Three Languages, Three Cultures: Narratives from the Middle East

Three Languages, Three Cultures: Narratives from the Middle East


Date & time

Fri 10 Jun 2022, 9am–5pm


Online via Zoom

Three Languages, Three Cultures: Narratives from the Middle East

(2nd International Conference)

Arabic, Persian and Turkish Programs at CAIS are proudly hosting the 2nd Three Languages and Three Cultures Conference that invites scholars to share their cutting-edge work on the cultural, social and creative dynamics in these language areas. The convenors encourage reflections on the interactions, cross-fertilisation and circulation of ideas within the Middle Eastern regions and beyond. Our focus will be on spatial, visual and textual manifestations of identity, memory and culture particularly observed through creative expressions in story-telling, media and arts. 

Convenors: Ms Leila Kouatly, Dr Zahra Taheri, Dr Burcu Cevik-Compiegne
Time Session Presenters

Welcome, Opening remarks

Professor Karima Laachir, Director for the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (the Middle East and Central Asia)
9.15am–10am Keynote Address: Language and the Fabric of Thought: Reflections on the Concept of Naẓar

Chair: Professor Karima Laachir

Keynote: Professor Samer Akkach

10.15am–11.15am Panel I: Diaspora and Identity

Chair: Dr Alam Saleh

Dr Burcu Cevik-Compiegne
“Emotional geographies of migration in Turkish Australian writing”

Dr Nelia Hyndman-Rizk
“Migration policies and changing marriage dynamics
11.15am–12.15am Panel II: Gender and Visual Culture

Chair: Dr Burcu Cevik-Compiegne

Ms Leila Kouatly, Dr Kinda Al Samara
“The changing role of women in Arab societies”

Ms Miniature Malekpour
“Women in Iranian Cinema: after the Revolution of 1979”
1.00pm–2.00pm Panel III:Language and Culture

Chair: Ms Leila Kouatly

Dr Kubilay Atik
“Bektashi: from central Asia to Anatolia and beyond”

Dr Yavar Dehghani, Mr Emil Abdel Malak
“Linguistic and cultural benefits beyond the measured outcomes of immersion in a TL community and its culture”
2.15pm–3.45pm Panel IV: Heritage and Spirituality

Chair: Dr Zahra Taheri

Mr Fakhrodin Kazemi
“Traditional zurkhaneh and collective memory in Iran”

Ms Ozge Yildirim
“Occult sciences during the reign of Murad III”

Dr Ali Mozaffari
“Experiencing the epic: Ferdowsi Mausoleum complex and cultural continuity in Iran”
3.45pm – 4.00pm Closing Remarks Professor Karima Laachir


Language and the Fabric of Thought: Reflections on the Concept of Naẓar

Do we need language to think? What is the relationship between language and cognition? And to what extent does language structure and shape our thoughts? These complex questions have preoccupied linguists, philosophers, anthropologists, and cultural theorists for over a century. In this talk, I will be reflecting on the concept of naẓar within the interrogative framework of these questions. Naẓar, literally ‘vision’, is a unique Arabic-Islamic term/concept that offers an analytical framework for exploring the ways in which Islamic visual culture and aesthetic sensibility have been shaped by common conceptual tools and moral parameters. It intertwines the act of ‘seeing’ with the act of ‘reflecting’, thereby bringing the visual and cognitive functions into a complex relationship. Within the folds of this multifaceted relationship lies an entangled web of religious ideas, moral values, aesthetic preferences, scientific precepts, and socio-cultural understandings that underlie the intricacy of one’s personal belief. Peering through the lens of naẓar, this talk will shed light on aspects of these entanglements to provide insights into how vision, belief, and perception shape the rich Islamic visual culture and underlie the production of Islamic art and architecture.

Samer Akkach, Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities, is professor of architectural history and theory and Founding Director of the Centre for Asian and Middle Eastern Architecture (CAMEA) at the University of Adelaide. His main areas of expertise are in the fields of Islamic art and architecture, Islamic mysticism, and Islamic intellectual history; and his interdisciplinary research interests extend to the socio-urban and cultural history of the Levant and the history of Islamic science in the early modern period. His works received several national and international prizes and have been translated to several languages. His major publications include 10 books, the most recent of which is Naẓar: Vision, Belief, and Perception in Islamic Cultures (Brill 2022), which is the focus of his talk.


PANEL I: Diaspora and Identity

“Emotional geographies of migration in Turkish Australian writing”, Dr Burcu Cevik-Compiegne

Following the Labour Migration Scheme between Turkey and Australia in 1967, newly arrived Turkish migrants started producing publications in their native language. It is evident that there was a strong inclination among the recent migrants towards poetry and short stories to process their emotions and experiences through creative writing. This first wave of labour migrants’ literariness is completely overlooked in academic scholarship. Using poetry and fictional and non-fictional prose written by first- and second-generation Turkish-Australians since 1970s as sources, this project will enquire how creative writing enabled these writers to increase affective engagement with homeland (Turkey) and the host country (Australia) and how these relationships evolved over time. This paper subscribes to a social and cultural understanding of emotions and relates to the texts as both products of a specific historical, social and cultural context that informs the emotions and the producer of that context through writing. 

Dr Burcu Cevik-Compiegne is a lecturer at the Australian National University, Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies and the Convenor of Turkish Studies. She obtained her BA and MA degrees at Aix-Marseille University and PhD at University of Technology Sydney focusing on Turkish and Indian experiences and remembrance of the First World War. Diasporic memory, social and cultural history and cultural identity are common threads between her research projects. 


“Migration policies and changing marriage dynamics", Dr Nelia Hyndman-Rizk

Marriage is one of the key avenues of continued migration between Lebanon and Australia’s established Lebanese communities and is a key form of female mobility. Indeed, the gender ratio is currently skewed towards more men than women amongst the Lebanese born in Australia, and the opposite is true of Lebanon.  Moreover, between 2011 and 2012, women made up two-thirds of the primary applicants for the family visa stream and were 71 percent of those who were granted permanent residence in Australia. Consequently, Australians are more likely to source a female partner than a male partner through family reunion, and women from the Middle East, South and Central Asia and North Africa made up 10 percent of all family visa stream partners. Given closed borders during the pandemic, and an economic crisis in Lebanon, many ongoing contradictions and restrictions are shaping contemporary migration from Lebanon to Australia, with the mobility of women as brides an ongoing feature of migration flows between Lebanon and Australia. Arranged cousin marriages are a significant proportion of female brides who come to Australia from Lebanon, and this paper asks two related research questions: What is the impact of female migration from Lebanon to Australia on family dynamics and what do second-generation daughters born in Australia think about arranged cousin marriages? To answer these questions, this paper exlores some insights drawn from an ethnographic case study on changing marriage dynamics amongst a 500-household migration cluster in the suburbs of Western Sydney from a Maronite Catholic village in North Lebanon.

Dr Nelia Hyndman-Rizk is a Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Management within the School of Business at UNSW, Canberra. Her research has examined the dynamics of the Lebanese diaspora in Australia and the USA, multiculturalism, gender and culture change, as well as the contemporary Lebanese women's movement. In 2020 she published: Lebanese Women at the Crossroads Caught between Sect and Nation


PANEL II: Gender and Visual Culture

“The changing role of women in Arab societies”, Ms Leila Kouatly, Dr Kinda Al Samara

Television series and dramas have been extremely popular in Middle Eastern societies and still play an important cultural role today, especially in Ramadan. Through popular culture and the media, the views and values of a society are presented and challenged across time. This paper explores the role of women in Arab societies as portrayed through popular Arabic television series in the last decade. It contrasts the traditional role of women depicted in ‘Bāb al-Ḥārah’ with the more modern role shown in ‘al-Haybah. In the Middle East, societal perspectives around the role of women in public life have supposedly shifted. Women are now taking more active and central roles in public life. However, this paper highlights through the portrayal of female characters in popular cultural television series, that women are still restricted from central roles and used as secondary characters in order to prop up hyper-masculine male figures. The role of Women in both series is a reflection of the realities of the current situation of women in Arab societies. Furthermore, the female representation in these series is usually tokenistic and superficial aiming to attract higher viewership and gain popularity. In reality, the more prominent role of women in the public life of Arabic societies is a façade.

Ms Leila Kouatly a Lecturer at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies and the Convenor of the Arabic Program . She has extensive experience in teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language and her research interests include technology in language teaching and second language acquisition. Prior to joining CAIS in 2017 Leila was employed as Educational Developer by ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences where she set up the online version of CAIS’ Arabic courses.

Dr Kinda AlSamara is a Lecturer at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, ANU. Dr AlSamara is a highly experienced teacher of Arabic language across a broad range of academic and government settings. She also has as strong research track record in Arabic Studies, most notably on the topics of Arabic literature in Egypt and Syria and education, media, and women’s roles across the Arab world. Her research interests include Arabic literature, gender and women’s history, and the history of the Arab-Islamic tradition. Dr AlSamara has expertise in reading and interpreting traditional Arabic sources with high levels of insight.


“Women in Iranian Cinema: after the Revolution of 1979”, Ms Miniature Malekpour

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian Film Industry and the representation of women gradually underwent a deconstructing transformation of its cinematic language, made up of four different phases.
Phase one saw the identification and role of the Basij Mother during the Sacred Defense Era, with the first female directors after the Revolution producing their first films, such as Pouran Derakhshande and Rakshane Bani-Etemad.
Phase two, known as the Reformist Period, saw a wave of women directors who introduced feminist aesthetics into their cinematic storytelling by combining the elements of colour and sexuality through the mise-en-scene.
Phase three, which also appeared around the same time as the Reformist Period (in the early 2000s until the 2009 Green Movement), took the dialogue of desire and the socio-political narrative analysis of women’s cinema and ushered it into the Green Movement era. Around this final phase, the cinematography of female expression, also known as the camera as the axis of women’s identity, used the metaphor of the woman’s body through visual manifestations of cultural identity and cultural trauma as experienced by women in Iranian society.This presentation briefly looks at the essential highlights of these four phases, indulging in the impact and relevance of a constantly shifting Feminist cinematic language forged in an Islamised Industry.

Ms Miniature Malekpour is a Writer, Artist, and a Ph.D. Scholar at the Australian National University. She writes for Diabolique Magazine and has had articles, and photography published in the Mise-en-Scene Journal of Film Narration, CineJ Cinema Journal, High Shelf Press, Beyond Words Literary Magazine, The Dillydoun Review, Drunk Monkeys Magazine, and more.


PANEL III: Language and Culture 

“Bektashi: from central Asia to Anatolia and beyond”, Dr Kubilay Atik

Bektashism which is one of the most influential sects in Turkey and the Balkans has a controversial history due to its connections with the Janisssaries, the elite military corps of the Ottoman Empire, as well as their fall from favor later on and the stance the followers took after the republic. They were also influential in the Balkans, and many of the Muslim groups are still Bektashis in the Balkans today. Haji Bektash who was born in Nishapor, Khorasan in modern day Iran became a central figure in the conversion of Turkic tribes in Cappadocia and Central Anatolia. He left during the Mongol invasions and settled to the Cappadocia region in Central Anatolia. He earned a following among the Turkic nomads some of whom were already in Anatolia since the 11th century, and some of whom arrived recently fleeing from or coming alongside the Mongols. This presentation focuses on how Turkish, unlike the case of another more famous religious figure, Rumi and his followers, became the medium of worship, and how the Haji Bektash Shrine became a center and a place of identity for the Bektashis and Alawis in Turkey, Iran and the Balkans with also an introduction to the Bektashi studies in Nevsehir with an introduction to the libraries and research centers in Nevsehir. 

 Dr. Kubilay Atik began his career as an advisor to Professor Ahmet Davutoglu, then Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, 2008-2011. He received his joint PhDs from Middle East Technical University (Turkey) and Xiamen University (China). His work focuses on East Asia and China’s history and policies in Central Asia and other neighboring regions. He is currently working in Nevsehir Haci Bektas Veli University, as an assistant professor in History and in Meiji University (Japan), School of Political Science as an adjunct professor.  


“Linguistic and cultural benefits beyond the measured outcomes of immersion in a TL community and its culture”, Dr Yavar Dehghani, Mr Emil Abdel Malak

The in-Country Training (ICT) is a component of all long courses, 35 to 47-week courses, at the Defence Force School of Languages (DFSL). ICT takes the form of a 2-week visit to a country where most people speak the Target Language (TL) as their first language (L1). This ICT component comes with such a high ticket price that DFSL needs to ensure benefits are worth the cost. Since 2020 and because of the COVID pandemic DFSL has sought ways of meeting ICT outcomes without sending the students to TL countries. ICT-type tasks, activities and assessments have been conducted online in lieu of the ICT component to meet ICT outcomes. The relative success of this online training led some to fear for the future of the ICT. However, shifting to online training in lieu of the 2-week culture and language immersion experience in-country, has helped remind those involved of the many cultural and linguistic benefits of ICT, some of which are incidental and not formally measured by assessments. When interacting with members of the TL community in TL settings, learners’ linguistic, cultural and situational awareness is stimulated, refined and enhanced in ways that are unique to each learner and their individual experiences, not only as language learners, but also as soldiers, for example. ICT is a rich experience for its participants. For two weeks, the language learners are fully immersed in the TL community and its culture. This paper tries to shed some light on benefits, as well as challenges, as identified by participants.

Dr Yavar Dehghani is a language manager, self-published author, a linguist, and a lecturer in Iranian languages including Persian (Farsi & Dari), Pashto, and Turkic languages including Azeri and Turkish. His PhD is in General Linguistics from La Trobe University in Melbourne. His dissertation was on the study of comparative grammars of Persian, Azeri, Turkish and English. He has been a lecturer in Persian Linguistics, Persian as a second language and English as a second language for several years in universities. He is an accredited translator and interpreter of the National Australian Authority for Translators & Interpreters (NAATI). He has published several books on grammar and phrasebooks and dictionaries on Persian and Turkic languages, and presented several papers at Australian international conferences on these languages. He has received the Australia Day Achievement Medallion for developing and managing courses in languages other than English. He is a multilingual linguist and speaks English, Persian (Farsi & Dari), Pashto, Azari, and Turkish and Basic Arabic. Currently, he is the Head of European & Middle Eastern, Chinese, Japanese & Korean languages in the Defence School of Languages in Melbourne. 

Mr. Emil Abdel Malak has an MA in Teaching Arabic as Foreign Language and has extensive experience teaching Arabic to adults in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Australia. As the Head of the Arabic Department at the Australian Defence Force School of Languages, he has led the development and the delivery of the Arabic language courses taught there. He is an English- Arabic NAATI accredited translator.


PANEL IV: Heritage and Spirituality

“Traditional zūrkhāna and collective memory in Iran”, Mr Fakhrodin Kazemi

The zūrkhāna is the name given to the traditional gymnasium of urban Iran. The zūrkhāna (lit. the house of strength) is recognized as an institution where the “ancient sport” (varzish-i bāstantī) is practiced and learned. Apart from the athletic values the zūrkhāna represents for the Persian people, this ancient Iranian institution has been a symbol of their very identity. As complex as Iranian identity is, the zūrkhāna in many ways manifests this complexity by being a focal point where a variety of contradictory facets of Iranian identity meet. While the zūrkhāna has been a citadel of traditional moral ideals, namely, the ethics of Pahlavani or chivalry, the zūrkhāna has also been at times a hangout for thugs. I will discuss the role of the zūrkhāna as an image of the Iranian collective memory that reflects a variety of beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes the have gone to make up that which we recognize today as Iran’s self-image. I will treat the multifaceted roles of the zūrkhāna, and will discuss the trilateral symbolic facets of nationalism, Sufism and Shi’ism that constitute the often contradictory character of this institution.

Mr Fakhrodin Kazemi holds a B.A. in Philosophy from University of Tehran, and M.A. in Religion from University of Georgia, USA. He is a recipient of several awards such as The Willson Center Graduate Research Award and Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research. Fakhrodin is currently a PhD scholar at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at National University of Australia.

“Occult sciences during the reign of Murad III”, Ms Özge Yıldırım

The reign of Murād III (1574–95) witnessed an increasing demand on production of books in both literary and occult genres. In this period, Islamic cosmography, wonderous events, new expeditions to and from distant lands and esoteric knowledge became even more promoted subject matters in Ottoman literary and scientific writing.  In this paper, the Ottoman adaptation of old Arabic, Persian books which relate to occult genres such as Maṭāliʻü’s-saʻāde (1582),1 Cevāhirü’l-Ġarāʼib (1582),2 Tārīḫ-i Hind-i Ġarbī (1583-4),3 Topkapı Persian Fālnāme (1570s),4 Terceme-i Miftāḥu’l-Cifri’l-Cāmiʻ (1597-8),5 Aḥvāl-i Ḳiyāmet (1596)6 will be briefly introduced with their content as products of this growing interest. They are particularly comparable as far as both their style and their iconographies point to a redundancy and large-scale rendering of the outlined compositions. The reasons for their production may be understood better with a look at the contemporary political and social conditions that expanded the interest in illustrated books, particularly those in occult sciences such as prognostication, astrology, physiognomy, oneiromancy, eschatology. Besides, the story of Istanbul Observatory will be also included since questioning reason of this project, the controversial ideas against astrological research of Takiyüddin, the chief imperial astronomer, are significant for understanding the growing interest in occultism in the sixteenth century Ottoman court. 

Ms Özge Yıldırım is a postgraduate researcher who is passionate about illustrated Early-Modern Ottoman manuscripts. She has an undergraduate degree in Art History from Koç University and a master research degree in History from Bogazici University. Özge is currently working in the GLAM sector. 


“Experiencing the epic: Ferdowsi Mausoleum complex and cultural continuity in Iran”, Dr Ali Mozaffari

The Shahnameh, or the Book of Kings, is a work of long epic poetry written in Persian by Abolqasem Ferdowsi in the 11th century and in the epic tradition common in the Iranian plateau. Ever since its creation, the Shahnameh has maintained a cultural significance in the region, and this is most apparent within Iran proper, where, to various degrees, it has become intertwined with folklore and everyday lives of Iranians. By the early 20th century, with the modernization of the Iranian state and society, the Shahnameh and Ferdowsi himself became significant national symbols in Iran, resulting in the development of his tomb in the city of Tus into a significant national site. In this (presentation/lecture) Dr Ali Mozaffari will discuss the attempts to maintain a link with the past through the Ferdowsi’s mausoleum complex.

Dr Ali Mozaffari is a Senior Research Fellow with the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University. His work is focused on the use of the past in the politics of West Asia. His books include Development, architecture, and the formation of heritage in late twentieth-century Iran: A vital past (co-authored with Nigel Westbrook, Manchester University press 2020) and Forming National Identity in Iran: The Idea of Homeland Derived from Ancient Persian and Islamic Imaginations of Place (I.B. Tauris 2014).


Conference Convenors

Dr Zahra Taheri - Persian Language Program

Dr Burcu Cevik- Compiegne - Turkish Language Program

Ms Leila Kouatly - Arabic Language Program

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