Kyoto City opens office in Middle East   no comments

Posted at 3:55 pm in the places I would like to go
A glimpse of Kyoto City

Kyoto City has forayed into the Middle East. The tourism board has opened a promotional office in Dubai to encourage Gulf nationals and residents to visit Japan for holidays and leisure. This makes it the first in the Middle East by a Japanese tourism authority.

Kyoto is Japan’s ancient imperial capital, home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The city showcases Japan’s cultural and traditional arts and crafts traditions, including Kyoto’s famous geiko and maiko (apprentice geiko) as well as Japanese kaiseki cuisine among others.

The city is gearing up to cater to Muslim travellers by working closely with its local tourism and hotel industry to ensure cultural and religious needs are well taken care of. Local seminars have been held regularly to educate the travel industry on importance of providing Halal and muslim-friendly cuisine.

Yoshikazu Kuki, director of Kyoto City Tourism MICE office said: “After a long investigative, consultative and training process supervised by Kyoto Muslim Association, Kyoto is now trying to prepare for welcoming Muslim guests. In fact, we have launched a special online muslim-friendly Kyoto website available in English, Arabic, Bahasa Malaysian and Turkish.”

Heading the Kyoto Convention Visitors Bureau (KCVB) Middle East Office is Takao Yamamoto of AVIAREPS. KCVB will be participating at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai for the first time.

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Written by enfoquec on April 22nd, 2014

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Heritage awareness campaign launched   no comments

Posted at 3:12 pm in the places I would like to go

The Saudi Society for Preservation of Heritage has stressed the role of the Kingdom’s heritage in shaping the Saudi identity.
“Heritage is a major factor in determining the identity of the nation. The Society attaches great importance to preserving the cultural heritage in all its diversity,’’ Executive Director of the Society Maha Al-Sinan said in a statement to the Saudi Press Agency on the occasion of the World Heritage Day which was celebrated Friday.
In addition to the awareness programs organized on the day, the Society will organize a series of awareness campaigns on other days, Al-Sinan said.
A campaign launched by the Society on the occasion is called “We are Our Heritage.” The program, which has been launched in various provinces, involves sending SMS to as many people as possible about the importance of heritage. The SMS also includes pictures of various heritage scenes in the Kingdom.
The awareness drive is being implemented in Riyadh, the Eastern Province, Asir, Makkah and Madinah, Al-Jouf, Najran, Jazan, Tabuk and Hail.
The pictures in the SMS highlight various aspects of heritage in the Kingdom, which are expected to evoke in people’s minds sentiments about the vanishing past and, make them aware of the need to protect and preserve their heritage.
As part of the celebration, the Society has also organized a number of lectures, seminars and workshops with the participation of national and international heritage experts. One such program is a lecture on the Indian experience in renovating and preserving heritage buildings and artifacts, delivered by Shashi Misra, chairman of the Council of Heritage and Rural Development in India. The Indian delegation also had a discussion with Saudi experts on various issues related to heritage preservation.
A workshop organized on the occasion focused on the art of embroidery in the Kingdom down the centuries. A British expert on international embroidery, Julian Fogsaig, presented a paper on various aspects of embroidery in different parts of the world. The expert also outlined the history of embroidery from 1300 BC to the 16th century.
Another expert, Fatimah Farisi, spoke on heritage products made of date palms and their economic significance. She said the palm tree has become the symbol of heritage and economy in the Kingdom.
The Society also plans to open five culture centers in different places to promote heritage activities, she said.

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Written by enfoquec on April 20th, 2014

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Meet a couple who are saving cultural heritage, and lives, in the Middle East   no comments

Posted at 1:56 pm in the places I would like to go

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But their story is also about demonstrating to the world that saving this heritage saves bloodshed.

Benjamin Isakhan and Diane Siebrandt could not be more different. He is Australian, she is American; he is a former political scientist, she trained as an anthropologist and an archaeologist.

A 2003 image inside Iraq’s largest archaeological museum in Baghdad after it was looted. Photo: AFP

They each work at Deakin University’s Burwood campus: Isakhan is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation; Siebrandt is doing a PhD. It is here, in the functional but tranquil surroundings of suburban academe, that their professional lives have intertwined.

Burwood may be common territory to them, but so too are the volatile sandy lands half a world away – countries such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, whose proud, rich cultures, some dating to 3500BC, are being systematically destroyed.

Isakhan and Siebrandt are at the forefront of concerted efforts to preserve what’s left.

What precious little there is represents the very foundations of civilisation and the dawn of human thought. The fundamental beginnings of philosophy, politics, law, science, medicine and astronomy are all embodied in these ruins.

Siebrandt’s thesis, on the changing relationship between US troops and Iraqi archaeologists during the Iraq war, is a result of her extended time in the country working as a US cultural affairs officer based at the embassy in Baghdad.

Her work recently won her an award from the US Combatant Command Cultural Heritage Action Group to honour monuments men and women of today. She is the only civilian recipient on the list.

Isakhan has been instrumental in setting up a three-year project that aims to establish the world’s first database of heritage sites that have been damaged or destroyed through occupation, looting or sectarian conflict. So far, the database has about 700 entries, detailing sites destroyed between 2003 to 2011.

The point where these two projects meet is a game-changer: to create greater practical understanding by occupiers of the vital importance of cultural preservation.

In fact, it is not just a matter of maintaining heritage, but of saving thousands of lives.

For every one story we know, we know we’ve lost that much – or more – again. The story of any of the kings and rulers and empires that came and went, we know that that much information has been lost and can never be recuperated.

Dr Benjamin Isakhan, senior research fellow, Deakin University

Each and every artefact has a story to tell, Isakhan says. In archaeological terms, he explains, this is known as context and association. In other words, not just a particular object, but its very location; its relationship to other objects and their position in the overall site.

”Without context and association, the object loses almost all of its scientific value,” says Isakhan. ”Once it’s been systematically and inexpertly ripped out of the ground, even if recovered, it has lost almost, if not all, of its value.”

The problem, says Isakhan – one that has dramatically worsened since the Iraqi war began in 2003 – is the unprecedented, looting of archaeological sites on an industrial scale. He says antiquities are the fourth-largest commodity smuggled across borders after drugs, guns and people.

”Bands of 30 or 40 men show up with bulldozers and floodlights, smashing and robbing their way through the sites, then immediately smuggle stuff out of the country.”

Isakhan puts it into perspective by evoking ancient Mesopotamia, the river-system area that corresponded to parts of what are now Iraq, Kuwait and Syria. All our knowledge about Mesopotamia comes down to no more than about half a million artefacts excavated over the past 150 years.

”If we talk about the looting from 2003, about 200,000 objects have been taken each year,” says Isakhan. ”So we can say there’s more that has been taken than what we have to tell us everything we know about Mesopotamia. Every one story we know, we know we’ve lost that much – or more – again.”

Looting, however prevalent, is not the only threat to heritage destruction. Other sustained damage can come from military occupation – for example, when the US forces occupied Iraq, they set up sites on top of the ancient city of Babylon – or can be caused by sectarian conflict.

”There are important ideological trends behind all this,” says Isakhan. ”The things that drive al-Qaeda and other groups to pronounce [certain aspects of] Islam as a blasphemous, deviant cult. That becomes part of the ideology and the justification of what they do.”

The worst record for sectarian violence and plunder is not, surprisingly, Iraq but its neighbour, Syria.

”All the anecdotal data suggests that what happened in Iraq in a decade took just three years in Syria. Iraq was a walk in the park compared with what’s happening in Syria.”

Isakhan says this is driven by two wars. ”The physical war of killing each other, but also the symbolic war of destroying heritage to promote a linear, singular narrative of the way the world was and … should be.”

It is, he says, a long and sordid tale.

Isakhan’s involvement began in late 2007, while he was finishing his PhD at Griffith University, when a colleague asked him to give a paper to a seminar on heritage destruction. ”It was of tangential interest, but I agreed,” he says. ”The day I read up on it was the day the essential thrust of my work changed forever.”

What was needed, he decided, was a proper and thorough examination of the appalling destruction of heritage sites; of putting it in a wider context involving other data, such as retribution attacks and details of civilian and military casualties.

Three years ago, Isakhan received an Australian Research Council grant to set up the database. It is run by a four-person team, including Siebrandt for one day a week, as well as 15 research assistants in Iraq.

Isakhan says the database provides thorough documentation, not only of the level of destruction, but the sheer scale, over which can be mapped other crucial bits of information.

A vital source is the Iraq body-count website, which, Isakhan says, is the most reliable indication of civilian casualties that can be intensively surveyed, even on a day-to-day basis.

”We can see not only when significant sites have been bombed, but where and when there have been attacks on rival heritage sites and attacks on rival communities,” he says. ”It might be an obvious conclusion – bomb something and they’re going to hit back – but we have the actual evidence.”

From this can be seen not just the first wave of retribution, but several waves. ”We can see, in some instances, that failure to protect sites can result on attacks on troops,” says Isakhan.

In short, he says, it is imperative to protect heritage sites during a major occupation of a volatile and religiously complex society. ”If you don’t protect the very embodiments of people’s ideas and aspirations, what you’ll see is not only the destruction of those sites, but a sharp degeneration of social cohesion and a dramatic escalation of violence.”

Isakhan says that once completed, the database could be an invaluable resource to the military.

”We can say, ‘If you fail to protect heritage sites, you will lose your own lives. If the central purpose of any occupation is to defeat the enemy, restore peace, save you money, prevent you being stuck in the quagmire of military occupation, stop mass sectarian conflict, and prevent thousands of lives being lost … well, this will help you win the war.”’

One of the greater legacies was getting everyone to talk and understand. You know, we fear what we don’t understand.

Diane Siebrandt, cultural liaison officer, US Embassy, Iraq, 2006-13.

Siebrandt’s fascination with archaeology, palaeontology, and the gods and demons of Mesopotamia led her to apply for a job in Iraq in 2005. For a year, she worked with the US military investigating the mass graves that held hundreds of thousands of Kurds wiped out by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

A year later, Siebrandt moved to Baghdad to work on a cultural heritage program. ”When I hit the ground, they had no idea what they wanted me to do,” she says.

It was a dangerous time. From 2003 to 2009, when she moved into the US embassy compound, Siebrandt lived in one of the many trailers around Saddam’s former presidential palace by the Tigris. ”Everyone knew we were there,” she says. ”Al-Qaeda was trying to get us out. There were rockets and mortars every day.

”One day, 32 rockets came in and my trailer was blown up. Let me tell you, nothing in the world sounds like a rocket hitting the ground.”

But Siebrandt stayed on, telling herself, ”I’m here to do a job – form relationships between Iraq and the Americans to try to save cultural heritage. I enjoy working with the Iraqis, they’re not going to chase me away.”

Besides, she says, it took time to gain the trust of the many Iraqi curators and specialists. Only by establishing this trust could Siebrandt and the Iraqis work together to start to preserve the country’s cultural heritage.

”I was there for so long, they knew me; they knew I would do the utmost to make happen what I’d promised to help them achieve.”

She had the right stuff, as did her employer. ”The only reason I could do it is the US had the biggest embassy in the world, the most money, and the biggest army to provide logistical support. It all came down to the size and funding the American presence afforded me.”

Successful projects included securing US funding to help restore the ancient city of Babylon – a site partially damaged when the US built a base on top of some of the ruins – and the refurbishment of the Baghdad Museum, which was severely looted and run down.

”It’s still not open to the public,” Siebrandt says. ”Iraq is very afraid of suicide bombers.” But when it does open, the museum staff will be up to speed, thanks to the establishment of an American-funded conservation training centre in Iraq’s Kurdistan – another significant legacy of Siebrandt’s time.

She also helped establish a grants program that enabled at least 100 Iraqi cultural workers to study modern conservation techniques in the US.

”They just didn’t have that knowledge and there was no way to get it,” she says. ”With sanctions, they had no books, no materials to do conservations, and were relying on techniques from the 1970s.”

In the field, embedded with the military or accompanied by State Department security forces, Siebrandt proved to be an active and influential conduit between occupiers and occupants. At the same time, she was helping to build a sense of cross-cultural understanding.

”What did the Iraqis know about the Americans? That their soldiers kicked in their doors in the middle of the night and took away their families. And what did the Americans think of them? That they’re the guys who shoot at them as they drive down the street.

”As the State Department or military security followed me around the various heritage sites, I’d be talking with Iraqi archaeologists about stuff that was maybe 5000 years old. This was a form of cultural-awareness training, and one of the most joyful experiences I had.”

After leaving Iraq in 2013, Siebrandt – urged by Isakhan – successfully applied to do her PhD at Deakin.

”It’s interesting the path life leads us down,” she says. ”I just thought I’d be an archaeologist and stay in a hole somewhere.”

What drove her to writing her thesis was the change in the attitude of the military towards Iraq as the war progressed, and the increasing sense of importance of respecting the country’s heritage.

”I’m hoping that I will show that what was done at the beginning of the war was not conducive to establishing a positive relationship,” she says. ”We will go to war again – that’s inevitable – but if the US and other militaries can put the results of my research into their policies, they can prevent violence and save the lives of their own soldiers.”

Michael Shmith is a senior writer.

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Written by enfoquec on April 18th, 2014

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Langham Hospitality Group Enters The Middle East With The Langham Brand In …   no comments

Posted at 1:28 pm in the places I would like to go

Two milestone “firsts” for the company: Luxury property on Palm Jumeirah will be the Group’s first in the region, and the first resort in the global portfolio.

Langham Hospitality Group announced today an agreement with DAS Real Estate to manage The
Langham resort in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Located on the crescent of Palm Jumeirah and
scheduled to open in 2015, this 323-room resort marks double landmark “firsts” for the Hong Kong-
based hotel company: it is the group’s first foray into the Middle East and the first resort in its global

With the interiors designed by the Aedas Limited, The Langham, Palm
Jumeirah, Dubai
will showcase tasteful furnishings reflective of the brand’s heritage as one of
the premier grand hotels in Europe. With a prime waterfront location directly facing the Arabian Gulf
and the impressive Dubai Marina skyline, all the rooms and suites will have expansive outdoor terraces
and sea-front views that will take full advantage of the emirate’s year-round sunny climes. Catering to
couples and large families, the resort will have 53 well-appointed one- and two-bedroom suites that
range from 63 to 236 square meters; 22 of them will feature individual plunge pools.

Designed to become one of the city’s social centres for dining, The Langham will offer guests a wide
variety of innovative restaurants and bars, most of them with al fresco waterside dining. Headlining the
culinary options will be Palm Court, an elegant lounge modeled after its namesake at The Langham,
London – the first grand hotel to serve the traditional afternoon tea in 1865.

Other dining
experiences include a Japanese restaurant, a waterfront seafood outlet, a niche breakfast room, an
Arabic and Italian fusion café, an all-day restaurant featuring international buffet and a la carte
selections, a beach restaurant and a juice bar that offers light snacks and refreshments. The hotel will
also feature a Club Lounge offering complimentary food and beverage presentations throughout the
day and dedicated concierge service.

Setting a new standard for leisure travellers, The
Langham, Palm Jumeirah will feature one of the region’s largest hotel recreation facility covering
almost 4,000 square meters over two floors.

For an unrivalled retreat of relaxation, the
group’s signature award-winning Chuan Spa will showcase a remarkable 26 treatment rooms as well as
therapies based on the sound principles of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM.) The expansive fitness
centre features a free form pool, exercise studio, and a full range of strength- and cardio-training
equipment. Catering to family holiday makers is a 445-square meter Kids Club with a fun slide, play
zone and themed party area.

A distinctive feature of The Langham, Palm Jumeirah is the
dedicated Travellers Lounge which will provide all the facilities and comforts for early arrival or late
departure flyers. Designed as a sanctuary and an extension of the luxury resort experience, guests are
welcome to take full advantage of the well-stocked library, entertainment selections, light dining
service, business centre and shower/change rooms with the compliments of the resort.

Adding to the mystique, The Langham signature pink roses will be specially grown at the resort with the
assistance of a refrigerated irrigation system. Native palms, fruit trees and water features will provide
an oasis of serenity for guests and local visitors.

“We are very much looking forward to
introducing The Langham’s rich heritage and impeccable service values to Dubai,” said Robert Warman,
chief executive officer of Langham Hospitality Group. “The trifecta of this hotel’s spectacular location on
the iconic Palm Jumeirah, Dubai’s winning bid to host the World Expo in 2020, and The Langham’s
beautiful design aesthetics, make it the perfect time to debut our first resort in this dynamic

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Written by enfoquec on April 16th, 2014

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Timeline: Al-Aqsa mosque   no comments

Posted at 12:53 pm in the places I would like to go

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Written by enfoquec on April 14th, 2014

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UNESCO to send mission to assess Jerusalem   no comments

Posted at 12:27 pm in the places I would like to go

An expert mission is to be sent to the Old City of Jerusalem to evaluate its state of preservation and submit a report along with recommendations to the World Heritage Committee to be held in Doha in June, a United Nations resolution passed yesterday said.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)’s Executive Board passed the resolution by an overwhelming majority; only the US voted against it during the Executive Board’s meeting in Paris.

Palestine and Jordan were able to issue several resolutions through the Executive Board and the World Heritage Committee demanding Israel halt all illegal violations against the holy city. They have also called for Israel to stop accusing those concerned with preserving the city’s heritage “of politicising the work of UNESCO and other international organisations”.


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Written by enfoquec on April 12th, 2014

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US Pair Can’t Leave Qatar Amid Appeal   no comments

Posted at 11:56 am in the places I would like to go

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Written by enfoquec on April 10th, 2014

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