Syria Speaks

Letter by PEN Pinter Prize 2014 Winner, Mazen Darwish, smuggled out of Damascus Prison

Detained Syrian journalist, lawyer and human rights activist Mazen Darwish has won the PEN Pinter Award 2014 with Salman Rushdie. To acknowledge his award, and in solidarity, here is his extract from Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline. ___   Letter for the Future Mazen Darwish From Baghdad to Budapest, from Beirut to Prague and from Vietnam to the two Koreas, I have learned that there is nothing good in war except its end. From the victims of wars, of racial discrimination in South Africa, Rwanda and Bosnia, of tyranny in our Arab world and of Franco, Pinochet and the Greek colonels, I have learned that the road to democracy is as far from the path of extremism and terrorism as it is from dictatorships and tyranny. Perhaps the situation in Syria has become worse than our most horrible nightmares – but does this mean we must relinquish the right to change our reality, to let go of our legitimate aspirations to freedom, dignity and citizenship or our duty to reduce inequality and instil more justice for our societies – simply because these slogans have been used and abused as ideologies by totalitarian authoritarian regimes and at the same time by violent takfiri movements? Must we really repeat our experiences in the Arab world every time tyranny intertwines with corruption? The combination only begets extremism, violence and terrorism. Yes, we want freedom, dignity and justice, and yes, we deserve it, but surely ‘freedom’ does not mean the freedom to die under torture or to be slaughtered, to be killed by a shell from a fighter jet or by a car bomb. It means freedom to lead a life based on sharing, on the values of universal human rights … to lead an ethical life that is not more ‘owned’ by one group while others are left out. There are too many people whom I wish I had enough time and space to address by name, and they are grander than words can describe. I especially want to mention those colleagues who worked with me every step of the way, and went with me to detention. I’d also like

to mention those who, blessedly, survived arrest. I want to tell all of you that I am honoured to have worked with you, and to have touched your dreams and sorrows. To my friends, who amazed me every time with their loyalty and their ability to hold on to what we believe in: do not lose your faith, even when those who do not have bricks to build the homeland would throw stones at you, as if they committed no sins themselves. To my wonderful family: thank you for your patience, love and support all through these hard years. Nothing has any meaning without your presence. To the security personnel who carried out the responsibility of disciplining me for ten months, and especially to those who disciplined me in the first days of Eid al-Adha: I feel sorry for all of us. I wish happy lives for your children, with no fear and no torture, with festivals full of joy and love to be shared with my own two children, Inana and Adad. In the swirl of crazy violence, I lost so many beloved ones. They were killed, detained, wounded, kidnapped or made homeless. Among them are my colleague Dr Ayham Ghazoul, my friend Hassan Ahmad Azhary, my cousin First Lieutenant Ali Darwish, my brother Sami Akel and my friend Khalil Matouek. To them, and to their families, I bow. I strangle my tears because they are less than your sorrows. I lift up my voice, however, so we can all go out into the sun, hand in hand, and chant again: One, one, one! The Syrian nation is one. Syrian blood is one. The Syrian future is one. After his arrest on 16 February 2012 by officers believed to be from the intelligence branch of the Syrian Air Force, Mazen Darwish disappeared with no news or official statements as to his status. Darwish’s acceptance letter was read aloud by Prof. Dr Manfred Nowak of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute on the occasion of the awards ceremony for the fifteenth Bruno Kreisky Prize for Services to Human Rights on 10 June 2013 in Vienna, Austria.

Syrian activist Mazen Darwish shares PEN Pinter Award with Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie has chosen Syrian journalist, lawyer and human rights defender Mazen Darwish to share the PEN Pinter Prize 2014. Rushdie made the announcement at a public event at the British Library on Thursday 9 October.

Zaher Omareen, co-editor of Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, formally accepted the prize on behalf of Darwish, who is currently imprisoned for charges of ‘publicising terrorist acts’ under Syria’s Anti-Terrorism Law.

The PEN Pinter Prize was established in 2009 in memory of the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter. The prize is awarded annually to a British writer or a writer resident in Britain of outstanding literary merit, who, in the opinion of the judges, exemplifies the spirit of Harold Pinter through his or her engagement with the times. The British winner shares the prize with an international writer who is active in defence of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety.

Rushdie was named as recipient of the PEN Pinter Prize in June this year. He chose Mazen Darwish to share the prize from a shortlist drawn up by the English PEN Writers at Risk programme.

Salman Rushdie said:

‘Mazen Darwish courageously fought for civilised values – free expression, human rights – in one of the most dangerous places in the world. His continued detention is arbitrary and unjust. He should be freed immediately, and we must hope this award may help, by shining a light on his plight.’

You can read a letter by Mazen Darwish smuggled out of Damascus Central Prison in Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline.

Dean Atta front cover jpeg

Dean Atta’s ‘I Am Nobody’s Nigger’ Shortlisted for the Polari Best First Book Prize!

Dean Atta’s powerful debut poetry collection, I Am Nobody’s Nigger, has been shortlisted for the Polari Best First Book Prize. The prize is for a first book that explores the LGBT experience and is open to any work of poetry, prose, fiction or non-fiction published in the UK in English. Exploring race, identity and sexuality, I Am Nobody’s Nigger is the powerful debut collection by one of the UK’s finest emerging poets. Dean Atta has been commissioned to write poems for the Damilola Taylor Trust, Keats House Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern. He won the 2012 London Poetry Award and was named as one of the most influential LGBT people by the Independent on Sunday Pink List in 2012. The other shortlisted titles are: Petite Mort by Beatrice

Hitchman (Serpent’s Tail), Fairytales for Lost Children by Diriye Osman (Team Angelica), God’s Other Children – A London Memoir by Vernal W. Scott (self-published), and The Rubbish Lesbian by Sarah Westwood (Mimwood Press). The winner will be announced at the Polari Literary Salon on 8 October in the Purcell Room at the London Literature Festival. www.deanatta.co.uk @DeanAtta

I Am Nobody's Nigger

Dean Atta’s ‘I Am Nobody’s Nigger’ Longlisted for the Polari Best First Book Prize

Dean Atta’s powerful debut poetry collection, I Am Nobody’s Nigger, has been longlisted for the Polari Best First Book Prize. The prize is for a first book that explores the LGBT experience and is open to any work of poetry, prose, fiction or non-fiction published in the UK in English within the twelve months of the deadline for submissions. This year, for the first time, the shortlisted books will be displayed at major WHSmith Travel outlets across the UK. Dean Atta is a writer and performance poet. He has been commissioned to write poems for the Damilola Taylor Trust, Keats House Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern. Atta won the 2012 London Poetry Award and was named as one of the most influential LGBT people by the Independent on Sunday Pink List

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in 2012. An ambassador for the Spirit of London Awards, he lives in London and teaches writing workshops across the UK. The shortlist of five books will be announced at the Polari Literary Salon on 8 September and the winner on 8 October at the London Literature Festival. www.deanatta.co.uk @DeanAtta

Enemy on the Euphrates

Enemy on the Euphrates OUT NOW

‘Ian Rutledge’s brilliant book reveals the folly and delusion of invading Iraq … Read it and shudder.’ Nicholas Rankin

In this centenary year, we are delighted to be publishing a military history book with a difference! Enemy on the Euphrates: The British Occupation of Iraq and the Great Arab Revolt, 1914–1921 is the definitive history of the first British occupation of Iraq during the First World War and the revolt against it in 1920 – the most serious armed uprising against British rule in the twentieth century. This lively and accessible account details the events leading up to the Iraqi ‘revolution’ of 1920, and how it came periously close to inflicting shattering defeat upon the

British Empire. Drawing on British and Arab archives, Ian Rutledge brings key decision makers such as Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell and Sir Mark Sykes, vividly to life, and provides evidence to show that oil was central to Britain’s Middle East policy during this period. Enemy on the Euphrates: The British Occupation of Iraq and the Great Arab Revolt, 1914–1921 is NOW AVAILABLE from all good bookshops and online. To read a sample chapter, click here.  

Syria Speaks

Syrian Writers and Artists to Tour

Leading Syrian artists will tour Britain in June to launch Syria Speaks, an anthology of art and culture from the Syrian frontline.

The line-up will include award-winning Damascus-based novelist Khaled Khalifa, cinematographer and video artist Khalil Younes, writer and film maker Zaher Omareen, and authors Malu Halasa and Robin Yassin-Kassab.

The evenings of readings, music and film begin at Rich Mix in London, then tour to Bristol, Oxford, Liverpool, Bradford and Durham. The artists will also run workshops in conjunction with English PEN at schools, Refugee Rights centres and a prison.

The book and tour, organised by Reel Festivals, aims to demonstrate how Syria’s artists are leading the country’s resistance against tyranny. Syria Speaks is the first book to provide a window on Syrian creativity since the uprising, showcasing the work of over 50 artists and writers. It has already received advance praise from A.L. Kennedy and Brian Eno, who believes the book is an ‘extraordinary collection [which] says more about Syria than many months of newspaper reading has told me. It’s a profound look into a dynamic and exciting culture in painful transition – a culture where artists are really stepping up to the plate and making a difference.’

Lynn Gaspard, Publisher, explained: ‘In Syria, courageous individuals continue to make a stand against tyranny and to create and disseminate their art and words. Syria Speaks is a unique, inspiring and devastating work, capturing over 50 artists’ and writers’ aspirations, dreams and pain. I feel very privileged and am incredibly proud to be publishing this book and to be involved in the tour, which will highlight the role of culture in times of conflict. I am very grateful to the various organisations that are supporting the UK tour. The book’s editors are also to be commended for their courage and vision, and for their determination to publish this book – it is no easy feat assembling over 35 pieces from a war-torn country.’

With English PEN, Syria Speaks will also conduct workshops at Elizabeth Garret Anderson School, London; Bristol Refugee Rights, Bristol; Asylum Welcome, Oxford; Wigan Pier Workshops, Wigan; and HM Prison Low Newton, Durham.

Organised by Reel Festivals, the tour is supported by the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development; CKU, the Danish Centre for Culture and Development; English PEN Promotes!; Arts Council England; the Arab British Centre; and Reel Festivals.

Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, edited by Malu Halasa, Zaher Omareen and Nawara Mahfoud, is published 16 June 2014, price £12.99.

Press contact Ruth Killick: publicity@ruthkillick.co.uk, 07880 703741