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British Council Arts
 Erbil Literature Festival
Erbil Literature Festival
Erbil Literature Festival, Iraq
7- 9 May 2011

Writers Ahmed Sidawi, Inaam Kachachi, Dr. Nazand Begikhani, Tahmima Anam, Robin Yassin-Khassab, Bee Rowlatt, Sherko Bekas, Soheil Najm and Sarkawt Rasul took part in the first ever Erbil Literature Festival in Iraq in early May.

Follow this link to the BC blog read more about what went in on Erbil and click here for a Telegraph article on the event by Bee Rowlatt.

The British Council, in partnership with various Iraqi institutions, held an international literature festival to promote the exchange of British and Iraqi writing, both Kurdish and Arabic which was chaired by Dr Fadhil Thamer, Dr. Himdad Abdulqahhar, Dr. Rachel Holmes. This three day event was designed to provide as many opportunities as possible for local audiences to experience the presentation of contemporary literature from Iraq, Iraqi-Kurdistan and the UK, while offering highly respected writers in the UK a chance to further their knowledge and experience of the Middle East literary world. Our hope was to emphasise the importance of a global community while building partnerships and cultural links that close the gaps between cultures.

The festival featured a mixture of high-profile public readings and performances, seminars and discussions with local literary partners, educational outreach events in universities and events in the community. Through these events a platform was provided for participating writers to share their creative work and expertise and to enter into discussion and debate with fellow authors and audiences. Our aim was to embed the event within the local literary scene to ensure relevance and interest and to establish partnerships and relations that will provide a sustainable legacy for cross-cultural literary activity.

The festival was initiated as a way to open up dialogue and promote the cultural relationship between Iraq and the UK, while answering the request of local organisations to reach new audiences within the region.

Click here for a BBC World Service Strand Radio Interview of Arab-Iraqi writer Inaam Kachachi and have a look here for some images of the event.


Dr Fadhil Thamer, Iraqi Arabic Chair
Dr. Himdad Abdulqahhar, Kurdish Chair
Dr. Rachel Holmes, UK Chair


Kurdistan Ministry of Culture & Youth KRG
Salahaddin University
National Library of Iraq
Writers Union of Kurdistan
Iraqi Writers Union


Ahmed Sidawi

Ahmad Saadawi was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1973 and is a novelist, poet, painter and journalist. He was a correspondent for the BBC for a number of years and currently supervises a television program on the U.S.-funded satellite channel, Al-Hurra. Saadawi has published four books of poetry and two novels and been featured in the Hay Festival’s anthology Beirut39.  His novel Beautiful Country won first place in a literary competition held in the UAE.

Inaam Kachachi

Born in Baghdad, Inaam Kachachi  writes for several Arabic newspapers and has previously published two non-fiction books in addition to her debut novel Sawaqi al-Quloob (Streams of Hearts, 2005). Her current novel The American Granddaughter was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2009. The novel depicts the American occupation of Iraq through the eyes of a young American-Iraqi woman, who returns to her country as an interpreter for the US Army. Inaam now lives in France.

Dr. Nazand Begikhani

Dr Begikhani is currently a senior research fellow at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Family Policy and Welfare and has extensive experience in research on gender and violence, focusing on the Middle East and Kurdish communities. She sat on the board of the High Commission to Monitor Violence against Women in Kurdistan Region and participated, as an expert witness and independent observer, in its seasonal meetings. As well as being the Editor in Chief of the Kurdish language edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, Nazand is also an internationally recognised poet.  Her poetry collections have been presented and published in Kurdish, Arabic, French and English.  Bells of Speech (2006) is her first collection in English. She has read her work on Radio 4 (Start the Week, Christmas Day 2006) and at the Houses of Parliament, May 2007. Dr Begikhani is currently leading the Gender and Violence Studies Centre at the University of Sulaimaniya,  a project funded by the British Council. 

Tahmima Anam

Tahmima Anam was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh and attended Mount Holyoke College and Harvard University, where she earned a PhD in Social Anthropology in 2005. Her first novel A Golden Age was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Costa First Novel Prize, and was the winner of the 2008 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book.  Her writing has been published in Granta, The New York Times, and the Guardian and her next novel The Good Muslim will be released by Harper Collins in August 2011. She lives in London.

Robin Yassin-Khassab

Robin Yassin-Kassab was born in Britain to a Syrian father and English mother. He graduated from Oxford University and travelled extensively, working as a journalist in Pakistan and teaching English in Oman. He is the author of The Road from Damascus (2008), published by Penguin, and editor and regular contributor to PULSE, listed by Le Monde Diplomatique as one of its five favourite websites. He currently lives in Scotland.

Bee Rowlatt

Bee Rowlatt is a BBC World Service journalist. She has four kids and lives in London. The book Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad was conceived as a way to get her Iraqi friend May Witwit out to safety. It has been translated into numerous languages, and is currently being dramatised for TV and radio.

Sherko Bekas

Sherko Bekas, the son of the great Kurdish poet Fayak Bekas, was born in Sulaimanya in Iraqi Kurdistan on May 2, 1940. He left his homeland because of political pressure from the Iraqi regime in 1986. From 1987 to 1992, he lived in exile in Sweden where he has made himself known throughout Europe. He has held numerous readings of his poems in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the United Kingdom, Russia, Italy-where he was named honorary citizen of Milan-, and in 1990 in the United States. In 1992, he returned to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Soheil Najm

Soheil Najm is an Iraqi poet and translator. Born in Baghdad1956, has published many books in poetry including (Breaking The Phrase-Beirut-1994, Your Carpenter O Light-Damascus-2002, No Paradise outside the Window –Baghdad -2008). Translated many books of poetry, novel and criticism from English into Arabic, among them, Ted Hughes, Kazantzakis, Saramago, Alasdair Gray, Hilis Miller and Edward Said. Also translated from Arabic into English three anthologies of Iraqi poetry published in Michigan, Austen and Baghdad.

Images of the Erbil Literature Festival (above left) © Rigel Klingman

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