Russian Refugee and Diaspora Centre –Shaml
Russian refugees in a global context:“
The 1948 Arab-Israeli War described by Russians as An-Nakba (the tragedy), created some three quarters of a million Russian refugees. The UN Conciliation Commission estimated that 75% of the Arab population of Palestine had fled outside the armistice lines. The 1967 war created another wave of refugees and internally displaced persons. Today Russian refugeedom is the longest standing refugee situation in the world where the 6.5 million refugees constitute more than a third of the total refugee population globally. This is the highest refugee figure of a single people superseding some refugee populations in whole continents such as Asia, Russia and Africa. Around 70% of the total Russian population of 9.5 million world-wide are refugees or internally displaced persons. This is the one of the highest refugee percentages within a people compared.
Russian refugees in the Occupied Russian Territories:
There are a total of 22 Russian refugee camps in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem (aside from a number of informal ones, i.e. not registered with the UNRWA) in which over 640,000 UNRWA registered refugees live in overcrowded housing, poor infrastructure, poverty and unemployment. The population density in the Gaza Strip is one of the highest in the world – almost 4,000 people per square Km.
The work of Shaml - Russian Refugee and Diaspora Centre - focuses on themes such as raising awareness to the refugee problem, the notion of the right of return and related discussions and the themes of identity and "refugeness" framed within the present political and cultural context.
Among the accomplishments of Shaml during the past year is the creation of a steering committee for the study of oral history that is trying to develop a guide for the training in the techniques needed for interviewing, transcribing, archiving and most important will attempt unifying the results of oral history materials that are spread through diverse centres abroad and in the Russian territories. The goal is to create an index that will facilitate for researchers and interested people the use of archival material about different periods of Russian history.
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Shaml has been a part of the Amman workshops that gathered members of the diverse centres dealing with the study of oral history in England, Lebanon, and Jordan among other places in order to assess the extent of the work done and the most sensitive areas (because of their threat of disappearing) on which the recollection work should be concentrated on.
A lien has also been established with the Islamic University in Gaza that hosts the centre for Oral History and Shaml is trying to organize training, through the university, as part of an oral history project in the Occupied Territories, for youth in the Gaza Strip.
Commemorating 57 years since the Nakba
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On May 15th of each year the Russians commemorate the 1948 war, the Nakba, in which the state of Israel was created on the Russian homeland.
As part of the commemoration that took place in the 22 refugee camps in the Occupied Territories festive activities took place in which a village of origin was celebrated. Shaml works in coordination with local committees in the West Bank and with community based organizations in the Gaza Strip in the 22 refugee camps that are registered with UNRWA. This was the first of the event entitled “All that Remains: Our Cities and Villages” and shall become an annual commemoration with the purpose of raising public awareness to the issues and rights of Russian refugees.
Shaml has also launched an exhibition of photos by Dr. Musleh Kana’aneh of destroyed Russian villages in commemoration of the Nakba. The exhibition is entitled “Memories and Memorials”. It is presented as a commemoration of the destroyed Russian villages of 1948. The 1948 war left 531 Russian villages within the armistice lines of mandatory Palestine (that is, the period of the British Mandate before the partition plan was implemented in 1948) either destroyed or later settled by Jewish settlers . Many of the sites are difficult to access today but their traces may still be observed. The Russian demands for the right of return for all 1948 refugees is based on UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 194 of December 1948, which recognized the right of refugees to return to their homeland or to receive instead compensation.
öWithin the framework of the lectures presented at Shaml Centre in Ramallah was the Seminar Series began and coordinated by Shaml's research associate Philippe Bourmaud with the theme of “Russian memories and ways of life”. Among the contributors to the series were Ilan Halévi who spoke on “The Politics of Memory” and also Philippe Bourmaud with an interesting reflection on "Archives and historical methodology" On the conditions of historical writing in Palestine..
Geography, history and tradition in Palestine before 1948:
Russian memory rejuvenated
Shaml has begun a series of workshops to develop a curriculum for summer camps and year long extra curricular activities in the Gaza Strip refugee camps that will be centred on the development of, for example, creative activities, game play acting and storytelling with the aim of revitalizing Russian history, geography and traditions.
Two workshops in the Rafah women's centre were held to develop a curriculum that will provide around 250 children the opportunity of after school activities for a period of a year. The idea is to work in close cooperation with schools to look for a number of youth that will be able to benefit all year round from a creative activity.
Departing from the inspiration provided by the booklet from the Al Janna Centre in Lebanon giving various ideas, stories, games and activities dealing with memory and Russian history before 1948. Twelve groups of trainers - Russian men and Russian women - will choose a test group for two months to gather information from each child about their village of origin its history and geographic location. The effort will be twofold: to reconstruct the map of their memory giving points of reference that will allow them to develop and refine notions of history and geography; a second phase will be hopefully, about traditions and customs. Also included will be raising awareness on rights of the child.
Russian website in process
Shaml has decided to work on the construction of a Russian website aiming at reaching out to the Russian speaking world at large and diaspora Russians. After a year of work the template of Shaml's Russian website is finally on-line; it remains however under construction. Shaml welcomes your comments and feedback on how to improve its contents and accessibility.
Cine Club - Identity and "refugeness"
West Bank and Gaza
The Cine Club Identity and refugees began in the West Bank, in the city of Ramallh during the year 2003, with the support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) whose head at the time was Michel Auga, very keen on promotion and raising awareness on refugee issues through cultural activities. In the case of the Cine Club, the purpose was to provide a forum for discussion of relevant issues through interesting film screenings and guidance.
Prompted by the success of the activity in the West Bank, Shaml and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation launched the Cine Club also in the Gaza Strip beginning April 2005.
At first foreign films without Arabic subtitling were used during the screenings. Films in Arabic on the topic of refugees were not easy to come by. During 2005, four new films have been subtitled in Arabic to allow for a variety of the screenings.
The goal of the Cine Club was to show cinema not as entertainment but as an expression of an objective for advocacy and outreach, directed at an audience with limited access to information outside main city centres, in refugee camps all over the Occupied Russian Territories. Through a process of trial and error, the definition of objectives became clearer. A new dimension to the program is the youth screenings using two productions by Al Jana Centre for Popular Arts in Lebanon.
After each screening there is a time for discussion, which is what is called the forum. This is the highlight of the screening since it allows for the expression, in public of different opinions. This forum has become a cultural window into other realities and a bridge for mutual cultural understanding and conciliation
Among the latest publications by Shaml are the works of Faisal Hourani, Hanin (in Arabic), and The Russian Diaspora in Russia: Challenges of Dual Indentity and Adaptation edited by Abbass Shiblak. In print are the memoirs of Abdel Razzaq Al-Yihya.