Erbil History, Archaeology, Arts and Architecture (Season two 2021-2022)

Another remarkable result of the signed letter of agreement between the University of Kurdistan-Hawler (UKH) and the French Institute for the Near East (Ifpo) was successfully achieved by the end of the academic year 2021-2022, through the second season of a series of online seminars regarding Erbil History, Archaeology, Arts and Architecture (for the first season, see here). This was an outcome of thorough discussions between members of the organizing committee, first Dr. Barbara Couturaud (head of Ifpo Erbil office) who was the key element of this success. I must add that I was so lucky as an Ifpo associate researcher to work with Dr. Couturaud, as we managed to let many letters of agreements between Ifpo and local academic institutions be signed. The second key element for letting these series of seminars become real is Dr. Soorkeu Atrooshi (Dean of the school of science and engineering at UKH); both Dr. Couturaud and Dr. Atroshi did their best to make IT and PR teams in both Ifpo and UKH work hard to let the series of seminars and related news be exposed to public in the best manner at both institutions’ media platforms.

The series of seminars aimed at shedding light and celebrating numerous works of scholars who visited Erbil during the last two decades. These studies resulted in very important and multidimensional conclusions regarding Erbil and its surroundings: history, archaeology, arts and architecture. UKH and Ifpo have a shared vision and a sense of strong responsibility towards highlighting learned lessons from past generations experiences. These experiences are documented in the works of the prospected participants. It was expected from these seminars to raise awareness amongst the younger generation regarding the state of the existing and past conditions as the premises and starting points for any future development, and it was also expected that these seminars act as guidance for how existing projects of preservation, revitalization, and rehabilitation of cultural heritage may be reoriented or reviewed.

The nine sessions of 2021-2022 season were organized by UKH session organizer Ms Nareen Riadh, and the prospected speakers were from various orientations: 4 architects, 2 archaeologists, 2 civil engineers, 2 historians, 1 artist, 1 restorer, and 1 geologist. Such diversity served the seminars objectives of putting different visions of the same subject at a panel of discussion to come out with a narration version that may approach reality.

The first session was an opening session started with UKH president Mr. Bill Rammel message to the event, given by Mr. Gary Kent (UKH Director of policy), followed by Dr. Soorkeu Atrooshi who highlighted the role of the school of science and engineering in elaborating UKH-Ifpo cooperation, Dr. Barbara Couturaud talk was regarding Ifpo activities and projects in Kurdistan region, and Ifpo’s role in raising awareness regarding cultural heritage, followed by my review of season one outcomes  and the objectives of season two.

Haval Abdul Jabbar SADEQ from college of engineering at Salahaddin University-Erbil highlighted the role of Photogrammetry in documentation of cultural heritage. In his presentation, the technique of photogrammetry was illustrated, and some examples were shown regarding applying photogrammetry for documenting buildings in Erbil Citadel.

Aerial view of Erbil (after MASON K. (ed.), Iraq and the Persian Gulf, Wellcome Collection, London, 1944)

Maria-Grazia MASETTI-ROUAULT, from the École Pratique des Hautes Études-Paris, tried to use archaeological evidence and facts collected from Erbil area and its surroundings in a presentation entitled “Assyrian City and its Landscape: Centers, Peripheries, and the People”. The presentation came up with a conclusion that new data and documentation can open for us new ways to identify and to understand different agencies, social situations, economic interests and environmental factors determining the creation, evolution and collapse of urban occupations, and of all the society managing them.

“Imperial Landscapes and Climatic Variations from Assyria to Parthia in the Erbil Plain” was the title of a lecture by Rocco Palermo who is a Research Fellow at the University of Pisa (Italy) and an Affiliate Research Fellow at Harvard University (USA). The lecturer employed settlement data from different parts of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to compare with the paleoenvironmental proxies and other large-scale surveys from the region, in order to tentatively correlate phenomena of contraction and expansion of settlements in post-Assyrian Mesopotamia and the climatic oscillations in the region.

Shaymaa Fadhil ALKUBAISI from Koya University presented a lecture entitled “The Impact of Urban Transformation of Old Erbil City on the Structure of Its Surroundings” showing how architects may make use of archaeological and historical information and data as an inspiration for elaborating concepts and ideas for the future of the city. This lecture was about the urban transformation of Erbil City and how it was elaborated by time, and the effect of the transformation of the structure of the old sectors of Erbil in the surrounding newly generated neighbourhoods.

Fouad MOHAMMAD from Nottingham Trent University, was concerned about the structural assessment of historical and conventional masonry constructions, by discussing local examples and cases from the UK of cracks and damages and their classification according to the Building Research Establishment (BRE) Digest 251. In addition, it suggested that further investigation such as non-destructive testing and soil investigation or even advanced numerical methods can be conducted whenever feasible to confirm or determine the exact cause of the damage. Consequently, the right and most efficient remedy or restoration approach that can be adopted.

Art and artists namely painter can tell narrations regarding archaeological and historical evidence in a different expressionist way, and Mr. Hewa A. Perdawood, who has a BA from Salahaddin University-College of Fine Arts, showed a wide spectrum of paintings made by local artists from Erbil city, reflecting various techniques of painting. The most iconic symbol in the city which is the citadel forms the main part of our memory as locals, as Mr. Perdawood showed. Accordingly, Erbil Citadel acts as a symbol and can be seen and mentioned in most artworks, poems and even movies and plays.

A lecture titled “Erbil Citadel from a Historic Symbol to be a Brand of the City” by Haval SAMI from Tishk International University, PhD candidate at Salahaddin University, reflected another role for the historic and cultural sites in the old sectors of the city mainly Erbil citadel it is by letting the name of the specific city be well known internationally as a brand for the city, this study tried to focus on the indicators that show the potentiality of Erbil citadel to be able to act as a brand for the city.

David MICHELMORE, Principal of the Consultancy for Conservation and Development and former UNESCO International Technical Adviser, who had published many articles and books regarding Erbil citadel, made a presentation regarding his image for the conservation and revitalization of Erbil Citadel. He concluded that the size of the task of achieving the physical rehabilitation of the building stock, most of which is owned by the government, and the conversion of the citadel to the cultural, social and tourism hub of the modern city of Erbil requires a PPP approach. The government should be responsible for the installation of services and indeed much of this has already been done, but the conservation of the large number of historic houses which exist will require private finance.

London Based Independent Researcher Farah AL HASHIMI presented a paper titled “The Role of Arbail and Ishtar Arbail in Assyria”. This presentation focused on the significant role that Arbail (now Erbil) played in Assyria and its wars.

Caecilia PIERI, Ifpo Associate Researcher, highlighted in her presentation the importance of the project she is leading titled “Hifaz-Iraq: Presentation of a Cooperation Project on Heritage Between Ifpo, Salahaddin University-Erbil and the University of Mosul”. This project aims to develop a training of trainers which will focus on specialized subjects in the field of the conservation of built heritage (or monuments and sites). It will contribute to upgrade conservation of the built heritage to an academic and professional specialization within both archaeology (a branch of the humanities) and architecture concerns of construction.

“Erbil Citadel from a Monumental Towards a Living Heritage Approach” was a theoretical debate regarding approaches of preservation, by Salahaddin University PhD candidate Mohamed Y. M. AL BARZNGY. The paper found that the current approach of Erbil citadel preservation is a monumental (dead) heritage approach in which the heritage site is seen as a static object of the past to be passed on to future generations. Enlivening such a heritage requires more innovative approach through which the living dimension of the heritage site can be emphasized.

“Erbil as Referred to in the Ottoman Archive Documents” was a paper presented by Ashty RAHMAN from Salahaddin University and Mahmood KHAYAT from UKH. The presentation concerned translations to Kurdish language of documents of the Ottoman Archive, these documents and their translations were published by Cihan University, such as official letters that represents communication, administration and government issues of the Ottoman Empire. Documents that refer to Erbil are historical evidence that contains important and essential information that can fill gaps in the historical narration regarding Erbil city especially for the period from 1700-1920

Copy of a report dated from January 5th 1715 regarding assignment of a Chief of guards at Erbil Citadel ( after BAJGER N.  & RAHMAN A., Erbil as mentioned in the Ottoman archive documents dated 1705- 1912, vol. 1, Cihan University Publications, Erbil, 2021)

“The Geology of Erbil Citadel” was the title of the last and ending session of 2021-2022 series of seminars presented by Varoujan SISSAKIAN from UKH. The presentation highlighted some archaeological phenomena that may severely endanger the stability of the existing historical buildings on the top of the tell. The lecturer came out with a recommendation asking for urgent actions to keep the stability of the slopes, he also suggested the implementation of a very quick and easy well-known technique for slope stability assessment (Bejerman’s Method) that can instantly indicate any landslide possibility.

Through all those papers, many valuable lessons have been learned, on Erbil History, Archaeology, Arts and Architecture, since prehistoric times until very recent years, but also on the need to protect this important city and its old buildings, to give an appropriate setting for new ones, and to raise awareness regarding the significance of the archaeological layout of the city centre. UKH and Ifpo have the will and intention to organize a third season next academic year, the discussions after each presentation, the variety of speakers’ background and the seriousness of the seminars may give an optimistic feeling regarding the future generation’s concerns about their future built environment and the establishment of more sustainable pattern of living, all of that starts by lessons learned from the past.


Pour citer cet article : Mahmood Khayat, "Erbil History, Archaeology, Arts and Architecture (Season two 2021-2022)", Les Carnets de l'Ifpo. La recherche en train de se faire à l’Institut français du Proche-Orient, https://ifpo.hypotheses.org/11781, le 8 août 2022. [En  ligne sur hypotheses.org]

Prof. Dr. Mahmood Ahmed Bakr Khayat acts as Chair for Architectural Engineering and Sustainability program at University of Kurdistan Hawler and an Associate Researcher at the French institute for the near east (Ifpo) since 2019. He was Director of SU. TIU joint MSc. Arch. program (2017-2019), he acted as head of the Department of Architecture at Salahaddin University (2013-2018), he was cofounder of postgraduate MSC. and PhD programs in his department, and cofounder of Erbil forum for sustainable development. He was the founder of Mahmood Khayat Architects (1990) and Arbil Engineering Company (2004) in Baghdad. He acted as a Visiting Professor for limited periods at local universities (of Sulaymaniyah, Dohuk, Koya, Gihan, Ishik, American University at Dohuk and University of Kurdistan Hawler). Dr. Khayat has published articles acted as a speaker in several local and international conferences and events, examined and supervised PhD and MSc local students and co-supervised and examined one MA student at Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus-Germany. His research concentrated on sustainable preservation of built heritage and defining the vocabulary and grammars of the local architecture language. This was adopted as a theme of design by making use of perception laws in recalling the architectural vocabulary saved in the deep mental data storage to create an environment-friendly architecture that can communicate with the audience.


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