The Nahrein Network


Transcript: A Conversation with Rozhen Mohammed-Amin

Building a heritage network in Iraqi Kurdistan - A conversation with Rozhen Kamal Mohammed-Amin


Mehiyar 0:00 Welcome to the Nahrein Network podcast series. We're here today with Dr. Rozhen Kamal Mohammed Amin. Dr. Rozhen is the founder and head of digital cultural heritage Research Group lecturer at the city planning and engineering department. Suleimani Polytechnic University. Hello, Dr. Rozhen. How are you? Good. How are you? It's good to see you again. You've been awarded a research grant funding the high network looking at cultural heritage in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Rozhen 0:30 Well, thank you very much for coming and for this interview, it has been actually a great pleasure for us to receive Nahrein Network as research grant for establishing cultural heritage network in Kurdistan region, and explore the challenges and opportunities of cultural heritage sector in the region. And it is for 12 month, but 12 month funded by network but then. It will be further sustained by the Suleimani Polytechnic University beyond that period. For the project, we are partnering like three main Polytechnic universities digital cultural heritage research group, partnering with University of Reading and University of Leicester and the project PI's are myself, and Dr. Alan Ali the president of Suleimani Polytechnic University and from UK partners are Professor Roger Matthews from University of Reading and Dr. Ruth Young, from University of Leicester. So the project mainly focuses on you know, it has different components of it, part of it is networking. You know, doing focus group data collections, and then another part is the, you know, the networking and the training, the training and capacity building part of it. So, for the data collection, it kind of involves both data collection through surveys and, you know, focus group with stakeholders, decision makers, and locals and stakeholders from cultural heritage sectors, and of course, in different levels, in different decision making them on site and from different cities in Kurdistan region. And also, it also involves visiting, you know, related direct trades and related department and things like that to collect other kinds of data that we will be developing through surveys and, you know, interviews. And then we also have a networking part in the educational activities that are conducted us public lectures and seminars by international experts that the internet, talk about best practices in cultural heritage management, museology practices, you know, writing on publications in, in a cultural heritage field. Yeah, and another part of it is also about training workshops, that are people coming to specifically trained, you know, targeted people, among the network members, because what we will do, actually the people, the stakeholders that we will be contacting, as part of the data collections and focus group, we will be, you know, encouraging them to join the network and, you know, develop that, you know, membership for people.

Mehiyar 3:10 And the purpose of the network is to build heritage capacity, across a number of different sectors and across different parts of society.

Rozhen 3:20 It's both research, networking, and then capacity building. It's actually three researching, networking and capacity building. So in terms of capacity building, aside from the one that you know, the people who are working on the project the entails, which are young graduates from local universities that we will be involved in, in a data collection, aside from other staffs of the digital cultural heritage research group. We will be also doing training for the people who are the main network members from the decision makers and, you know, stakeholders, like let's say that museum directors and think telling them about best practices in obtaining them on best practices in musicology, or how to write grants and different other activities that we have listed in the application.

Mehiyar 4:01 And it's the first such network that looks at all three provinces. So it's not just focused on one province in the KRI, but actually looks at all three provinces and actually tries to build that kind of connections and relationship between the different cultural heritage actors in these three provinces.

Rozhen 4:17 Absolutely. And in fact, our long term goal is actually to move beyond even you know, the theory, the three cities in Kurdistan Region and also involve our, you know, our colleagues and stakeholders in in the rest of Iraq, in Baghdad, and other than we already have good collaboration and coordination with with different people that so the goal is to put.

Mehiyar 4:37 Could you tell us a bit more about the activities in terms of you've mentioned speaking to students. Are you looking at perceptions about cultural heritage? And are there ways in which this could inform policy in Iraq?

Rozhen 4:54 The research component of the project is about you know, creating a baseline about the state of cultural heritage in Kurdistan.

Mehiyar 5:00 Point of reference?

Rozhen 5:00 Yes. So hopefully that will become like a point of reference for other researchers. So as part of that we will be, you know, collecting data at different levels. One of them is laws, policies and regulation, both regional and federal levels just to see what are the things like the laws and policies that are guiding cultural heritage and what I'm missing and mapping different laws and policies. And then also conducting surveys and collecting data and statistic about programs and curriculums in the universities when it comes to cultural heritage capacity building at university. So looking at the educational sectors in terms of its relationship to cultural heritage, and also statistics about cultural heritage sites and institutions, I mean, including local museum visitors, and you know, how many people visit museums and stuff how many have like the management of museums and cultural heritage units. We already, you know, I know some of the other research projects have already established database for the sites. So we hope to build on those things, making it as a research. So how many, you know how many sites have been documented how many sites have not been documented, how many site have been surveys, how many sites we have, that are considered archaeological sites, doing those kinds of data collection and other analyzing of those existing ones? But I mean, making all of those collection as one, you know, big thing as part of our research part, so looking at different levels of data and different data on cultural heritage, and that's why I said, we are exploring the challenges and opportunities of cultural heritage sector.

Mehiyar 6:33 Could you tell us a bit more about the digital cultural heritage research group?

Rozhen 6:38 The digital cultural heritage research group is a research that I found it and I had. The goal of the research group is actually to, to encourage and also advanced interdisciplinary cultural heritage research in Kurdistan region and Iraq, as part of its short and long term goals. And the goal is to also introduce you know, explore with us explore the role of technology in cultural research, because they are being increasingly relationship between them is growing very fast, in terms of like, you know, so for example, when it comes to documentation, or management, or even presentation or promotion of cultural heritage, digital technology is proving an effective medium to conduct those. And that's why we have it as a digital cultural heritage research group. We have very good collaboration. We already helped the local museum of Sulaimani museum with acquiring a fund from the US Embassy for bringing our backing. It's through history gallery, museum, that we are hoping to introduce some new music museology practices, advanced way of interpretation. And actually, this is as part of my visiting scholarship by Nahrein network and the BISI is actually to even develop a prototype for Suleimani museum when it comes to digital interpretation. And using the power of storytelling for emotional engagement on the visitors with collections and other digital cultural heritage research group. And as part of this new knowledge funded project. This is an initiation that I have been thinking and planning for actually to introduce an initiation called Pay it forward. And in Kurdish, we call it B Ghana. And this is something that is inspired by an old movie, a Hollywood movie, this is a very interesting movie that it really touched me in the past and also an observation from a friend about when, when when I used to, you know, help my colleagues and my, my my classmates with you know, tutoring them, but then how sometime I would have gone into an efficiency because I kept repeating, just helping this excessively without actually thinking about the power of asking other people who I helped to help. So basically help. So basically, if I learned something I shared with other one. So this initiation is actually as part of a will be something as part of the the social responsibility of the research group is something that we hope to pass, anything, any training we do, for those people who we have, you know, we encourage this idea of sharing knowledge, among others is just through passes to increase the size of the impact of the training that we have, so that it doesn't stay in one place or among a few group of people, but also spreading it because our goal is actually to create opportunities, especially for young people. And this is something in my visiting here about I have to realize, you know, by involving creative industry, using technology was a training as part of you know, applying it for cultural narratives. There are also great social benefit and also actual economic benefit for their own that they can actually start their own startups and do their own businesses.

Mehiyar 9:43 And of course, that can contribute to local economy tourism.

Rozhen 9:47 Absolutely. And improving services. And of course, this is part of the engagement with cultural heritage. So you make actually the people take care for you know, one of the best way for preserving cultural heritage is to make it relevant for people and this is something even research shows. So if people first of all, they enjoy it, they engage with it and through it, they find economic opportunities, then they tend to be more protected for their cultural heritage. And that's why it's important to actually involve people in preserving cultural, local cultural heritage with interpreting it with marketing without ever researching it at every level. Because, you know, first of all, you create training opportunities, then also economic opportunities, especially with Creative Industries, you know, with with technology, you can do a lot by connecting the two.

Mehiyar 10:35 And there's much to be done, given the state of Iraq today in terms of cultural destruction in terms of cultural contiguity. Where do you see yourself in terms of the overall development of this area?

Rozhen 10:49 You see this as a this is an area that has not been tapped, I would say untouched, and yet there, it has a lot of potential. It's like, it's something it's like, a treasure actually sitting somewhere that no one is exploring. You know, Kurdistan region, and Iraq has a lot of history and heritage, important history, heritage, not only for of local importance, but also globally. So then there are massive opportunities with bring with, you know, using these assets towards both engagement, edutainment and also economic opportunity. So what's happening right now is we have a young generation that are more resourceful, that are have, you know, more IT skills, these are all for the benefit of the thing that I'm hoping to push forward to push more through these research projects. But then it's the application of these things that is missing the link, okay, you have these skills, but then how can you use it, but then if through these research projects, and also these other training and projects that we do in the digital cultural heritage research group. We push them to use those skills in cultural heritage sector. Then in doing that, first of all, you create, you know, different project where, you know, people instead of going to malls, they go to museums as a way of, you know, engagement and enjoying things. And, and as a secondary, so you create, okay, people will enjoy and goes to visit different places and engage with cultural heritage, because it's, you know, it becomes entertainment. Because you see, one of the challenges we have in local museums and cultural heritage sites in general. They offer minimal interpretation of storytelling, and any any program for engagement. So they are basically like, the very old museum style of store houses for artifacts. Yet, if you look at museum today, they are actually places for learning environment for engaging and there are different programs for bringing in pupil, we have all those missing in local museums. But then if we chain them, through the research project came then you know, museum directors, and you know, the decision makers or even the stakeholders on how to use museums as a way for protecting cultural heritage as an institution or protecting them and holding them in my you know, stores or displays, but also as a way for engaging people through different stories, different events, then we have created this link between the population and a cultural heritage institutions. And then we create the job opportunity.

Mehiyar 13:14 And that's key to obviously, sustainability of cultural heritage.

Rozhen 13:18 Absolutly that we see, when it comes to sustainable liberty and cultural heritage, it's really important to empower and enable locals. And this is what we are hoping to push for. And in fact, and that's why I'm really focused on the young, you know, on the research, the other partners. We are all like in the project we are focused on young people, is just because, you know, we see potentials, but then they need a connection link and a way of being empowered. And we think that with research and the training that we offer, it will enable them to better, you know, engage, in particular, of course, that the outcome will be used by everyone, not just young people that I mean, in terms of building capacities and sustainability.

Mehiyar 13:59 Could you tell us a bit more about your local team in Iraq, you said, you're working with PI is Dr. Saad Eskendar? Yes. So he's the former head of the National Archives in Baghdad, and who else is involved in this project in Iraq.

Rozhen 14:14 In terms of the project management, like I said, my doctor side and myself and Dr. Alan, but then aside from that we have so the digital cultural heritage research group already has its own staff, and these are young people who graduated from different departments actually managed Polytechnic University. Then we also employ for this project three interns, who are graduates of City Planning Department who don't have a job. I mean, this is and this is part of the goal of the project also to employ some young people. But also we are also recruiting volunteers who are helped who will be helping besides the intern. So we'll have the interns, the research staff, and also other faculty members and volunteers, who will be involved with, with the management and with the execution of the different phases on the project. And like I said, not only just for the project as funded by Nahrein, but also other projects from the digital cultural heritage research group, like I said, the goal is and then and that's why I said I like the plan is to try with this initiation of paid forward as these are the people who we will be investing time training them working with them intensely. It is too hopefully have them you know, as you know, as the the people who will be also helping with spreading knowledge and also passing ...

Mehiyar 15:35 towards the long term. Yes. So this is obviously an international project, research collaboration between readin University and Leicester University. And of course, Suleimani polytechnic university, could you tell us about ways in which you will be working together with these two universities in the UK.

Rozhen 15:52 We already fortunately, we already have previous collaboration and communications of a positive one. So with Professor Roger Matthews, you know, he's also the head of Rashid NGO based in Germany. It's for research and assessment, safeguarding your agricultural heritage. And I'm also a board member of that. So we have that communication, we also have had some other communication through and collaboration through other projects for Cemani Museum and other project they are involved with. And then with University of Leicester, Dr. Ruth young, we already have, you know, we had PVS obligation and didn't succeed for cultural protection popped up. My university has had some other collaboration with them, the goal is actually we will be having, you know, regular meetings, and as well as you know, in person visits for during the different phases of the research project, which is, you know, guiding the, you know, designing the data collection, you know, the methodology or the data collection thing, and also for the training, some of the training will be carried out by them, you know, based on their field of expertise, and, of course, other experts, and also giving the lectures and those kind of...

Mehiyar 17:03 This is an open project. So anyone in Iraq could could join could participate in your activities? And how will you raise awareness of your project? Will you be creating a website? Will you be using social media, how you get the message across?

Rozhen 17:19 Yeah, actually, we are planning and we already started planning for where we start, we will have our, you know, the website of the project will be hosted at Suleimani, Polytechnic University's website, and then we will have social media and we won't be actively actually, you know, approaching having a, you know, approaching local media and international laws to detail about the project, and also encourage other people to join the membership. And that's at least for the networking event. For the focus group, we will be actually targeting, you know. We will have, you know, like I said, because this is a networking plus data collection, so, for the data collection to be made to be able to manage the focus group, we will be targeting, you know, the people who we think would be able to answer the question or give us data, for the training. We will be targeting as a prior prioritizing. Basically, that's what I'm trying to say, the people who we think would be able to help, but then as our long term thing, we will be recording those assets and those, you know, changing materials and things for others to look up on our website. In fact, we are planning to even open up a key the database for cultural heritage events and cultural heritage resources on our website. This is something and a new addition, that we hope to add to the project. So, basically, we hope to make our website or project website as a as a as a hub is a place where you were to go for culture, any cultural heritage. In fact, for even sometimes even simple events, you know, you have all ideas about it on TV or something aftermath, but we have to make those you know, make those available for people if they want to see events, aside from our events, even you know, promoting other cultural heritage events in the city or even around you have to first so that people see and also creating a database for cultural heritage funds. Or even, you know, public you know, things you know, guiding people for where to find resources and things like that. So, as something as a as a source of information. One of the interesting trends that's emerging nowadays in general in many domains is participation, you know. we have in planning something called participatory planning and in cultural heritage or other thing called crowdsourcing and things like that. For you know, not only collecting data, but also generating content for cultural heritage interpretation and things like that. And why this is happening is because, as you know, we are moving forward age of, you know, social media and people like the democratization of information, nothing like that people like to have something in its instant distinct, then they become involved with it. So the idea of having a network where we bring people in is makes the research will help the research component of the of the project a lot. Why because, you know, for research, you need data; you need information; you need different insight, different things and to collect and analyze. The fact that we are bringing in creating a network is really helping the research aspect of it is just, you know, making data collection easier, more accessible. You have more data to collect, and more people who are willing committing to give you data and information. And then the research part is feeding back to the network. How? You know, through the research, we are bringing more people; we are hearing their voices. They bring their voice to the research to the project, or again, through this wiki network. So we think that this the two works together very well, because then it helps both short term and long term goals of, you know, data collection during conducting research and systematic research for the state of cultural heritage, as well as establishing connection that that's really needed for cultural heritage sector. In fact, even many sectors, but I mean, because it's the connection is key, that's what we hope to do to create them also maintain a long term is to, to the success of any, whether the research or the development.

Mehiyar 18:56 Do you think the synergy between research and development could have real policy implications, both in Iraq, but also for international donors?

Rozhen 21:26 We hope that that will become something that they will actually look for, as as a requirement in the future. Why? Because this is something you know, if if the culture or if a country has their own context. So you know, in Kurdistan region, and in Iraq, we you see, we do have a lot of good projects with people who are willing to do things, but they it's very fragmented, things are very fragmented. And that's why, you know, it's hard to find a systematic way of doing things and because it's just like, everything is fragmented. I think if donors really next time, or even next one, look for things that are encouraging more collaboration, you know, bringing more people together. It's really key for long term successful project. So we hope that will become a model for others to, you know, to take into account, you know, to learn that. In fact, we will be documenting our, our, our successes and failures as part of the managing of the project, and the thing that we experienced was bringing people. So it's not just that he says that we do on Cultural Heritage, but also we do our research on ourselves. That's what we hope to document how things go, let's say, what are the challenges of bringing people from different sectors, because especially that we really emphasize the interdisciplinary and more like, you know, bringing people from different sectors and different backgrounds to this. So what are the challenges in that we might run into in this context, and we would like to share our practice and our experience with others. And then we'll be documenting on the website as part of the deliverable of the project. So I mean, hopefully this will help others when they've come to designing a program or even donor state aid from and about things that work and not working in terms of making those as criteria for,

Mehiyar 23:12 For donors to understand that there are strategic interventions in a critical time, like the one that we have in Iraq, that projects like this could help in the context of fragmentation that you've just mentioned, is actually a project that is locally driven, locally designed with international collaboration. It's not an international project with, with with local partners section driven by local demand local requests for support.

Rozhen 23:39 And local engagement, you see, because if you don't have a, the thing is, I think often happen with when you are, when you don't think about the sustainable component of the project. And this is something many funders nowadays asked about the sustainability project. If it is just some sort of project that's coming somewhere without actual local local engagement, or local one who take care of this, then once the fund is finished, then this project collapse, because there are no one who takes care of it or move it forward. This is something that in our design of the project. We have been strategically thinking about and trying to, you know, to, to think about the long term or the project because the project and this is something thank for Nahrein network comes like a fund can be a very critical time for us as we were in our planning the activities of digital cultural heritage Research Group, which is a new group in itself. So this is like, you know, helping us with would help us with planning our activities that we do, at least to start with and then planning the long term one. And then for policies actually, we hope to some of the research that we do in terms of mapping the policies. I think we hope actually to help with at least writing some drafts for to submit to Parliament. You know as as as I think they consider it or not, we hope to push to push it enough and with the data you know. This would be a informed, you know, insightful, observing, you know, based on evidence based on based on what we think. So we hope that actually will push some legislation as well. I started with submit the draft to, you know, the people, members of parliament, hopefully they push because, you know, in Iraq, and Kurdistan region, the cultural heritage laws are, you know,

Mehiyar 25:24 outdated

Rozhen 25:24 outdated and not keeping up with, with the requirements and needs of the people.

Mehiyar 25:30 And where do you see your project moving after? Yeah, where do you see this sort of evolving unfolding over the long term? And how do you best see the use of resources after this project has ended? Obviously, you could apply for even more international funding. But if there are ways in which local society and obviously you're trying to strengthen civil society, so if you can speak about the future a bit beyond this project?

Rozhen 25:54 So what happened is, after establishing the network, which is like, we hope, at some point even to register it, so it becomes an entity in itself as, like, as an NGO. We considered that we discussed that the possibility of registering it as a as a NGO,

Mehiyar 26:12 network

Rozhen 26:12 As a local network, and that's even possible with we do have in Department of NGO that you know. You register that thing. And so then, but it will be hosted at the Suliemani Polytechnic University. So what will happen actually, and like I said, that's why I said, this project is really timely for us. So in slavery Polytechnic University in a research center that I used to coordinate, but now I'm just focusing on the digital cultural heritage research group. We established we introduced something where we had, like, every two week we had a workshop or a training thing. So we already started that, as part of our the university kept, you know, funding the, you know, the, the beverages and stuff, we know, for the people, the guests coming. So, I mean, we already have that infrastructure. So, what happened this fund has been helped will be helping us with, you know, bringing international experts on think for this, and also some, you know, enable it. So, we hope that this through the span, we will train some capacity, so that, after that we can use them for you know, giving more workshops and giving lectures. And of course, we will, as a university, we even start with something that we do remote lecturing will be more chaining thing. So, we could, we will be able to continue with those training path. And then for the network, I said, we are hoping to even register it so that we will hope to not only actually keep those people who have been working as part of the project for the one year, but also, you know, extending beyond that, because we have aside from the project, we have a digital cultural heritage research group that's already doing those things.

Mehiyar 27:50 So it's already building on existing work and infrastructure.

Rozhen 27:53 And even plans, that's the thing. So because then this because then you will be able to, to use the people who we train them to also chain other people and do you know travel to other cities and things, whether that ends part of that will be maybe funded through other funds that we will be definitely applying for, and also others from our own university that already started this process of training and thing and we have like I said, we help also to expand and through the network and connection even more interesting opportunities arise from different collaboration and different things. But like I said, the goal is to bring people together, connect people together, and then we are all systematically looking into things and we hope that within that network. We will have different groups now what I mean, so let's say we will have when we become more specialized. We will have people who are more eager about conservation, when people about digitization or you know different things so that more people can you know, so that even with this network. We have more specialized people who you can, you know, use them for targeted training or you know, targeted three special thing, you know, so we could add on one of the other things, by the way, I forgot to mention about that. And this is something this is one of the plan of the research group, digital cultural heritage research groups actually, to encourage international scholars and you know, partners to use our resources, I think it's actually to to facilitate data collection for them. So let's say if you are a faculty member in a UK university, and you want to conduct research related to cultural Virginia. So we won't be actually willing, as part of our training capacity building, we will be having people who are able to collect data for you, and that's why because they are trying to support your research through data collection. So instead of hiring people paying in interns, they could pay the interns you know, there are people who will be doing you know, a small amount or not at all that we can use their time towards, towards, you know, using the you know, helping this scholar with his or her research on cultural heritage in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq with data collection. So you know they need so some of our support we have so we will be also offering support for the international scholars in cultural data. Not only in terms of venues and events facilitation and workshop, but also in terms of data collections and access to resource and connection to local partners.

Mehiyar 30:21 On that note, thank you very much Dr. Rozhen best of luck with this project. And if someone wants to visit or learn more about this project, how can they do that?

Rozhen 30:31 Once we will, like I said, we will have we will be putting contact information for the project on the website and also on our social media channels and other posts. Mehiyar 30:40 On the Nahrein network, we will also be posting more information about this project.

Rozhen 30:45 And we can take this opportunity to design Nahrein network and it's great team for the excellent support that they have been providing for us throughout the you know, the preparation phases for the project and also my scholarship visiting scholarship here. The network is truly an enabler and we hope that as part of what we said, pay it forward that we hope to pay forward what we have the knowledge and the experience and support that has been shared with us that we hope to pass to other scholars and other initiations back home.

Mehiyar 31:20 Thank you very much.

Rozhen 31:22 Thank you for you