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Report: Launching of Centre for Iranian Studies at SOAS, London

By Syma Sayyah

Last weekend, we were delighted to be present at the one day festivities and truly cultural events at the School of Oriental & Asian Studies London Middle Eastern Institute, where the long desired and needed Centre for Iranian Studies was being launched at SOAS, which is one of Europe's most distinguished places of study.  This centre is headed by Professor Annabelle Sreberny and is intends to "draw on a wide range of academic research and teaching relating  to Iran across the discipline of SOAS, including languages, politics, study of Religion, History, Economics, Politics, Music, Art and Media and Film Studies".  The centre says that they will organize lectures, seminars and conferences and hold regular films and other events.  It is dedicated to promoting high quality research work on Iran and will work with other such centres in UK, in Iran and elsewhere.  It aims to build cordial relations with the various diasporic communities in London and to showcase and foster the best of contemporary Iranian talent in arts, music, digital culture and film.

It was so wonderful to be there and indeed there were many events taking places at the same time.  The film program started off with two films by major Iranian documentary film makers, Final cut by Reza Haeri and Its always Late for Freedom by Mehrdad Oskouei.  At the same time the program at the Brunei gallery lecture theatre, which was the venue for the other main cultural events got under way with an introduction by Haleh Anvari, the photographer and organiser of which had set up a special show of photographs by many Iranian photographers especially for this event.  The program continued with a lecture by Mr. Hassan Hakimian on sanctions and whether they will work or not.

This was followed by a panel of several members of different Iranian Communities and associations, including Shahla Taheri-White from Rustam School, Babak Emamian from BIBA,  Faramarz Radfar of Farsophone Association, and others,  to introduce themselves and for someone like me who is new to living here it was very interesting and informative. Some of these associations have been around for many years and some are not that old, but they all seem to be doing a lot of good work and helping the Iranian communities in UK, but their work is mostly in London.   There was then a very interesting debate on the possibility of war with Iran-god forbid!- with speakers Dan Plesch and Arshin Adib-Moghaddam.

The highlight of the day for me was a lecture on the Golha project by Jane Lewisohn who has for many years devoted her time and work to collect and archive all the music, lyrics, poems and sounds related to it.  When I was a child I used to listen to many of the Golha programs on Radio Iran after the 2 o'clock news program, which were broadcast from 1956 to 1979.   Golha introduced me to good and wonderful Persian music and poetry and the quality and love that was in those half an hour of joy, always to this day has given me so much pleasure that strikes right through my heart and reaches so deep parts of my being Iranian and the love that I have and hold for that khak.  This project is in part supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation but a lot more needs to be done and contributions are needed to finish this most wonderful project.  This is a superb project on its own and without any sentimentality, it is unique in a sense that for example, you can find all the poems by Attar as poet sung by Mr Banann in a particular dastgah.  You may enjoy this great, but not yet finished achievement here or if you wish to find out more about it, please  read this article by Ms Lewisohn.

Golha project presentation by Jane Lewisohn

While I was in the lecture theatre I missed the preview of a most interesting new documentary film Round Trip by Golkou Parhizgar.   I met her later and found her very real, thoughtful and fun at the same time.  Her film will be premiered at Leeds Film Festival next month, to which we hope to attend.  

Everybody that I met or heard was most impressed with this outstanding film, which was about her return to Iran after eleven years of living in the UK, and her personal search for her place back in Tehran, at the same time as so many of her generation - the floating generation - are seeking a way out in search of freedom.  I hope I get to see it soon myself too.

Golkou Parhizgar

The film The Tale of Two Soldiers was also shown.  Directed by Jiyar Gol, it told the story of two former POW's, one Iraqi and one Iranian, who met up in a rehabilitation centre in Vancouver but then realized that the course of their lives had crossed before.  

All during the day, there were several book stands to offer many different books to visitors. There we met Masih Alinejad who had brought out her latest book 'Green Date' about her experiences last year during the election.

Masih Alinejad

There was a reception between the day and evening programs, before we went in for the evening program, with a delay.  After stand up comedy by Peyvand Khorsandi, we enjoyed a mixture of old and new music with the lovely voices of Sahra and the Parvaz Ensemble and finally the rock band Radio Tehran which sent all the young ones in the audience on their feet as they were simply unable to hold back on their need to move and enjoy themselves!

All I can say that it was wonderful to be there and we meet many friends we had not seen for a long time and of course many faces from our life in Tehran and we hope that this centre will become a pivot to bring all good Iranian things together.

Jaye shoma khali (we missed you)!

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