‘Erasures in Iraq’ Online Workshop Round-Up

Tuesday 7 May 2024

This blogpost was written by Sarah Edgcumbe, a PhD Candidate within the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews affiliated with MECACS and the Centre for Minorities Research (CMR). Connect with her on social media on X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn, or reach out via email ([email protected]).

On the 15th April 2024, the Institute for Middle East, Central Asia, and Caucasus Studies (MECACS) co-hosted the online Erasures in Iraq workshop with the Centre for Minorities Research. The event was led by Sarah Edgcumbe, a PhD Candidate with the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews, and brought together a diverse range of scholars, researchers, and practitioners. 

Certain minorities and minority-related issues in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) remain consistently overlooked and/or under-researched, despite the vast amount of scholarly and media attention Iraq and the KRI have received over the past three decades. The goal of this workshop was therefore to provide a platform through which to highlight these minorities and issues, in the hope of fostering ongoing conversations amongst scholars, researchers, journalists, and practitioners. 

Ten papers were presented throughout the day via three panels focusing on: 

  1. Political-legal issues affecting minorities in Iraq and the KRI
  2. Gypsies and Domari (Roma) in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq
  3. Ethno-Religious Minorities in Iraq and the KRI

Dr Elizabeth Monier, Assistant Professor in Modern Arabic Studies at the Department of Middle East Studies at the University of Cambridge was the discussant for the first panel. 

The first paper of this panel was presented by Shivan Fazil from the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani. Shivan presented a paper on ‘The prevalence and impact of misconceptions and stereotyping of ethnoreligious minorities’, highlighting how minorities have often found themselves caught between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi Federal Government (IFG), and frequently experience disproportionate discrimination, structural violence, and marginalisation as a result.

The second paper was co-authored by Dr Muhammad al-Sahar from Thi Qar University in Iraq, and Dr Hamied al-Hashimi of International Colleges for Islamic Science, and a Visting Professor at al-Qadisiya University in Iraq. This paper, ‘The Silent Erasure: Synergy of Climate Change and Politics in the Displacement of Sabean-Mandaean of Southern Iraq’, explained how climate change, escalation of armed tribal conflicts, and failure of the state to extend equal benefits of citizenship have resulted in many Sabean-Mandeans migrating, despite their centuries-long presence in southern Iraq. 

The third speaker on this panel was Dr Maddalena Cogorno, an international legal consultant and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Florence. Dr Cogorno raised awareness of the legal constraints and complexities associated with prosecuting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for the genocide committed against the Yezidi minority. Dr Cogorno’s paper was titled, ‘Checkmate to justice! The deadlock to the prosecution of the genocide of the Yazidis.’ A blog piece by Dr Cogorno summarising her presentation can be found here.

Dr Stavroula Pipyrou, Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews, and Founder of the Centre for Minorities Research provided discussion for the second panel which focused on Gypsies and Domari in Iraq and the KRI. 

The first speaker of this panel was Dr Mohammed al-Sarraji, who is affiliated with the University of Baghdad whilst also pursuing a second doctorate at the University of Granada. Dr al-Sarraji’s paper ‘Social Acceptance Attitudes of Kurdish People Towards the Gypsy “Qarach”’ presented qualitative research into the social attitudes of residents of Dohuk towards Gypsies.

The second paper of this panel was titled, ‘Structural Violence as an Obstacle to Peace for Gypsies in Iraq and the KRI’, and was presented by Sarah Edgcumbe. Sarah presented indicators for peace identified by the Hosta community in the KRI, comparing them to the discrimination and structural violence currently experienced by Hosta in the KRI and Gypsies in Mosul.

The final paper of this panel was presented by Asli Saban, a social worker based in Turkey, who is affiliated with Baskent University, and is also a Visiting Fellow at the Lebanese American University. In her paper, ‘Another Human Trafficking Profile: Doms in Iraq’, Asli examined human trafficking in Iraq, paying particular attention to the conditions of structural violence which make Dom uniquely vulnerable to trafficking.

Dr Fiona McCallum Guiney was the discussant for the third and final panel of the event. Dr McCallum Guiney is a Senior Lecturer and Deputy Head of the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews, as well as Director of MECACS. The third panel focused on ethno-religious minorities in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and hosted four speakers.

The first speaker was Dr Bahar Baser from Durham University, who presented a paper co-authored with Dr Duygu Atlas titled, ‘Transnational Memory and Heritage: Intergenerational Narratives of Kurdistani Jews in Israel.’ Dr Baser presented information on Kurdistani Jewish migration to Israel before exploring Kurdistani Jewish discourses on identity, and relationships with both Israel and Iraqi Kurdistan. 

The second paper of this panel, titled ‘There’s no place like home? Identities of displaced minority Christians in Iraq, seeking international refuge or facing roadblocks to return’, was presented by Dr Ken Mavor, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews. Dr Mavor discussed the degree of social cohesion between Christian IDPs who fled ISIS and host communities in Iraq and the KRI, whilst also analysing the correlation between length of displacement and desire of Christian IDPs to either return to their place of origin, or integrate into their host communities.

The third paper of this panel was presented by Muhtadi Al-Abaydh, an Iraqi PhD Candidate at Universiti Sains Malaysia. Muhtadi’s paper, titled, ‘Kakaism Between its Mesopotamian Origins and Islamization, an Existential Conflict’, presented the ongoing academic debate concerning the origins of the Kaka’i faith, and the implications of this in terms of acceptance in Iraqi society. He also provided a brief overview of Kaka’i religious beliefs and practices, alongside insight into how these are perceived in Iraq. A blog post summarising Muhtadi’s presentation can be found here.

The final paper of the day on ‘the Institutional Role in Constructing Social Identity of the Armenians of Iraq’ was presented by Dr Hamied al-Hashimi. Dr Hashimi examined how Armenian churches, private schools, sports clubs, and other social and cultural organisations play a significant role in maintaining the Armenian identity as distinct to other Iraqi identity groups. However, as Dr Hashimi pointed out, Iraq’s Armenian population perceives itself to be Iraqi Armenian, with Armenian institutions connecting Iraqi Armenians to Iraq as homeland. 

Throughout the day, Saba Azeem, a Pakistani national based in the Netherlands, acted as event moderator. Saba is affiliated with Pax for Peace, leading their Human Security Survey in Iraq. Saba contributed to the event through provision of insight into contemporary Iraqi history and the relationship between minorities in general and the Iraqi state. She also provided several points for attendees to reflect upon in terms of who is invited to speak about Iraq at the majority of events outside of the country. 

The event was well-attended throughout the day by an engaged audience, while the online nature of the workshop enabled a diverse range of researchers, scholars, and practitioners to both participate and join as audience. The objective of the event was to raise awareness of the minorities and minority-related issues discussed throughout. As such, it is our hope that the ‘Erasures in Iraq’ workshop will foster increased attention in terms of future research, as well as increased understanding for policy makers, and humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding professionals, thereby contributing towards addressing the marginalisation that many of these under-researched minorities experience.

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