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Cambridge Student PEN held a 24-hour vigil with live readings of poetry, drama performances and music in support of the Syriac Writers’ Union and victims of ISIS

Cambridge Student PEN held a 24-hour vigil with live readings of poetry, drama performances and music in support of the Syriac Writers’ Union and victims of ISIS

Cambridge Student PEN: 24-hour vigil in support of the Syriac Writers’ Union and victims of ISIS

On Friday 5th December through to Saturday 6th December, Cambridge Student PEN held a 24-hour vigil with live readings of poetry, drama performances and music in support of the Syriac Writers’ Union and victims of ISIS. The Assyrian community, along with other peoples in Iraq, lost their homes, their families and their livelihoods – and for writers, that included their lifetime’s manuscripts – when ISIS descended on their land. They are now displaced in tents away from their homes in the Nineveh Plains. After heavy rains, the tents have been flooded, and snow is expected soon.

Cambridge Student PEN erected a tent in Cambridge town centre, symbolic of the only shelter left for those driven out by ISIS, and from the tent read poems by Assyrian writers in the original and in translation to a public audience. The Syriac Writers’ Union had held a special reading and series of talks to correspond to the event held in the UK, and a recording of that reading was played inside the tent in Cambridge. A documentary of life in the camps, “The Last Plight”, was also played.

As well as giving readings of Assyrian poems and a performance of “The Second Fall of Nineveh”, a play written in the camps, Cambridge Student PEN read poems from other communities and victims of ISIS. They were joined by prominent poets and writers Vahni Capildeo, Sean Borodale, Catherine Morris and Irit Katz, who gave readings of their own work, dedicated to the Assyrian community. Professor Geoffrey Khan of Cambridge University gave a talk on the Assyrian language and the threats it faces as a result of the recent turmoil. Peyman Heydarian, renowned Kurdish santur player, came from London to perform traditional music in support of the Assyrians’ plight.

Rawand Baythoon, a representative of the Syriac Writers’ Union, expressed deepest gratitude on behalf of his people for the international show of solidarity that took place in Cambridge. Assyrians, Kurds, Iranians, Brazilians, Americans, Turks, and others of many nationalities came to take part, and as Rawand Baythoon said, “we are stronger together”. Knowing that their voices were being heard “turns our sadness into happiness”, he said. The Syriac Writers’ Union and all victims of ISIS will continue to need international recognition – please contact jo345@cam.ac.uk or visit https://www.facebook.com/officialcambridgeunipen for more details on Cambridge Student PEN’s activities and to lend support to this cause.

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