided valuable scientific contributions to the formulation of the 2013 nominated additions. Scientific data and observations were not limited to the tall forests alone but included documentation on a diversity of attributes including archaeological, Aboriginal cultural sites, karst, fossils, caves, endangered species and rare and threatened plant communities.

Contrary to Mr Poynter’s assertion, the concept for extension of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) to include a continuous tract of tall eucalypt forest and adoption of an appropriate eastern boundary was being progressively formulated long before the Tasmanian Forest Agreement 2012 and was informed by a wide range of proposals, heritage values, documentation and other considerations.

The Forests Agreement, not surprisingly, picked up and included this proposal within its terms. Mr Poynter in this and previous articles, frequently refers to the 2008 World Heritage Centre field mission to Tasmania but omits to note that, notwithstanding the reservations and findings of the mission, the World Heritage Committee, at its meeting in Quebec later in 2008 (32 COM 7B.41) considered that report, but resolved to advise Australia that it “Reiterate(s) its request to the State Party to consider, at its own discretion, extension of the property to include appropriate areas of tall eucalyptus forest, having regard to the advice of IUCN…”.

The rejection of additions proposed by the field mission played up by Mr Poynter actually emerged as a reiterated invitation to Australia to nominate additional tall eucalypt forest. Always better if you get the full story. The Committee takes its scientific advice on natural heritage from International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Australia took up that invitation and by 2013 had assembled a nomination dossier that met requirements, including, importantly, the ‘conditions of integrity’.

Again contrary to Mr Poynter’s contention, the 2013 nominated additions to the TWWHA were not misrepresented as ‘minor amendments’. The Committee’s operational guidelines do not specify a minimum area for what constitutes a minor amendment though IUCN, the official advisory body to the Committee for natural heritage suggests 10 per cent as a guideline. While the nominated boundary change slightly exceeded this guideline, it was accepted because the lands included had been the subject of ongoing scrutiny and deliberation by IUCN and the World Heritage Committee, plus the Committee had invited such additions. It also included an existing national park (Mount Field) that had previously been flagged for addition. The Australian submission was responding to the World Heritage Committee invitation to consider an extension “….having regard to the advice of IUCN…” and that was done.

Longer than 10 minutes

As is the case with all additions, the 2013 nominated additions were subject to assessment and advice to the World Heritage Committee by IUCN and International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). In the Phnom Penh World Heritage Committee meeting in 2013 reviewing the Australian extension submission, Committee members were briefed on the merits of the additions proposed and none disputed the Australian case for listing.

Before the Australian request to remove the extension area was considered at the Doha meeting of the World Heritage Committee, it had been scrutinised in detail by IUCN and ICOMOS and in May they recommended refusal.

The test for any removal which the 2014 decision was required to meet is that it must be “[a modification] which has not a significant impact on the extent of the property nor affects its Outstanding Universal Value.” Given the evidence before IUCN and ICOMOS, the proposed delisting had no chance of meeting this test.

The IUCN advice and the World Heritage Committee decision to refuse removal of the extension reflected that it would result in the delisting of outstanding stands of pristine tall eucalypt forest, much of it old growth; loss of ecological connectivity; removal of more than 24 Aboriginal cultural sites, including an ice-age archaeological site; removal of glacial landforms, karst, caves and critical habitat of endangered species – all documented – all of which would have had a serious impact on the integrity of the World Heritage Area.

Tasmanian forests: where politics trumps science

Peter Hitchcock’s article is in response to a recent opinion piece from Mark Poynter. Read the original here.

Similarly, boundary integrity would have been seriously impacted. Many of the values at risk were the same scientifically documented attributes and values that contributed to the case for the listing of the extension in the first place in 2013.

None of the Committee member delegates that I consulted with in Doha in 2014 had any doubts about the World Heritage values of the 2013 additions or that the proposed delisting would have a serious impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the TWWHA.

While the formal process for the World Heritage Committee to unanimously reject the Australian Government submission was brief, occupying less than 10 minutes of the formal meeting time, it was obviously preceded by the members having already considered and taken into account all the material and advice before them during the preceding weeks, including advice from IUCN and ICOMOS.

In response to comments on his article, Mr Poynter has already conceded he was wrong in his claim that “Further exemplifying the political interference is that the disputed areas of the TWWHA extension were listed before they had been declared as national parks. This is a first in Australia…” Anyone familiar with World Heritage process would be aware that this is incorrect. Any number of land parcels in Australia that were not national parks has been listed as World Heritage and there is certainly no requirement for declaration as a national park.

For example, in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area there are around 300 freehold properties. The Australian Government’s demonstration that any lands are protected and will be appropriately managed is the relevant prerequisite. Instead of a personal attack on the professional integrity of myself and others involved in this process, Mr Poynter would do well to understand the actual processes of the World Heritage listing and review system which is rigorous and based entirely on science and professional assessment, not politics.

Peter Hitchcock is an environmental consultant and a member of the Order of Australia (AM).

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Written by enfoquec on July 22nd, 2014

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Dumping Afrikaans insults Mandela   no comments

Posted at 12:29 pm in the places I would like to go


South African fans sing the national anthem before an international soccer friendly. Inclusion of the Afrikaans verse was a gesture of the most enormous magnitude in its generosity and forgiveness, says the writer. File photo: Matthew Jordaan

Reeva Forman responds to Mbuyiseni Ndlozi’s call to dump the the Afrikaans verse in Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica.

Dear Mr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi,

Your article in The Sunday Independent last week (“Time to dump Die Stem”) refers.

May I, as a proud South African, say that you are suggesting throwing away evidence of the greatest humanitarian gesture mankind has seen.

You belittle factual evidence of the world’s greatest humanitarian activist, our very own beloved Madiba, Nelson Mandela, who with this very verse and other gestures helped to prevent a civil war, to prevent the loss of life, to prevent bloodshed.

Yes, the very type of bloodshed that you see around us in the world today, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

Equally earth-shaking were gestures of Madiba wearing the “hated” Springbok jersey and cap at the 1995 rugby World Cup. With this one gesture Madiba united hearts and minds in our country, healing his nation.

Surely you understand that to show empathy to a vanquished enemy is the highest expression of victory. To attempt to annihilate proof of their very existence – what can this achieve?

The Madiba genius is evident again in his visit to Betsy Verwoerd, the elderly widow of one of the main architects of apartheid. These actions could be a deemed to be those of a person of such high religious and spiritual calibre that many in the world refer to Madiba as a saint, a term he would never accept. Maybe this is what is meant by the biblical injunction of “turning the other cheek”.

Inclusion of this verse from Die Stem in our beloved anthem was not one of bowing and scraping or giving in to the abhorrent regime.

On the contrary, it was a gesture of the most enormous magnitude in its generosity and forgiveness, emanating from those in the position of the greater power – holding out not only the proverbial olive branch, but saying that in spite of the past, we can forgive through our great ethos of ubuntu.

We can be inclusive and respect your identity, allow you to retain your dignity and welcome you into our nation.

To remove this would be an insult to the heritage of Madiba, an insult to the South African nation of which I am so proud to be a citizen.

The mark of a true democracy is how a country treats it minorities.

Our South African credo, “Unity in diversity”, is a lesson the world could indeed take heed of.

* Reeva Forman is chief executive of REEVA Beauty Health.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Sunday Independent

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Written by enfoquec on July 20th, 2014

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John McCarthy in Iraqi Kurdistan   no comments

Posted at 12:29 pm in the places I would like to go

The citadel is now a Unesco World Heritage site and, while the rest of the
city is developing ultra-modern architecture, here an army of workers are
restoring the old buildings which were abandoned over the last century as
people moved down to the newer areas.

A Kurdish bulk foods grocer in Erbil’s bazaar district tends to his wares

Looking out from the edge of the citadel, modern Erbil spreads in all
directions, with ring roads, matching the circular shape of the citadel
hill, marking the continuing, rapid growth of the city. Just 20 years ago,
most of this was open land and Erbil a very small city with open drains
running through dusty streets.

Apartment and office blocks, hotels and malls are being built everywhere and
many more are planned. The roads are busy with traffic, the armadas of the
latest models of cars further evidence that Iraqi Kurdistan is enjoying
economic growth.

Nevertheless, as the Mercedes and Land Rovers pause at the traffic lights,
very young children tap on the windows hawking phone cards, lottery tickets
and lighters. And for all the new malls and showrooms, there are still
people sifting through the litter bins. The good times are not here for

The economic boom is largely based on the region’s oil wealth – Erbil has been
described as being a new Dubai.
But unlike Dubai and the other Gulf States, where the native population is
small, with a vast number of foreign residents, here there are few visitors.
The Kurds are friendly and confident, seeing themselves as a stable
community in the midst of the growing conflict around them.

Dokan lake and dam (Alamy)

Since my visit the situation in Iraq has become far more unstable and yet, for
all the tension and violence in other parts of Iraq and in neighbouring
countries, Kurdistan is managing to maintain its peaceful and secure
atmosphere. While the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all
but essential travel to the rest of Iraq, the Kurdistan region is still
deemed safe. Erbil has even been elected the Arab Tourism Capital for 2014.

As we hit the highway out of town it’s something of a shock to see road signs
to Baghdad and Mosul, names that are redolent of conflict and chaos. We
leave early, bound for the city of Suleymania. A roadside cafe offers a
rather daunting breakfast of “soup”, a heavy stew of meat, onions
and chillies. I opt for some bread and yoghurt. The cafe is a nondescript
modern building, popular with truck drivers, served by youths under the
command of a fierce, moustachioed man barking orders in a series of harsh

John McCarthy in Kurdistan (Geoff Dunlop)

The highway crosses a landscape of rolling hills as we head south towards the
deserts of Iraq. Oil wells dot the area, their gas flares burning bright
into the blue sky. I’m alarmed to pass a sign saying “Welcome to
Kirkuk”. At the time of my visit, in early March 2014, Kirkuk, though
under the nominal control of the Iraqi army, was a lawless place racked by
bombings and kidnappings. Koshan calmly points out another cafe that has
recently been blown up. Today, of course, Kirkuk is in the hands of the
Kurdish peshmerga militiamen, and peace, at least for the time being, has
come to the town.

Suleymania is smaller than Erbil. Surrounded by mountains it feels more
established, not a building site like so much of the capital. The modern
city was established toward the end of the 18th century and has always been
a centre for Kurdish artists and historians, as well as a focal point for
Kurdish nationalism. Narrow streets, lined with stone buildings, follow the
contours of the hillsides. On the edge of town lies Chavi Land, a massive
theme park dominated by a Ferris wheel. Tourism has been growing here,
mainly with visitors from other parts of Iraq, eager to escape the volatile
atmosphere at home.

Walking the streets of central Suleymania at night, after an excellent meal of
grilled fish served by uniformed and hair-netted waiters, we stop off at a
tea shop filled with men smoking water pipes. Stared at for a moment or two,
we are then given a friendly nod as the clientele go back to their pipes and

The warm spring weather turns cooler and a drizzle of rain sets in as we head
north from Suleymania, into the Zagros mountain range that forms a massive
natural border between Iraq and Iran to the east and Turkey to the north. In
the villages, old men wearing rankoochohar - traditional,
loose-fitting overalls, the Kurdish equivalent of a shell-suit – and white
turbans sit drinking tea, watching the world go by.

Driving across a wide valley where herds of sheep graze on grass of brilliant
green, we suddenly slow down. Freshly gouged tracks lead to an overturned
car beside the road. An elderly woman clambers from the vehicle, stands up
and waves at us, apparently quite relaxed about this calamity.

Later, skirting the great lake of Dokan we pass road-side stalls, tended by
women in black robes, selling large fish – perch, Koshan thinks – that are
tied up with string. Further on, boys hold up bunches of narcissi for sale.

The Chavi Land theme park attracts visitors from across Iraq

Sangasar is a thriving little market town, but it is also a place that is
still shadowed by the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s treatment of the Kurds.
The local mullah takes time out from preparing his address for Friday
prayers to tell us that in the late 1980s his village, along with thousands
of others, was regularly attacked by Saddam’s forces and that ultimately all
the inhabitants were forced on to trucks and taken south and dumped in the
desert wastes of Iraq. Before being shipped out they had to watch the
destruction of their homes. This was all part of the dictator’s plan to
remove the Kurds from the areas bordering his enemy, Iran.

The story is harrowing and heartbreaking. Yet the family and their neighbours
outlasted Saddam and have returned and rebuilt their town and are welcoming
to strangers. No wonder the Kurds are confident – their resilience and
commitment to their homeland has placed them on the threshold of
establishing their own independent state.

In times of trouble the Kurds have always found sanctuary in the mountains.
Driving up narrow gorges past woods of dwarf oaks, with the snow still on
the peaks high above us, I can easily understand how a people would find
safety in these remote places, and appreciate their love of this beautiful,
rugged landscape.

Square with water fountains below the citadel of Erbil

Their confidence comes not only from a clear and strong sense of their
identity and their belonging here, but from the prospects of a bright
future. The roots of prosperity, so clearly on show in Erbil, can be seen at
the border town of Zakho. Here thousands of trucks cross to and fro between
Kurdistan and Turkey.
Political relations between the Kurds and the Turkish government have
improved greatly and that is due, in large part, to the developing trade
connections. Turkey is buying Kurdish oil, and exports of goods to Kurdistan
are an important part of the Turkish economy.

Giant statue of Mubarek Ahmed Sharafaddin in front of the citadel of Erbil.
Photo: Michael Runkel/Robert Hardin/REX

Having marvelled at the lines of trucks heading in both directions and reeling
somewhat from the diesel fumes, we have lunch of grilled chicken and salad
at a restaurant on the banks of the Little Khabur River. From our table we
enjoy the beautiful span of the Delal Bridge, which dates back to Roman
times. On the cobbled approach to the bridge a dozen young men, students
from University of Zakho, gather around their cars. Music starts and the
youths line up, arms around each other’s shoulders. And they move from side
to side, turning and clapping in a traditional Kurdish dance. Kurdistan is a
happy, vibrant place.

John McCarthy’s documentary, Kurdistan: A State of Uncertainty, will be
broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm on Tuesday July 22.


Tour operators offering escorted group trips and tailor-made tours to Iraqi
Kurdistan include Steppes Travel
(0843 634 7884), Undiscovered
(0191 296 2674) and Wild
(020 7736 3968). As John McCarthy explains, the FCO advises
against travel to much of Iraq
, but currently imposes no restrictions on
travel to the Kurdistan region (Erbil, Suleymania and Dohuk provinces).

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Written by enfoquec on July 20th, 2014

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After Gaza invasion: Obama White House needs to get its head in the game   no comments

Posted at 12:16 pm in the places I would like to go

Written by enfoquec on July 18th, 2014

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Saving cultural heritage from the ravages of war   no comments

Posted at 12:16 pm in the places I would like to go

In this edition of U-talk, Paul from Paris asks the following question: “Given the escalating violence in the Middle East, how do we protect cultural heritage from destruction and looting?”

Nada Al Hassan from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre responded.

“Prevention is part of our daily work. UNESCO has international conventions to protect heritage, such as the Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, the Convention against illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts and the World Heritage Convention.

We work closely with Interpol and the International Customs Organisation, and also with auction houses around the world. It is possible to work actively to prevent the illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts. It’s easy to act because trafficking happens at borders and on the international market. On the contrary, it’s very difficult to protect cultural property on the ground during conflict.This usually comes afterwards, during reconstruction.

“In Mali, we are already rebuilding mosques in Timbuktu. Since the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, we’ve been working on the consolidation of the niches, which house them. And we’ve been renovating all the painted caves and the archaeological site of Bamiyan.

“Of course human life, the status of refugees, violence and the search for peace come first in the regions of armed conflict.

“We do believe that not only do we have to transfer our heritage to future generations, but we also have to preserve it as a guarantee of social cohesion and as a founding element of the rebuilding of countries after war.”

If you would also like to ask a question on U-talk, click on the participate button. 

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Written by enfoquec on July 18th, 2014

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