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2021 Spring

Middle East Center Newsletter



This year has been full of learning and surprises for our Center. Our small staff has excelled in transferring our intellectual programming to online platforms, making our content and events available to anyone with access to the internet. This switch, while at times trying, had the unexpectedly pleasant result of allowing us to invite scholars from all over the world to speak in our Voices in the Middle East lecture series. This, in turn, allowed us to showcase these talk and the broader work of our Center to audiences all over the world. Our events this year reached 1,700 people on three continents.

We are also thrilled that MEC Affiliate faculty member and former Assistant Vice-Provost for International Education, David Fenner, has received the University of Washington’s 2021 Distinguished Contributions to Lifelong Learning Award. Congratulations, Professor Fenner, and thank you for all that you do for the Middle East Center! See below to learn more about Professor Fenner’s work and this award.

As a federally-funded National Resource Center, one of the MEC’s most important missions is that of public outreach. This past year, with so many folks isolated at home as a result of COVID-19, our Center has seen an increase in demand for programming and events. Read below to see how the MEC, with the help of David Fenner, has worked to provide both lifelong learning and a bit of solace to people stranded in their homes.

Indeed, many of our MEC members have been busy! Read below to learn about the many amazing contributions of and awards to our MEC affiliated faculty.

Finally, we extend our deep appreciation to the beloved Professor Selim Kuru as he steps down from his role as the Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization (NELC), a committed partner of the MEC. Read our interview with Professor Kuru below to learn about his research, his achievements, and his commitments – to his department, students, and scholarship! We look forward to working with NELC Professor Naomi Sokoloff as she takes up the role of chair.

As always, we are grateful for such an engaged community. Please consider supporting the Middle East Center  as we work to educate UW students and the citizens of Washington State.

We wish you health and safety in these trying times.

Arzoo Osanloo
Director, Middle East Center
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies



David Fenner Wins 2021 UW Distinguished Contributions to Lifelong Learning Award

David Fenner

David Fenner, Affiliate Faculty in the Jackson School, Middle East Center, has been named the recipient of the University of Washington’s 2021 Distinguished Contributions to Lifelong Learning Award. The award, conferred annually, recognizes faculty who have designed and/or taught courses, seminars or workshops aimed at non-matriculated working adults and other nontraditional students, and who have received excellent teaching evaluations for that work.

As the Middle East Center’s lead on outreach to the community, David has been a driving force in expanding the Center’s reach to non-traditional students. He is conducts the Center’s cross-cultural Bridging Culture’s workshops, which are now being adapted to meet the needs of first responders in Seattle, with a focus on the Seattle Fire Department. David is also actively involved in developing workshops for seniors and adult living communities. Over the past year, he has presented at Mirabella Retirement Community in Seattle and Wesley Homes Communities in Des Moines, as well as given courses at the UW’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, the University of Oregon’s Academy of Lifelong Learning, and Edmonds College’s Creative Retirement Institute.

Always keen to open up learning to new constituencies, David has worked tirelessly to advance knowledge about the Middle East in the wider community beyond the University.  The Center congratulates David on receiving this much-deserved recognition.

For more about the Middle East Center’s commitment to lifelong learning, see the next story.

The Middle East Center Develops Lifelong Learning Programming

As a United States Department of Education funded National Resource Center, the UW Middle East Center is charged with offering learning opportunities across the spectrum of American society.  While the Center has played a prominent role on the UW campus sustaining Middle East language and areas studies for fifty years, it has also been a major presence in the region’s public schools educating teachers and administrators and partnering with the Seattle non-profit OneWorld Now! offering Arabic language instruction. The Center is continually looking for new avenues to expand its outreach efforts. For that reason, two years ago, the Middle East Center began to develop programming for senior living communities. Through an initial partnership with the Creative Retirement Institute hosted at Edmonds Community College, the Middle East Center recognized the need for high-quality, educational learning opportunities for older adults.

Lifelong learning

What the Middle East Center did not imagine was how COVID-19 would create a real hunger for this type of programming across the Puget Sound. As seniors in group living environments were confined and limited in the kinds of activities available, Zoom became a lifeline to intellectual stimulation as never before. Fortunately, the Middle East Center’s lead on public outreach, Affiliate Professor, David Fenner, himself a UW retiree, is an ideal presenter who is both knowledgeable and able to offer engaging presentations on complex Middle East topics.

In the last six months, Professor Fenner has offered Zoom workshops and presentations to over 500 senior citizens at congregate living homes in both Washington and Oregon.  His topics have included:  The Rise of the Great Abrahamic Religions, The Roots of Extremism in the Middle East, The Arab States’ Normalization of Relations with Israel, Shifting Sands of Middle East Security, and Jerusalem: Holy City Divided.

Sessions have prompted lively discussions and encouraged participants to consider issues more deeply, while connecting them to their fellow participants.  Reviews from participants underscore the desire for learning opportunities and the appreciation of audience members:

  • One of the most informative, mind stretching courses I’ve taken.
  • I am GRATEFUL for this opportunity to participate. Further, I appreciate the extraordinary knowledge of this instructor and his generosity of sharing all the information! THANK YOU!
  • He was very kind and generous sharing his vast knowledge in the language which a naive student like myself could understand. We were very fortunate to have this opportunity. Thank you so much.

Offering programming to older adults has been a rewarding experience for the Middle East Center as well, and it will continue to be an important part of our outreach activities.

An Interview with Selim Kuru, Outgoing Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

Professor Selim Kuru, a specialist in Ottoman Studies, has been the Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization since 2015, a position he will be stepping away from this June. Here he reflects on his scholarly and administrative career.

Selim Kuru and Kedi

How did you first become interested in the Ottoman world? What motivated you to follow that interest into an academic career?

I was originally interested in Modern Turkish literature, however when I started my MA studies at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey I met my mentor, Professor Gunay Kut, who is a leading scholar of Ottoman Turkish literature. Under her influence, I moved back in time and discovered the pleasures of philology and thinking through another literary cultural ethos.

As a young scholar, was there anyone who served as an important mentor to you, or provided you with valuable guidance as you entered the field?

I had many mentors during different stages of my growth as a scholar. Apart from my mentors Gunay Kut, Zehra Toska, Nuket Esen at Boğaziçi University, at Harvard I worked with Prof. Sinasi Tekin and his wife Gonul Tekin, both Turkologists. Ottoman Literary Studies, as a marginal field in the US, may be quite insular. I was able to expand my focus thanks to other mentors at Harvard, among which were professors Wheeler Thackston, Cemal Kafadar and Engin Sezer, who are from different fields, Persian Studies, Ottoman History and Modern Turkish. Moving to my position at the University of Washington, I benefited from the mentorship of the founder of our department, Professor Farhat Ziadeh, as well as Jere Bacharach and Reşat Kasaba. However, the academic mentor who made a difference in my view of Ottoman Turkish literature was Professor Walter G. Andrews, who since I started my position as an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington in 1999 became not only a mentor but a dear colleague and friend until we lost him on May 31, 2020.

How have your research interests evolved over the years?

Since my childhood I was interested in visual arts and literature as a way to discover possible worlds and possible manners of communication. I decided to study Turkish literature because I thought it promised a better future than studying arts (!). Discovering Ottoman literature and philology was a major turning point during my graduate studies. The allure of Ottoman Turkish manuscripts in rich collections of Turkish manuscript libraries delivered me to the worlds of Ottoman authors. My initial interest was the expression of sexual acts in tales and jokes, which led me to consider structuring of gender, especially masculinity, through the high literary language of Ottoman Turkish. Gender and sexuality gradually became the focus of my work on Ottoman Turkish poetry, specifically the gazel form and verse narratives on male-to-male love.

What aspects of your career do you find most enjoyable?

I enjoy being an academician, which asks me to leave my comfort zone, which is my research. However, teaching, mentoring and administrative issues, being a part of a university community, bring in different perspectives to my reading of Ottoman Turkish texts and philological issues, i.e. how to read and present them.

What achievements/projects have brought you the most satisfaction?

One of my major achievements has been the experience of the Ottoman and Modern Turkish Summer School program I established with my mentor Professor Sinasi Tekin in 1997 in a small town, Cunda in Western Turkey. This Ottoman Turkish paleography program has been designed to train graduate students to deal with documentary and narrative sources. Another major achievement that brings me most satisfaction is the undergraduate, MA and PhD students I have the opportunity to work with. Through the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies I have mentored seven students whose work focused on Ottoman and Turkish literatures. To see students grow and develop their lives and the feeling that I have an impact on their lives is a great satisfaction.

In 2015 you became the Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. How has this leadership position changed you?

To chair NELC was one of the most intense experiences in my life, which allowed me to experience the university administration and introduced me to fellow chairs in the Humanities Division at the College of Arts & Sciences. Through this new form of communication, I was able to appreciate other fields (because as chairs we are still scholars and teachers and we talk about these issues in a truly interdisciplinary manner) and gained a better sense of the importance of Humanities as a discipline for area studies and for our students. It was a different platform where I discovered larger frames that may not be available for faculty members. As I approach the end of my tenure as a chair, I appreciate the insights I gained more.

What projects are you working on?

My work focuses on masculinity as formulated by Ottoman male authors in their literary works. I just completed an article titled “Istanbul as a City of Men” for an edited volume and am working on two other articles on sexuality and entertainment in 16th century Istanbul. Over the next two years, I am hoping to focus on my edition of 16th century collection of sexually explicit stories and an introductory monograph on Ottoman literature between 1450-1550. After the passing of Professor Walter Andrews, I became co-director of NELC’s Svoboda Diaries Project and have worked on the “Many Poems of Baki” Digital Humanities project, as well. These projects involve many undergraduate interns and are constantly evolving. With my NELC colleague, Melike Yucel, we are working on a revision and update of the Turkish language curriculum, as well.

When you look back over your career, does anything surprise you? 

I am surprised to find myself at the University of Washington. I have always imagined a life in Turkey in a Turkish university. However, my position enables me to spend time in Turkey during summers and my contact and publications in Turkish help me to sustain regular communication with my colleagues in Turkish universities. I am able to host students and faculty from Turkey thanks to fellowships from the Turkish government and the Fulbright program. It is surprising to me that Reşat Kasaba, Walter Andrews and I were able to join forces  to make the University of Washington a strong center for Turkish and Ottoman Studies.

Multidisciplinary Team of Faculty and Students Create Ancient Iran Digital Platform

Coinciding with this spring’s celebration of the Persian New Year 1400/2021, a multidisciplinary team of UW faculty and students launched Ancient Iran: A Digital Platform. The website offers a thematic introduction to the history and archaeology of Ancient Iran from ca. 3000 BC to the early Islamic era. Inspired by the success of Ancient Iran Day —a public humanities event that brought more than five hundred participants to the UW campus on December 1, 2018 —the website invites visitors to explore the richness and diversity of Ancient Iran.  The project foregrounds Iran’s cultural complexity, exploring how the major civilizations of Ancient Iran, from the Elamites to the Sasanians, drew upon and integrated diverse cultural traditions.

Frieze of Griffins, circa 510 BC, Susa, Iran, Louvre Museum

Key features include educational resources, such as downloadable posters that integrate art and textual sources, an extensive photo gallery of artifacts and archaeological sites, and classroom activities that make the material dimensions of Ancient Iran tangible. Topics range from the Achaemenid army to Zoroastrian views of the afterlife, providing ample room to explore.

The website includes a survey for your feedback, suggestions, and corrections.

The project was collaborative and multidisciplinary from start to finish, with four directors shaping its content and design: Jeffrey Haines (History, Ph.D. student), Ryan Robinson (Anthropology, undergraduate), Stephanie Selover (Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, Assistant Professor), and Joel Walker (History, Associate Professor).


Awards, Grants, Promotions, Publications, Presentations

Mika Ahuvia (Jackson School): Promoted to Associate Professor; and received a 2021-22 a Simpson Center, Society of Scholars Fellow award supporting her work on “Beyond the Rabbis: An Inclusive History of Ancient Jews.”

Smadar Ben-Natan (Jackson School): PUBLICATIONS: “Self-Proclaimed Human Rights Heroes: The Professional Project of Israeli Military Judges,” Law & Social Inquiry (CUP, Feb. 4, 2021), a leading journal in the sociology of law. AWARDS: Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, HFG Distinguished Scholars grant for “The Carceral State in Conflict: Between Reconciliation and Radicalization,” a research project focused on the treatment of political prisoners in Israel, and how systems of incarceration can either foster radicalization or further reconciliation.

Aria Fani (Near Eastern Languages & Civilization):  Appointed to the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Professorship in Persian and Iranian Studies.

Karam Dana (School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, UW, Bothell):  Named the first holder of the newly created Alyson McGregor Distinguished Professorship of Transformative Research, effective through March 2026.

David Fenner (Jackson School): Received the 2021 UW Distinguished Contributions to Lifelong Learning Award.

Karen Fisher (Information School): Received the inaugural 2020 Google Award for Inclusion Research—with Yacine Ghamri-Doudane, La Rochelle Université, France—to support their work in designing culturally sensitive mobile technology for young Syrian refugee women in Jordan.

Paula Holmes-Eber (Jackson School): Appointed Senior Lecturer for the US Naval Postgraduate School’s RESP (regional security education program). The appointment provides an opportunity to educate senior military leaders about the social, cultural and political issues surrounding the conflicts to which they are deploying.

Reşat Kasaba (Jackson School): Appointed Anne H.H. and Kenneth B. Pyle Professor of American Foreign Policy, 2020-22.

Frederick Lorenz (Jackson School): Presented a paper titled: “The Role of Turkey in Promoting Integrated Development in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin” for the Hydropolitics Academy of Turkey (HPA) webinar on the theme of “A Roadway from Analysis to Diplomacy” (March 30, 2021).

Brian McLaren (Architecture): PUBLICATIONS: Modern Architecture, Empire and Race in Fascist Italy (Brill, 2021); “Modern Architecture and Racial Eugenics at the Esposizione Universale di Roma,” in Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present, edited by Irene Cheng, et al (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020); “Carlo Enrico Rava and the Postwar Legacy of Fascism” in The Routledge Companion to Italian Fascist Architecture: Reception and Legacy, edited by Kay Bea Jones and Stephanie Pilat (Routledge, 2020); “Modern Architecture and Colonialism in the Islamic World,” International Journal of Islamic Studies,10.1. AWARDS: Visiting Senior Fellowship, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Washington, D.C.

Arzoo Osanloo (Law, Societies, and Justice): PUBLICATIONS: Forgiveness Work: Mercy, Law, and Victims’ Rights in Iran (Princeton University Press, 2020); “Entanglements: Lives Lived Under Sanctions” (April 2021) in Iran Under Sanctions collection, Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies’ project, Rethinking Iran; “Everyday Forgiveness: The Practice and Politics of Mercy,” will be published in HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory in summer 2021, as part of a book symposium, responding to six scholarly essays on her book. Co-organized, with Cabeiri Robinson, yearlong project, Humanitarianisms: Migrations and Care through the Global South, a Sawyer Seminar awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Naomi Sokoloff (Near Eastern & Civilization): Published: Since 1948: Israeli Literature in the Making, co-edited with Nancy E. Berg (SUNY Press); co-organized, with professors Gordana Crnković and Gary Handwerk, a symposium titled “Global Literatures & Global Literacies: Teaching Texts, Old and New (April 30, 2021) to advance thinking about the current and future teaching of literature, as well as a new literature major, at UW; appointed to the position of Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, July 1, 2021-June 30, 2024.

Nathalie Williams (Jackson School): Named by the Center for Migration Studies of New York as co-editor of International Migration Review (IMR), the premier social science journal in the field of international migration, ethnic group relations, and refugee movements.

Hamza Zafer (Near Eastern Languages & Civilization):  Received a 2021-22 fellowship from the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania. The fellowship will allow him to make progress on his second book project, The Matriarchs for Medina: Muhammad’s Wives in the Early Arabic Sources. He will also be working on an article about the “Banu Nadir Raids,” which resulted in Muhammad’s marriages, two of which were to Jewish women.


Undergraduate Awardees

Nathalie Paradise

Nathalie Paradise (Arabic)
Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, and  the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies

Nathalie Paradise is a double major in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization and the Jackson School of International Studies. Nathalie is as an undergraduate researcher in the NELC-sponsored Svoboda Diaries Project, where she reads, transcribes, and prepares for online publication Joseph Mathia Svoboda’s turn-of-the-century diaries on Iraq. Her career goal is to become a public diplomacy officer in the Middle East to promote cultural exchange and stronger relationships between the United States and the Middle East.

Janick Gold

Janick Gold (Arabic)
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies

Janick Gold is majoring in International Studies. He is entering the advanced level of his Arabic training and will be doing intensive online instruction this summer at the Qasid Arabic Institute, Jordan. He is interested in the anthropology, politics, and economics of the Middle East, which, with a strong command of Arabic, will prepare him for a career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Graduate Awardees

Nida Kiali

Nida Kiali (Turkish)
 Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Near & Middle Eastern Studies

Nida Kiali is pursuing a Ph.D. in the Interdisciplinary Program in Near & Middle Eastern Studies. Her academic interests center on the question of Arab identity and the issue of modernity among Palestinians living in Israel. In her research, she will be examining the emergence of Palestinian nationalism, the historical dynamics shaping Palestinian national identity, and why it changed among Palestinians living in Israel.

Munteha Shukralla

Munteha Shukralla (Arabic)
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies

Munteha Shukralla is pursuing her M.A. in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. She is passionate about contemporary US-Middle East multilateral and diplomatic relations. In particular, Munteha is interested in the subtle ways humanitarian law, religion, and nationalism impacts how the US formulates its strategy towards the Middle East. Her research will include a comparative analysis of contemporary policies and strategies towards Islam and humanitarianism.

Christopher Tutolo

Christopher Tutolo (Arabic)
French and Italian Studies 

Christopher Tutolo is pursuing an M.A. in French and Italian Studies. His research lies at the intersection of France and the Levant, with a focus on the impact of French colonial presence in Lebanon and Syria following the fall of the Ottoman Empire. With advanced fluency in French, Christopher is concurrently pursuing a graduate certificate in Second and Foreign Language Teaching.