Brothers in Arms: the papers of Nabih and Adil Al-Azmah (EUL MS 215)

The Al-Azmah papers are unusual amongst our collections in that they document the political careers of two brothers, both of whom – in related and overlapping spheres of activity – played a major role in the development of Arab nationalism in the Middle East. Although much of their lives were spent in their native Syria, the Al-Azmah brothers were active across Palestine, Transjordan and Egypt, were involved in training the ikhwahn troops of King Ibn Saud, and also held important political positions in the Syrian government during the eras of the French mandate as well as postwar independence.

Nabih and Adil were was born in Damascus to Abdel Aziz Al-Azmah, and belonged to a distinguished Damascene family who traced their origins back several centuries to Hasan Bey al-Azma, a Turkmen military leader who had settled in Syria. Many family members attained prominent positions in Syria as merchants, landowners, administrators, military and political leaders, as well as in the arts and sciences. These include Nabih and Adil’s uncles, Zaki, Taher and Yusuf Al-Azma, who were all respected army officers, Bashir al-Azma (1910–1992), who was briefly Prime Minister of Syria in 1962, Malak al-Azma, a successful banker whose son Professor Aziz al-Azma, donated the papers of his grandfather and great-uncle Adil and Nabih to the University of Exeter.

 

نبية العظمة   Nabih Al-Azmeh (1886-1972)

Nabih was educated at the Al-Rashdiya Military School in the Yalbugha Mosque in the Al-Bahsa neighborhood of Damascus before travelling to Yemen at the age of twelve where his father had been appointed as an administrator in the Hodeidah district. After returning from Yemen, he joined the Istanbul Military Academy in 1905, graduating two years later with the rank of lieutenant. During the First World War he fought with the Ottoman forces, taking part in the attack on the Suez Canal in 1915 as well as the campaign in Palestine.

Following the defeat of the Ottoman forces at the end of the war, the British took control of Palestine, Iraq and Transjordan, while France took over Syria in 1920. King Faisal was appointed head of the Arab Kingdom of Syria in March 1920 and during his short reign Nabih Al-Azmah served as director of police in Aleppo, while his uncle Yusuf Al-Azmah was Minister for War. However, in April 1920 the League of Nations gave France a mandate over Syria. A few Syrians were prepared to accept French rule, but the majority were strongly opposed to the idea and Yusuf Al-Azmah was one of the foremost advocates of armed resistance. When the French invaded with a force comprising several thousand troops, supported by tanks, artillery and aircraft, Yusuf died a heroic death in the Battle of Maysalun in July 1920. The Arab government in Syria was dissolved and King Faisal was expelled from Syria, although the following year the British had him installed as King of Iraq, an office he fulfilled until his death in 1933.

Following the death of his uncle and the French take-over of Syria, Nabih Al-Azmah left Syria and remained in exile for the next two decades. He moved first to the Druze city of as-Suwaydā’ in southwestern Syria, close to the border with Jordan, and then took up a role as advisor to King Faisal’s brother, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, the Emir of Jordan. He later moved to Egypt where he worked with King Abdul Aziz in establishing and training the Ikhwan forces in the Saudi army. During the 1930s he was active in Palestine, beginning with the Islamic Conference in Jerusalem December 1931, which had been organised by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni (1895–1974) and Indian Pan-Islamist Shawkat ‘Ali (1873–1938) and reflected the growing interest of Muslims in Palestine and the threat of Zionism – a topic explored in depth in the archive of Abd al-Fattah Al-Awaisi (EUL MS 216). Nabih Al-Azmah became close to the Grand Mufti (who was also a friend of Ernest Tatham Richmond) and there are photographs of them together during this period.

Cover of a pamphlet published by the Hizb al-Istiqlal al-Arabi (Arab Independence party) in 1932 EUL MS 215/7/6

In 1932 he helped establish Palestine’s first political party, Hizb al-Istiqlal, modelled in part on the Syrian nationalist party Hizb al-Istiqlal al-‘Arabi to which he belonged. The following year he was appointed director of the first Arab Exhibition, held in Jerusalem, and he continued in this role for the second Exhibition in 1934.

Al-Azmah also participated in the Great Revolt of 1936-39, a nationalist uprising by Palestinian Arabs against the British administration of the Palestine Mandate. He became head of the ‘Committee for the Defense of Palestine’, providing support and assistance between the mujahideen in Syria and those in Palestine. As head of the Syrian Palestine Defence Committee he attended the General Arab Congress at Bludan in 1937, which strove to strengthen Pan-Arab feeling in the region in support of Palestine.

Letter from Fawzi al-Qawuqji , Commander of the Society for the Defense of Palestine. EUL MS 215/10/1

Like al-Husayni, Al-Azmah’s opposition to the British and the French led him to consider supporting the Nazis during the Second World War, on the basis of ‘my enemy’s enemy must be my friend’, but unlike some other Arab nationalists he remained very wary of such an alliance; after some initial contact with Axis forces, he withdrew all ties. When the Allied forces arrived in Syria in 1941 he was forced once more to go into exile. He refused to go to Berlin, however, unlike his brother Adil who took refuge in the German capital with the Iraqi Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani. After the war Nabih returned to Syria where he was appointed Minister for Defence in the new independent government of Saadallah Al-Jabri. This only lasted for a brief period, after which he held the position of Chairman of the National Party until his retirement in the early 1950s. He died in 1972.

Conference pamphlet published by the League of Nationalist Action. EUL MS 215/7/6

  عادل العظمة   Adil Al-Azmeh (1888-1952)

Portrait of Adil Al-zmah, from a newspaper report on his death EUL MS 215/6/2

Adil did not share his older brother’s military background, but he was equally active in his work for Arab nationalism. He graduated from the Royal Academy in Istanbul and practised for some time as a lawyer in the early 1920s before joining Nabih in Transjordan, where he campaigned against Jewish immigration into Palestine. Following the failure of the Great Revolt he was one of many Arab nationalists, led by the Grand Mufti, who took refuge in Iraq and supported the pro-German coup d’etat in March 1941. He lived in Iraq in the early 1940s and participated in similar political activities to his brother, including a spell spent in Iraq in the early 1940s. After independence, he occupied various posts of government, including Governor of Latakia (1944-46?) – during which time he played a role in the arrest and execution of Sulayman al-Murshid – Governor of Aleppo (1946-49) and Minister of the Interior. The archive contains copies of his diaries for the years between 1946 and 1948 (EUL MS 115/1/11-14), providing a fascinating glimpse into his political and administrative duties. He died in Beirut in 1952.

EUL MS 215/5/4

Cover of a booklet published by the Governorate of Aleppo in 1947, with an image showing the city’s famous Bab al-Faraj Clock Tower and – in the distance – the 13th century citadel. EUL MS 215/5/4

Although these papers are all photocopies – the original documents are held in Damascus, with the Saudi papers now housed at the Darat al-Malik Ábd al-Áziz in Riyadh – they provide a wealth of information on topics such early Arab nationalism, political networks in the Levant, the activities of Islamic movements in Palestine, and the history of Syria during the transition from the French Mandate to independence. The documents include political correspondence with Arab leaders and key figures such as Fawzi Al-Qawuqji, Hashim al-Atassi, Husni al-Za’im, Fakhri el-Nashashibi, Rashid Rida, Mohamed Ali Ettaher, Asad Daghir, Wajih Al-Haffar, Dr Abd al-Rahman al-Kayyali, Muhammad ‘Izzat Darwazeh and others, state papers, political manifestoes and conference booklets for various political parties, as well as campaign material directed against the French administration in Syria and the British administration in Palestine. There are four indexes to the papers (EUL MS 215/6/4, 215/8/8, 215/11/3 and 215/12/13, which should probably be the starting point for researchers seeking to work with the collection.

The catalogue entries for the Al-Azmah papers can be consulted here

 

 

Cataloguing the Common Ground Archive: Project Completed!

I’m very pleased to announce that after two years and four months (extended due to the coronavirus pandemic), the project to catalogue the Common Ground archive has now been completed. The new catalogue descriptions will allow this extensive archive (measuring approximately 125 linear metres!) to be more easily searched, accessed and used. The archive has been arranged into sections, series and files, and descriptions are available for all to browse via our online catalogue. You can explore the new archive catalogue here.

 

Common Ground is an arts and environmental charity, which was established in the early 1980s (founded in 1982 and charitable status gained in 1983) with a mission to link nature with culture and use celebration of the everyday as a starting point for local action. The charity has raised awareness of a variety of environmental issues through its innovative projects, which have involved public participation; the commissioning of new artistic works; the organisation of exhibitions, events and conferences; the launching of new calendar customs; and the publication of books, pamphlets, newsletters, leaflets and postcards. Many of the projects – in particular, ‘Parish Maps’, the ‘Campaign for Local Distinctiveness’ and ‘Apple Day’ – have proven to be highly sustainable, continuing long after Common Ground’s active involvement in them ceased.

The Common Ground archive comprises a wide range of material created and collected by the charity in the course of its activities between 1982 and 2013, including project planning papers, correspondence, reports, financial papers, research material, press clippings, photographs, promotional material, and publications. The largest section of the archive concerns Common Ground’s work on its various projects. These files are organised into sub-sections according to project, reflecting the archive’s original order and the use of the material by Common Ground. However, as many of the projects overlapped chronologically and thematically, some sub-sections relate to more than one project. It is therefore worth browsing the archive both via the hierarchical tree, as well as through an advanced search of the entire archive (enter EUL MS 416 followed by a * in the ‘Ref No’ field and enter a keyword e.g. Parish Maps in the ‘Any Text’ field.

 

For me personally, the aspects of Common Ground’s work that really shine through the archive are project conception, public participation, and engagement through the arts. For each project there are project proposals and project planning notes, which reveal the thought processes and creative ideas behind Common Ground’s projects. The excitedly scribbled questions and ideas on pages of lined paper are particularly wonderful! All of Common Ground’s projects involved public participation to a certain degree, but my favourites are those that invited members of the public to share their own knowledge and experiences. Thousands of letters from people around the UK (and, in some instances, around the world) relating to projects such as the Flora Britannica, Orchard Observances and Parish Maps provide fascinating insight into the relationship between people and the environment. And finally, the archive contains correspondence, photographs and publications relating to Common Ground’s collaboration with artists, sculptors, craftspeople, photographers, writers, poets, playwrights and composers. The directors of Common Ground understood that the arts are an effective means to engage and excite people about their local environment, and made a special effort to work with a wide variety of practitioners, including Peter Randall-Page, David Nash, James Ravilious, David Wood, James Crowden, and Karen Wimhurst.

The Common Ground archive has the potential to be used for research in a wide range of areas, including environmental studies, geography, literature, visual arts, cultural studies, sociology, and business studies. The archive may also be of general interest to anyone keen to know more about environmental issues, arts, culture, or their local area (the archive includes material relating to thousands of towns, cities and villages across the UK). We hope that this cataloguing project will enable the archive to be more easily and effectively accessed and used for research, teaching and pleasure.

To find out more about the different Common Ground projects and the archive material relating to them, you can browse the past project blog posts, or visit our online guide to the Common Ground archive. The online guide has been designed to help you to navigate the archive catalogue, provide guidance on access and copyright, and answer some of your questions. You are also welcome to contact Special Collections by email at libspc@exeter.ac.uk for more information about the archive.

So that just leaves me to say goodbye for now! However, I am delighted to be continuing in my role as project archivist at the University of Exeter Special Collections, where I have already embarked on my next cataloguing project…

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Exploring the Omar Sheikhmous Archive, Part 4: A Guide to Kurdish Political Parties

In the concluding entry to our series of blogposts exploring the Omar Sheikhmous archive, it seemed a good idea to provide a guide to the various Kurdish political parties, groups and movements for which he hold material in our collections. The complex and convoluted history of Kurdish resistance can be hard to follow, with multiple splits and reunions, confusing acronyms and variant forms of names.

The party emblems and logos are all taken from documents in the Sheikhmous archive.

Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI) – EUL MS 403/3/3

 

Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran

Hîzbî Dêmukratî Kurdistanî Êran‎

Persian: حزب دموکرات کردستان ایران

 

 

The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI) was founded by Qazi Muhammed in Mahabad in 1945, and we also hold a file on the short-lived Republic of Mahabad that includes copies of periodicals published there prior to Muhammed’s execution in March 1947 (EUL MS 403/7/1/1).

The subsequent repression of the party forced it to operate underground for the next few years, surfacing occasionally for short-lived collaborations in the 1950s and 1960s. When the new Islamic regime rejected calls for Kurdish autonomy, the KDPI joined other Kurdish groups to fight the Iranian government from 1979 to 1981, a conflict that continued intermittently ever since. The KDPI remains prescribed in Iran, with many of its members taking refuge over the border in Iraq.

Most of the material held dates from the 1980s, although there are documents dated between 1978 and 1996 in the file. These include information sheets, leaflets written by KDPI activists, bulletins, press releases, open letters from the KDPI leadership, issues of periodicals and newspapers such as Kurdistan: Organî Kumîtey Nawendîye Hîzbî Dêmukratî Kurdistanî Êran, ‘Talash dar rah-I tafahum: majmu’ah-‘i  asnad and Kurdistan Today, along with personal correspondence such as invitations to meetings sent to Omar Sheikhmous.

One of the most significant figures in the history of the KDPI is Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou, who led the party from from 1973 until his assassination in Vienna in 1989. There are several official KDPI communications from Ghassemlou in the file, along with a separate correspondence file (EUL MS 403/2/1/4) and cuttings on Ghassemlou’s life and death (EUL MS 403/7/5). There is also an open letter written byGhassemlou’s successor as KDPI Secretary General, Abdullah Hassanzadeh, on the subject of Iranian state terrorism with a four page list of victims and a statement about Iranian cleric and intelligence minister Ali Fallahian in relation to the ‘Mykonos’ murder of Kurds in Berlin (1996)

Komala – EUL MS 403/3/4

Society of Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kurdistan

Komełey Şorişgêrî Zehmetkêşanî Kurdistanî Êran

Revolutionary Workers’ Society of Iranian Kurdistan / ‘Society of Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kurdistan’

كۆمه‌ڵه‌ی شۆڕشگێڕی زه‌حمه‌تكێشانی كوردستانی ئێران كۆمه‌ڵه‌ی شۆڕشگێڕی

[NB Not to be confused with the Kurdistan Toilers’ Party, (KTP) Hizbi Zahmatkêshani Kurdistan, or Hizb al-Kadihin al-Kurdistani, which was founded in 1985 and publishes newspapers and periodicals including Alay Azadi (Banner of Freedom), Pesh Kawtin and Nojan.]

Komala means ‘group’ or ‘society’ in Kurdish, and the recurring use of the word in the names of several different political groups can be confusing.

Emerging from a student organisation in the late 1960s, the Komala party took formal shape in the late 1970s as Komełey Şorişgêrî Zehmetkêşanî Kurdistanî Êran [in Kurdish] or ‘Society of Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kurdistan’ until 1984 when it became the Komala Kurdistan’s Organization of the Communist Party of Iran. It remained part of the Communist Party of Iran until 2000 when one of its leaders, Abdullah Muhtadi, led a breakaway faction named the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan (Komala-PIK). Two further schisms occurred in 2007 and 2008, resulting in the creation of other Komala splinter groups led by Omar Ilkhanizade and Abdulla Konaposhi respectively.

The material we hold – which includes leaflets, press-releases, posters and booklets – spans the period between 1965 and 2009 and includes publications issued by Komala, the Communist Party of Iran and various international branches such as the Organisation of Komala Supporters Abroad.

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – EUL MS 403/3/5

Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê

The PKK was founded in November 1978 in the village of Fis (near Lice), by a group of Kurdish students led by Abdullah Öcalan. During the 1980s and 1990s it was engaged in violent conflict with the Turkish state and military authorities, but in 1999 Öcalan was captured and imprisoned, and since then he has been held in solitary confinement as the only prisoner on İmralı island in the Sea of Marmara.

We don’t hold many PKK documents but there is a large amount of secondary material on Öcalan and PKK activities in the box on the Kurds in Turkey (EUL MS 403/7/6/4), a biographical file on Öcalan (EUL MS 403/7/5) and numerous news reports in Boxes EUL MS 403/10, including statements about the PKK issued by Jalal Talabani.

 

Komkar  EUL MS 403/3/7

 

The Association of Kurdish Workers for Kurdistan

Federasyona Komelên Karkerên Kurdistan [Komelên Karkerên = Kom Kar]

 

 

Among the Kurdish diaspora, it was students who were the first to start forming political organisations, beginning with the Kurdish Students Society in Europe (KSSE). In 1979 groups of Kurdish workers in Turkey came together to form ‘Komkar’, and this federation of Kurdish worker’s associations soon become widely established across Europe.

We hold papers from various European Komkar branches including statements on Kurdish and Turkish affairs, information on the 5th Komkar congress in 1983, correspondence, posters and publications.

 

Kurdistan Socialist Party – Iraq and related Socialist parties

EUL MS 403/3/8 and EUL MS 403/3/20

Kurdistan Socialist Party – Iraq (KSP-I)

الحزب الاشتراكي الكردستاني العراق

al-Ḥizb al-Ishtirākī al-Kurdistānī – al-`Irāq

 

Partiya Sosyalist a Kurdistan (PSK or PASOK)

al-Hizb al-Ishtiraki al-Kurdi

 

The complicated history of the different Socialist parties involved in the Kurdish struggle requires some careful unpicking. The United Socialist Party of Kurdistan was formed in 1979 when a former KDP splinter group led by Mahmud Osman united with another group led by Socialist politician Rasul Mamand (1944–94). It was renamed the Socialist Party of Kurdistan-Iraq  (KSP-I) in 1981. The party was dissolved in  December 1992 when Mamand joined the PUK’s Political Bureau.

In 1993 the KSP-I was revived by a former member Mohammed Haji Mahmoud after he left the KDP, and at its second party congress the following year it changed its name to the Kurdistan Social Democratic Party (Parti Sosialiri Dimuqrati Kurdistan, Al-Hizb al-Ishtiraki al-Dimuqrati al-Kurdistani) – which is not to be confused with the Kurdish Socialist Democratic Movement which was founded in May 1976 by Salih Al-Yousify (1918-81) from which we have a copy of a document issued in 1977.

Meanwhile in Turkey the Socialist Party of Turkish Kurdistan (SPTK) had been founded in 1974 by Kemal Burkay. The activities of the party were disrupted by the coup in 1980, with Burkay and most of its leaders forced into exile, and at the congress in 1992 it changed its name to the Socialist Party of Kurdistan.

We have a small file on the SPTK (EUL MS 403/3/20) but the folder at EUL MS 403/3/8 contains material relating to both the KSP-I and the PSK, as well as the KSDP, including party newsletters and periodicals such as Peyamî Birayetî, Rebazi-Lawan, Regay Azadi (KSP-I), Surîn and Yekgirtin (PSK), draft documents, memoriam posters, military bulletins, correspondence including an invitation from Kemal Burkay and a handwritten letter to Omar Sheikhmous from the Kurdish Socialist Party in Syria, plus various documents from the Socialist International congresses in which Jalal Talabani and other Kurds participated.

Iraqi Communist Party – EUL MS 403/3/9

Title page of the ICP newspaper Ṭarīq al-shaʻb

 

Arabic: الحزب الشيوعي العراقي

[al-Hizb al Shuyu’i al-Iraqi]

 

 

 

The Iraqi Communist Party was founded in 1934, emerging out of organised boycott of the British-owned Baghdad Electric Light Company. After various vicissitudes during the 1940s, it was strengthened in the early 1950s by growing support from Kurds, who gradually took over leadership roles and influenced the ICP’s approval of the principle of Kurdistan’s autonomy in their 1953 charter. Following the 1963 Baathist take-over, however, the ICP faced severe oppression from the government, and in 1967 a breakaway group (led by Aziz al-Hajj, who died earlier this year) split from the ICP and established the Iraqi Communist Party – Central Command. Weakened by the division, the ICP activities gradually focussed more on Kurdish areas and less on Baghdad. The close associaton between the Kurds and the ICP is reflected in the fact that a Kurd, Aziz Muhammad (1924-2017) was Secretary General of the ICP from 1964 until 1993.

Most of the material in this file comes from the late 1970s and the 1980s and includes several issues of ICP periodicals and newspapers such as Ṭarīq al-shaʻb and Rêyazi Pêshmerge, numerous documents on relationships with other parties, including the KDP and the PUK, the Tudeh Party in Iran, as well as other branches of the Communist Party, articles on a range of topics written by ICP members, letters, party reports and press releases.

There is also a smaller file containing seven documents relating to the Workers Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI), [in Arabic: الحزب الشيوعي العمالي العراقي or al-Hizb al-Shuyu’i al-Ummali al-Iraqi, and in Kurdish: Hizbi Communisti Krekari Iraq] which was founded in 1993.

 

 

Political Alliances and Coalitions

The history of the Kurdish resistance movement has, tragically, been characterised by a great deal of in-fighting and self-destructive rivalry, by there have also been several successful attempts to bring together political groups under umbrella organisations that could consolidate opposition and strengthen cross-party collaboration. Although these alliances may not always have lasted long, they were significant steps in the development of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

 

Democratic National Patriotic Front in Iraq – EUL MS 403/3/12

This was an umbrella opposition group founded in November 1980 and consisting of the Iraqi Communist Party, the National Union of Kurdistan and other parties. The file contains four documents, including letters to Omar Sheikhmous from the DNPF leadership (1982-83) and an information sheet (1987)

 

 

Iraqi Kurdistan Front  EUL MS 403/3/13

The Iraqi Kurdistan Front (IKF) was formed in 1987-88 from the PUK, KDP and six smaller parties – including the KPDP, the KSP-I and PASOK –  with the aim of uniting Kurdish factions and strengtheing opposition to the regime in Baghdad. The IKF played a major role during the ‘National Uprising’ of 1991 following the Gulf War ceasefire, as well as preparations for the general elections on 19 May 1992.

Documents include letters and proposals for the formation of the IKF, the first issue of their newspaper Berey Kurdistanî  (September 1989) and joint statements by Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani regarding the forthcoming elections (1992). The IKF subsequently broke up, in part due to the ongoing tension between the KDP and the PUK.

 

Kurdistan National Congress – EUL MS 403/3/6

 

Kongreya Neteweyî ya Kurdistanê (KNK)

كۆنگرەی نەتەوەیی كوردستان

Kongreya Niştimanî  ya Kurdistanê (KNK)

 

 

 

The Kurdish National Congress is a coalition of exiled Kurdish politicians and activists that was founded in 1999 following an initiative by the PKK that began in 1985, and absorbed the former Kurdistan Parliament in Exile.

The KNK’s first president was Ismet Cheriff Vanly (we hold a correspondence file of Vanly’s letters at EUL MS 403/2/13), who had served on the Executive Council of the previous body, and we have various documents relating to the dissolution of the Kurdistan Parliament in Exile and the draft charter for the KNK, as well as correspondence, press releases and publications.

 

Iraqi National Congress – EUL MS 403/3/17

 

 

المؤتمر الوطني العراقي

al-Mu’tamar al-Watani al-‘Iraqi

 

 

The history of the Iraqi National Congress is closely associated with the controversial figure of Ahmad Chalabi (1944-2015). Founded in Vienna in June 1992 as an umbrella organisation of Kurdish, Sunni and Shi’a groups opposed to Saddam Hussein’s government, the INC was comprised mainly of Kurdish exiles but received funding and support from the US government, including the CIA. Over the following decade, Chalabi and others associated with the INC played a significant role in encouraging the development of the US government’s neoconservative foreign policy towards Iraq that resulted in the 2003 invasion and the demise of Saddam Hussein.

The file includes papers from the 1992 INC congress, including a transcript of Jalal Talabani’s speech to the Opening Session, as well as a list of members of the INC, letters from Chalabi to various diplomats, press releases and documents relating to the INC’s involvement in the INDICT campaign for the prosection of Iraqi war criminals (1997).

 

The Independence Party of Kurdistan – EUL MS 403/3/10

 

Partîkarî Serbexoyî Kurdistane

 

The Kurdistan Independence Party was founded in Sweden between 1986 and 1989, and was dedicated to non-violent and democratic means of achieving independence for Kurdistan.

 

Amir Qazi (or Ghazi), Chairman of the Independence Party, was a former member of the politburo of the KDPI and married Efat (1935-1990), the daughter of Qazi Muhammad, president of the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad. She was killed in Sweden by a letter bomb addressed to her husband, and thought to have been sent by Iranian agents. The folder contains a letter from Qazi, several issues of their periodical ‘Ala’ (1986-), documents and press-releases.

 

Revolutionary parties – EUL MS 403/3/11

The Revolutionaries Union of Kurdistan

Yekêtî Sorisgirani Kurdistan 

The Kurdish Revolutionary Party

الحزب الثوري الكردستاني

al-Hizb al-Thawri al-Kurdistani 

Hizbi Shorishgeri Kurdistan

The Kurdish Revolutionary Party was founded in 1964, before temporarily merging with the KDP (1970-72) and then being revived by members who were unhappy with the KDP leadership. In 1974 it joined the Ba’ath Party approved National Progressive Front (NPF) and consequently lost much of its significance. The file includes the constitutions from 1964 and papers from the party congress in 1970 concerning its relationship with the KDP.

The Revolutionaries’ Union of Kurdistan was founded in May 1991 by an Iranian Kurd, Said Yazdanpanah, who was assassinated five months later. The organisation was then led by his brother Hussein. At a party congress in 2006 it was renamed the Kurdish Freedom Party        [پارتی ئازادیی کوردستان‎] and Ali Qazi – brother of Efat, mentioned above – was elected leader.

None of these parties should be confused with Yekêtî Şorişgirani Kurdistan [Revolutionary Union of Kurdistan], which was a faction within the PUK formed around 1982 by an alignment with some Socialist groups. The file holds several letters to and from this group, with correspondents including Omar Sheikhmous, Omar Dababa, Fuad Masoum and Kemal Fuad, as well as membership booklets and other documents.

 

Kurdistan Democratic Progressive Party in Syria – EUL MS 403/3/16

Partiya Dîmoqratî Pêşverû Kurd li Sûriyê

Al-Hizb al-Dimuqrati al-Kurdi al-Taqaddumi fi Suriya

الحزب الديمقراطي التقدمي الكردي في سوريا

 

The history of the KDPPS is inseparable from the life of its leader, the late Abdul Hamid Darwish (1936-2019), who was one of the co-founders (along with Nûredein Zaza and Osman Sabri) of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria in 1957. Internal disagreements led to the KDPS splitting in 1965, with Darwish leading the more moderate and conciliatory group that became known as the Kurdistan Democratic Progressive Party. Over time the KDPPS came to align itself closely with Jalal Talabani’s PUK, while the KDPS aligned itself with Mustafa Barzani’s KDP, which would have a negative impact upon the two Syrian parties’ relations as the rivalry between the KDP and PUK developed into armed conflict.

Within Syria, however, the KDPPS continued to play an important role in both national politics and Kurdish affairs, with Darwish being elected to the Syrian parliament in 1990 and helping to establish relations between the Kurdish National Council and Syrian opposition groups. Papers in this file are dated between 1977 and 1999 and include numerous copies of the party’s newspaper al-Dimuqrati, a proclamation on the war between Kurds in Iraq and the Iraqi regime (1988), as well as documents and press-releases from the mid-1990s.

Kurdistan Popular Democratic Party (KPDP) – EUL MS 403/3/18

Hizb al-Sha’ab Dimuqrati al-Kurdistan

Parti Geli Dimukrati Kurdistan

The Kurdistan Popular Democratic Party (KPDP) was founded by Sami Abdulrahman in 1979 as a breakaway group from the KDP, which they rejoined in 1993.

Documents include various bulletins and statements issued by the party (1981-85), a list of fifteen KPDP members executed in Mosul in 1985, a supplement to the KPDP periodical ‘Gel’ on the General Scientific Conference of Kurds in the Soviet Union (1990), a photocopy of the first page of issue no 40 of Gel [ al-Sha`b], Document from the 2nd conference (1990)

Kurdistan Democratic Union – EUL MS 403/3/21

 

Yeketi Dimukrati Kurdistan

al-Ittihad al-Dimuqrati al-Kurdistani

The Kurdistan Democratic Union (KDU) was founded by Ali Sinjari in 1977 but was later merged with the KDP in 1993. Documents in the file include a news bulletin (1986), a leaflet Reya Yeketiye (1987), an Arabic press release published in June 1991 to mark the 14th year of the founding of the party and issue no.20 (October 1990) of the KDU periodical Al Sha’lah/Mesxel .

The National Democratic Union of Kurdistan (Yekitiya Netewayî Demokratî Kurdistan, or YNKD) was founded in 1995 by Ghafur Makhmuri – the folder contains a press release issued on 15 November 1995.

 

The Sheikhmous archive does include hold material relating to other political parties and movements, and there also folders containing papers from left-wing Iranian parties as well as Islamic political groups and other bodies, such as the Association of Kurdish Doctors in Europe.

The Sheikhmous papers have now been catalogued and the entries can be consulted here. 

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: ‘Trees, Woods and the Green Man’ and ‘Field Days’

The Common Ground archive cataloguing project is now nearing its end and the final two sections of project material – relating to the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project and the Field Days project – have been catalogued. Read on to find out more about these projects and the archive material relating to them.

Trees, Woods and the Green Man

Common Ground started work on the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project in 1986. The aim of the project was to raise awareness of ‘the importance of trees by exploring their aesthetic, spiritual and cultural value as well as their ecological importance’ (King, A and Clifford, S (eds),’Trees be Company’ (1989), p. xi). Throughout the project, Common Ground commissioned works by sculptors, artists, writers, poets and playwrights to explore themes around trees and woods. In 1989, Common Ground won the Prudential Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts for its work on the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project. Common Ground used the prize of £25,000 to commission further sculptural works, including works by Peter Randall-Page. Common Ground also collaborated with sculptors and artists to produce exhibitions about trees and the arts, including ‘The Tree of Life: New Images of an Ancient Symbol’ in 1989 and ‘Leaves’ by Andy Goldsworthy in 1989-1990. Furthermore, the project generated new campaigns and initiatives, such as the campaign to let fallen or damaged trees recover after the ‘Great Storm’ of 1987, and the initiative to develop a new calendar custom called Tree Dressing Day (you can find out more about Tree Dressing Day in our blog post: Tracing the ‘roots’ of Tree Dressing Day in the Common Ground archive). Common Ground produced several publications as part of the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project, including ‘Trees Be Company: An Anthology of Poetry’ (1989 and 2001), ‘In a Nutshell: A manifesto for trees and a guide to growing and protecting them’ (1990), and a special edition broadsheet newspaper ‘Pulp! with contributions from actors, authors, artists and cartoonists (1989)’, as well as a range of leaflets and postcards.

Promotional material relating to the Tree Dressing Day initiative (EUL MS 416/PRO/4/4/1)

Material in this sub-section of the archive includes:

  • files of assorted material relating to the administration of the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project by Common Ground;
  • material relating to the Tree Dressing initiative;
  • material relating to Trees, Woods and the Green Man arts initiatives (including artistic commissions, literary commissions, exhibitions, and events), which include papers relating to Common Ground’s work with artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and David Nash, amongst others;
  • material relating to Trees, Woods and the Green Man publications and promotional material produced by Common Ground, including ‘Trees Be Company’, ‘In a Nutshell’, and ‘Pulp!;
  • press clippings and material relating to publicity of the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project;
  • research material, including general research material about trees, reports and publications produced by governmental and environmental bodies, and research material concerning the Great Storm of October 1987;
  • and photographic material.

You can find the full catalogue description of the Trees, Woods and the Green Man section here or by clicking the image below.

This section of the archive may be of particular interest to anyone researching Common Ground’s collaborations with sculptors, artists, writers, actors, poets and playwrights, as the project involved a large number of commissions. The material relating to the commissions includes correspondence, press clippings, photographs and – in some cases – interviews with sculptors about their work.

There were several personal highlights for me in this section of the archive. I particularly enjoyed a file containing questionnaires completed by local authority tree officers, which gave insight (and some amusing anecdotes!) into common perceptions and complaints from the public about trees. The archive material relating to the Tree Dressing initiative is also fascinating, and includes correspondence, reports, and a large number of beautiful photographs of Tree Dressing events held around the UK in the 1990s. And I was excited to recognise some famous names in this section of the archive! Files concerning Common Ground’s special-edition newspaper ‘Pulp!’ include letters from those invited to contribute to the newspaper, including Victoria Wood, Martin Amis and Germaine Greer.

Field Days

The Field Days project was launched in 1995 to highlight the historical, cultural and social importance of fields, to celebrate their contribution to local distinctiveness, and to encourage people to take a more active role in their conservation. A variety of publications were produced by Common Ground as part of the Field Days project, including postcards, leaflets, pamphlets, and a book entitled ‘Field Days: An Anthology of Poetry’ (1998). A major initiative of the project was to highlight and uncover the variety of field names in the UK, and to encourage people to research, restore and celebrate the field names in their local areas. In July 1996, Common Ground was commissioned by the Department of the Environment to produce a laminated panel exhibition on the subject of Field Days for the Royal Agricultural Show, which was subsequently available for hire. In addition, Common Ground launched a Field Days poetry competition in partnership with Blue Nose Poetry, and collaborated with theatre groups, writers, poets, artists, craftspeople, photographers, and local communities to explore different ways of engaging with the diverse stories a field might tell.

Publications and promotional material produced for the Field Days project (EUL MS 416/PRO/11/2/7)

Material in this sub-section of the archive includes:

  • assorted papers relating to the administration of the Field Days project, including correspondence, project outlines and project planning papers; project reports; funding applications; papers relating to Field Days publications produced by Common Ground, including drafts; papers relating to field names; papers relating to field events; and research material press clippings, and notes;
  • promotional material and publications produced by Common Ground for the Field Days project, including flyers, postcards, leaflets, press releases, pamphlets and books, as well as papers concerning the content, design and printing of publications;
  • papers relating to the Field Days panel exhibition, which was first displayed at the Royal Agricultural Show in 1996 and subsequently went on tour and was available for hire;
  • papers relating to the Field Days poetry competition in 1997, which was organised by Common Ground in collaboration with Blue Nose Poetry;
  • material relating to arts initiatives concerning fields and the Field Days project, including responses from artists interested in being involved in the Field Days project and wishing to be added to Common Ground’s ‘of visual and performing artists, craftspeople and photographers who are interested in expressing and celebrating / documenting the cultural significance of the field in the British landscape’;
  • press clippings and material relating to publicity of the Field Days project, including promotional material, summaries of press coverage, correspondence, and two cassette tape audio recordings of radio interviews;
  • research material relating to fields, including field names and scarecrows;
  • and 18 slide storage sheets containing 35mm photographic slide transparencies relating to the Field Days project.

You can find the full catalogue description of the Field Days section here or by clicking the image below.

In the final few weeks of the cataloguing project, I’ll be looking to make the Common Ground’s general papers relating to administration, correspondence, finance and research more accessible. And I will look forward to writing to you again soon with my final blog post of the project!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: Orchards and Apple Day

Cataloguing Update

Following the announcement of a national lockdown in March, the physical work involved in cataloguing the Common Ground archive had to be temporarily put on hold. Attempting to catalogue an archive from home without access to the physical material was challenging, but I was able to draft out arrangements for the final sections of the archive, and use box lists to create file level descriptions. However, important processes such as repackaging and removing harmful fasteners, as well as labelling and moving files, had to wait. As a result, much of my focus between March and August shifted to promoting the archive, which included the creation of an online guide to the Common Ground archive, which I hope will be a useful resource for users to navigate the archive.

Thanks to an extension to my contract (which had been due to end in July 2020), action was able to return to the Common Ground archive in August! The past two months have been ‘fruitful’ indeed, with two further sections of the archive – relating to Common Ground’s Orchards project and Apple Day project – now catalogued.

Orchards

In 1987, Common Ground began work on the Orchards project, also known as the Campaign to Conserve Old Orchards and Plant New Ones. The Co-Directors of Common Ground, Sue Clifford and Angela King, first became aware of the sharp decline in orchards in the UK whilst conducting research for the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project. They realised that, in addition to the ecological impact, this decline also signified a loss of associated cultural practices. The Orchards project aimed to promote the ecological and cultural importance of orchards, to campaign for orchards to be conserved and planted, and to revive interest in local fruit varieties.

Common Ground’s Orchards project involved a number of different campaigns and initiatives, including ‘Save our Orchards’, ‘Community Orchards’, ‘Apple Day’ and ‘Orchard Observances’. In addition to its own initiatives, the charity also supported other orchard initiatives around the UK. As part of the Orchards project, Common Ground also organised events and exhibitions, and commissioned artistic works, including photographs and sculptures. Several publications relating to orchards were produced by Common Ground, including ‘Orchards: a guide to local conservation’ (1989), ‘The Common Ground Book of Orchards’ (2000), and ‘The Community Orchards Handbook’ (2008).

Publications and promotional material produced for the Orchards project (EUL MS 416/PRO/6/3/9)

Material in this section of the archive comprises: files of assorted material relating to the administration of the Orchards project; material relating to Orchards projects and events; files of correspondence relating to orchards; research material about orchards; press clippings and papers relating to publicity; and photographic material.

The section of the archive relating to the Orchards project was the most challenging to catalogue due to its very large size, as it consists of material stored within 61 lever arch files, 43 box files, 30 ring binders, 23 boxes and 14 magazine files! The number of records that Common Ground compiled during this project reflects how wide-ranging it was and how much it captured the imagination of Common Ground and of the public. Despite being one of the smallest, my favourite initiative created by Common Ground is ‘Orchard Observances’. In 1994, Common Ground circulated a call out to owners and users of orchards in the UK to keep a diary about their orchards, and in particular to make a note of the orchard’s location, age, cultivation, management, tree varieties, and resident and visiting wildlife. The archive contains three files relating to this initiative, including many diary entries sent to Common Ground, which make for fascinating reading.

Apple Day

Apple Day was an initiative to create a new calendar custom based on the apple. The very first Apple Day was organised by Common Ground in the Piazza of Covent Garden on 21 October 1990. In the 20 years that followed, Common Ground took on an advisory role, supporting the increasing number of local organisers around the UK in promoting their Apple Day events, whilst also keeping a record of the development and success of the initiative. In 2010, Common Ground decided that Apple Day had become so well established as a custom that it was capable of continuing without extra support from the charity. Apple Day continues to be celebrated on and around 21 October each year. You can find out more about Apple Day in my previous blog post: Apples and Archives: Getting to the ‘core’ of Apple Day in the Common Ground archive.

Publications and promotional material produced for the Apple Day project (EUL MS 416/PRO/8/4/3)

Apple Day grew out of the Orchards project, but perhaps because Apple Day became such a significant project in its own right, Common Ground arranged the records into two different sections within the archive. Material in the Apple Day section of the archive includes: files of assorted material relating to the administration of the Apple Day project; material relating to the planning of the first Apple Day in 1990; material relating to Apple Day events between 1991-2012; press clippings; promotional material; and photographic material. You can find the full catalogue description for the Apple Day section here or by clicking the image below.

This year marks 30 years since the very first Apple Day was organised by Common Ground in 1990. To celebrate the anniversary, I have filmed a short video featuring some of the Apple Day material in the archive. I hope you enjoy it!

 

The next section of the archive to catalogue is material relating to the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project. If all goes well, cataloguing should be completed by the end of October and my next blog post should appear soon after. I look forward to writing another update for you soon!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.

Heritage Open Days – The Northcott Theatre Archive

Last year as part of Heritage Open Days, I accompanied the Northcott Theatre’s technical manager on a fascinating behind the scenes tour of the theatre building. This year I decided it was my turn to give you a sneak peek at the history of the building through some of the photographs and other materials held in the Northcott Theatre Archive. 

Working on camera is a whole new experience for me (my colleagues know that I tend to try and keep out of shot!) so I hope you enjoy the video and can overlook the shaky presenting skills. Why not get in touch and share some of your own memories of the theatre with us in our comments section or on twitter @UoEHeritageColl.

[Due to size restrictions the video had to be uploaded in two parts. The second will start playing automatically after the first ends]

Exploring the Omar Sheikhmous Archive, Part 3: Kurdish Studies and the archive

In the last two blogs, we have looked at what the Omar Sheikhmous archive (EUL MS 403) holds in relation to the activities of both the KDP and the PUK, discussing the collection as an archival record of Omar Sheikhmous’ life and work. In this third blog, we will be looking at the archive within the wider context of Kurdish studies and possible ways in which the Sheikhmous papers might be studied and used.

Part 3: The Omar Sheikhmous archive (EUL MS 403) and Kurdish Studies

A selection of issues of رسالة اَلْعِرَاق‎ [Risālat al-ʻIrāq] the journal of the Iraqi Communist Party, from 1979 to 1980. EUL MS 403/3/5/5

Kurdish Studies: Where Now?

‘Kurdish Studies’ is a relatively new discipline, but for much of its existence it has (understandably)  been shaped by political and nationalist agendas, with the ‘Kurdish Question’ and related issues of Kurdish identity tending to dominate the field. Furthermore, it has faced the additional problem of fragmentation according to the different regions (Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria) in which the studies are undertaken.  (Clémence Scalbert Yücel and Marie Le Ray provide an excellent explanation of these issues in their article, ‘Knowledge, ideology and power. Deconstructing Kurdish Studies’, European Journal of Turkish Studies No.5, 2006.) Matters are improving, however, with greater awareness of comparative methods and more self-reflective, critical thinking about how to address these challenges and develop a more rigorous, multi-disciplinary and transnational approach to fieldwork and other forms of research. A helpful introduction to recent developments can be found in Baser, Toivanen & Zorlu (eds.), Methodological Approaches in Kurdish Studies: Theoretical and Practical Insights from the Field (Lexington Books, 2019).

There are other challenges too: those with an interest in Kurdish studies who wish to work with original material quickly learn that some knowledge of the Kurdish language is helpful, but it may not be enough – there are significant differences between Sorani and Kurmanji Kurdish for a start, but for the wider context it may be necessary to work with documents in Arabic, Persian and Turkish (including possibly Ottoman Turkish), while the Sheikhmous archive also includes large quantities of material from the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, written in Swedish, German, Italian and French.

Examples of Italian language material in the Sheikhmous archive – an issue of Ajò, a Sardinian journal on Kurdish affairs (1982) and material published by the Italian branch of the PUK (1975). EUL MS 403/3/1/2

This does, of course, provide rich resources for those eager to purse topics across regional and national boundaries. Beyond the ‘Kurdish question’ and the traditional issues of political and diplomatic history, there are a plethora of areas of study that could be explored using the Sheikhmous archive (and some of our related collections) – the economics of the oil industry in Kurdistan for example, the role of music and culture in the Kurdish diaspora, tribalism, political parties and corruption, transnational correspondence networks, gender and feminism, women and employment, refugees and migration, comparative studies of language in print publications, graphic design in Kurdish media, folk art and political protest…. and so on.

Research has tended to focus on the Kurds of Iraq and Turkey, with the Kurdish communities in Iran and Syria receiving much less attention. The Sheikhmous archive contains a considerable amount of rare material on Iran, including copies of early publications from Mahabad, papers relating to several Iranian political parties, documentation of Iranian student movements and other papers that touch upon the political upheaval of the 1979 Islamic revolution. These are written in Kurdish, Arabic and Persian, amongst other languages, and include original documents as well as copies. Iranian Kurdish politician Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou (1930-1989) – leader of the KDPI from 1973 until his assassination in Vienna – is represented in the archive through correspondence, presscuttings, reports written by political allies and a recorded interview. There are also papers written by and about Iranian cleric and Kurdish leader Sheikh Ezzedin Hosseini  (1922-2011), as well as correspondence between Hosseini, Sheikhmous and others, and several files of papers relating to Iranian political parties such as the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI)/Ḥizb-i Dimukrāt-i Kurdistān-i Īrān, Komala/Komełey Şorişgêrî Zehmetkêşanî Kurdistan/Revolutionary Workers’ Society of Iranian Kurdistan,

The transnational political life of Omar Sheikhmous

The far-ranging scope of the Sheikhmous archive does of course reflect the trajectory of his life: born in Syria, he fought with the peshmerga in Iraq, lived for a period in both the UK and the US before making his home in Sweden, all the time developing a network of contacts in both Kurdistan and across Europe. As many of the papers have been acquired during this transnational and multi-faceted career, there is the potential here for scholars of Kurdish studies to draw together documents from different countries and pursue much-needed comparative and inter-disciplinary research.

For example, there is a great deal of material (EUL MS 403/4) documenting the activities of the Kurdish community in Sweden, in which Sheikhmous was (and remains) an active member. These includes records and publicity material for cultural activities and political meetings, concerts and literary events, academic seminars and protest marches, to which can be added the files of correspondence with Swedish politicians and journalists (EUL MS 403/2/21). These could be the primary materials for a research project looking at how Kurdish national identities are created and maintained in diasporic settings. How might the experience of Kurds in Sweden compare with those elsewhere in Europe, or in Britain, Australia or the United States? We do have quite a bit of material on Kurdish exiles in Germany and Austria too, and the correspondence between these individuals and associations could provide insight into the workings of diasporic networks. What role to they play in creating and preserving Kurdish national identity?

Another large section (EUL MS 403/5) documents the activities of Kurdish students across Europe from the 1960s through to the late 1980s. There are student newsletters, press releases commenting on events in Kurdistan, publications, protest posters and records of political meetings in Britain, France, Germany, America and elsewhere in Europe. It would be fascinating to look at the contrasts between Kurdish students in eastern and western Europe,or examine the relationship between events in Kurdistan and the way they were perceived by Kurdish students abroad.

Omar Sheikhmous and the Development of Kurdish Studies

Our archive also contains some of the extensive correspondence Omar Sheikhmous undertook with scholars and academics around the world, many of whom were key figures in the development of Kurdish studies as a discipline (EUL 403/3/23).  These include one of the world’s leading specialists on Kurdistan, Martin van Bruinessen (born 1946), the eminent Italian scholar Professor Mirella Galletti (1949-2012), American researcher, Kurdish specialist and founder in 1988 of the Kurdish Heritage Foundation of America, Vera Marion Beaudin Saeedpour (1930-2010), Italian journalist and campaigner for the Kurds Laura Schrader (born 1938), Austrian historian of the Kurds and humanitarian worker Dr Ferdinand Hennerblicher (born 1946), Norwegian sociologist and pacifist Elise Boulding (1920-2010), Polish ethnographer Leszek Dziegel (1931-2005) and ‘Chris Kutschera’ – the pen-name used jointly by French journalist Paul Maubec (1938-2017) and his photographer wife Edith Kutschera.

Studying this correspondence might provide insights into how Kurdish studies has developed through an international network of writers and researchers, many of whom – as the selection above indicates – have  worked in journalism and fields other than academia. Many of these western writers who began showing an interest in Kurdistan during the 1960s and 1970s did so as part of a wider interest in revolutionary struggles against oppression that were taking place across the world. How did their political agendas and outlooks relate to how Kurds saw themselves? Are these relationships reflected in the correspondence between the Kurdish diaspora in Europe – including the Kurdish students’ organisations – and the Kurds who remained living in Kurdistan? How have humanitarian activities and press campaigns helped to influence academic writing on the Kurds? What contribution has been made by institutions such as Vera Beaudin Saeedpour’s Kurdish LIbrary and Museum (New York), the Kurdish Library (Stockholm) and the Kurdish Academy (Ratingen)? There is a mass of original material on all these topics in the Sheikhmous archive that awaits further research.

Vol. 2, no. 3 of the periodical القافلة  al-Qāfilah = Karwan, issued by the Kurdish Students’ Society in Europe,Yugoslavia Branch. EUL MS 403, Box 5. There are also press releases from the Czechoslovakian branch and hundreds of other documents produced by Kurdish students across Europe, America and the UK. Comparative studies between different student groups could be illuminating. Some more examples are shown below:

Archives and Institutions

While on the topic of Kurdish libraries and cultural centres, it would be of great value for the development of Kurdish studies if a comprehensive list of important Kurdish archival collections could be established, in order to aid research as well as to ensure the preservation of materials that might be in danger. More work needs to be done in establishing connections between these different archives, so that researchers can easily be made aware of complementary collections, and where the gaps in one archive might be filled by holdings elsewhere.

Recently we were in touch with the University of Toronto, which holds the archive of Kurdish scholar Dr Amir Hassanpour (1943-2017). The catalogue entries are available to browse here, and there is also an excellent multi-lingual finding aid if you open the PDF version). In addition to the personal papers of Dr Hassanpour, the University of Toronto was also bequested his extensive library, which includes numerous Kurdish books and periodicals. Omar Sheikhmous and Amir Hassanpour corresponded with one another, and there are files of their letters held at both Exeter (EUL MS 403/2/8) and Toronto (B2019-0004/005(32) and B2019-0004/004(04).)

In the Sheikhmous archive at Exeter there is a large section (EUL MS 403/8) dedicated to Kurdish human rights issues, including documentation of the genocidal Anfal campaign undertaken by Saddam Hussein in 1988. Scholars working on this topic should also be aware that Sheikhmous also deposited a large collection of original documents and materials on the Anfal at the Hugo Valentine Centre in Uppsala University. A description of this archive is available here. Related material held at Exeter includes records of Kurdish appeals for humanitarian aid and for recognition of the genocidal nature of the Iraqi campaign, details of medical supplies sent to Kurdistan, documentation of human rights abuses, lists of the names of martyrs and victims of torture, publicity material protesting against the use of chemical weapons, and correspondence between Kurdish activists and western politicians, campaigners and UN officials. This material provides insights into the various strategies used to try and influence public opinion and galvanise international action, as well as the ways in which deaths and pasts sufferings have been commemorated within the Kurdish community.

Records of letters written by condemned Kurdish prisoners in Iraq (1978), EUL MS 403 Box 8.

Art, Music and Dance

While the sufferings of the Kurdish people have often been commemorated through folk songs and literature, it should be emphasised that the Sheikhmous archive also includes much wider material about the celebration and preservation of Kurdish traditions through songs, music, dance, art and literature. There are numerous cassette recordings of traditional Kurdish music, including peshmerga songs and folk music ensembles, posters for concert performances in Sweden and Britain, publicity material for poetry readings, book launches and other literary events, translations of Kurdish poetry, correspondence and other papers by Kurdish writers such as Şerko Bekas (1940-2013), Cegerxwin (1903-84)  and Şahînê B. Soreklî  [a.k.a. Chahin Baker, born 1946), as well as examples of artwork, advertisements for painting and photographic exhibitions relating to Kurdistan and a number of DVDs, videos and recorded interviews covering various aspects of Kurdish life, culture and political history.

This short blogpost has aimed at revealing the scope and diversity of the Sheikhmous archive, and suggesting possible ways in which its riches could be exploited for the benefit of the developing field of Kurdish studies. Anyone interested in undertaking research on these or any other topics is invited to contact Special Collections – although we are still operating a restricted service due to the current pandemic, hopefully it will not be too long before access is available. Cataloguing of the archive has been held up due to the university being under lockdown for much of the spring and summer, but this should be complete by late autumn.

Finally, for those interested in learning more about Omar Sheikhmous, there is an Arabic biography:

جمرة تحت الرماد : محطات مهمة من حياة عمر شيخموس [Jumrah taḥta al-ramād: maḥaṭṭāt muhimmah min ḥayāt ʻUmar Shaykhimūs] is an Arabic translation by Yāsīn Ḥusayn of a text in Kurdish by Newzad ʻElî Eḧmed, based on his interviews with Sheikhmous. It was published in 2017 by the Cairo Centre for Kurdish Studies and an English translation is believed to be in preparation.

This is currently the closest thing we have to a biography of Omar Sheikhmous

 

In the next blogpost, we will provide a guide to the various Kurdish political parties and organisations with some examples of how each one is represented in the archive.

 

 

 

Exploring the Omar Sheikhmous Archive, Part 2: The PUK 1975-2005

Part 2: Omar Sheikhmous and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) 1975-2005

Although Mustafa Barzani had dominated the Kurdish movement since the late 1940s, there was by no means unqualified support for his leadership. Factionalism has been a constant thread throughout the history of Kurdish politics, and even when there was a strong consensus about the need to protect Kurdish rights and achieve a greater degree of autonomy, there were often strongly contrasting views about what the objectives, priorities and strategies should be for doing so. In contrast with the conservative tribal foundations of the KDP, there had long been a rival group, centred around Ibrahim Ahmed and his son-in-law Jalal Talabani, who had different ideas about what form the Kurdish resistance should take. Coming from an urban rather than a rural background, most of these men were academics with an interest in socialist theories and links to underground parties such as Komala, the Iraqi Communist Party, the Kurdish Workers’ League or the Kurdistan Socialist Movement.

The vacuum created by the collapse of the Kurdish uprising and the flight of Barzani and his followers provided the opportunity for this group to come together and establish a new Kurdish political party. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was founded in June 1975 in the wake of three separate meetings in Beirut, Berlin and Damascus – from whence Jalal Talabani issued the PUK’s first formal document. (We have a copy of the PUK’s foundation document, in Talabani’s own handwriting, at EUL MS 403/3/1/1.)

There were seven founding members – Jalal Talabani, Fuad Masoum, Kamal Fuad, Nawshirwan Mustafa, Adil Murad, Abdulrazaq Faili – and Omar Sheikhmous, creator and donor of the remarkable archive from which these materials are taken. This would therefore be a good moment to provide some more information about Sheikhmous.

Omar Sheikhmous: a brief biographical sketch

He was born in the town of Amouda in north east Syria (western Kurdistan) on 7 February 1942, and after basic education in the village school, spent seven years at a private American college in Aleppo where he learnt English and began taking an active interest in politics. He then came to England, in 1962, where he studied for the next five years: firstly taking GCEs at Acton Technical College and then working for a Diploma in International Affairs (1964-1967) at the London Institute of World Affairs, part of the University of London. Having obtained his diploma, he then moved to Sweden to begin postgraduate studies at the University of Stockholm. We have a number of his early writings from this period, including drafts of his MA and PhD theses and a questionnaire on Kurdish nationalism that he used for interviews for his thesis. There are also academic seminar papers and essays written on Kurdish politics and other Middle Eastern topics.

Sheikhmous worked on his PhD from 1972 to 1978, but broke off from academic studies to take a more active role in the Kurdish resistance following his participation in the founding of the PUK. Along with his Swedish wife Agneta, whom he had married in 1974, he joined the peshmerga forces in Kurdistan; there are many photographs of him in uniform with fellow Kurdish fighters, including Jalal Talabani, Adel Murad and Fuad Masoum. Agneta Sheikhmous was the first foreign woman to join the peshmerga, and there are several presscuttings in the archive about Agneta and her contribution to the Kurdish struggle. The PUK were based in Nawzeng, in the mountains of south-eastern Iraqi Kurdistan, but they were driven out of here in 1983 and took up a new position in the Jafati valley.

A poster by a Kurdish artist showing attacks on Kurdish villages by Iraqi planes. EUL MS 403 Box 3/2/2

This was a period of bitter fighting between the PUK and the Iraqi forces, complicated by shifting alliances between other Kurdish groups (such as the KDP-I, the remnants of the KDP, Komala and local militia). Of particular interest are a series of private military bulletins issued by the PUK, including reports on battles, communiques from the PUK Military Bureau and a letter from Nawshirwan Mustafa to a PUK military commander. These cover the period from 1976 through to the late 1980s, and are mostly in Arabic (EUL MS 403/3/1/1-3).

Although the PUK and the Iraqi government were engaged in violent conflict for much of the 1980s, there was a short period when the two sides entered into negotiations to try and find a solution. These took place between 1983 and 1985, before being broken off. There are a series of documents, including an official statement by the PUK as to why the talks had ended, along with copies of photographs showing Jalal Talabani and other PUK figures meeting with senior Iraqi officials.

This photograph was likely taken in the early 1980s, either before or during the PUK’s negotiations with the Iraqi government. In the centre of the picture can be seen Jalal Talabani standing alongside two senior figures from Iraqi military intelligence: Izzat al-Douri on his left, and alongside him, Saddam Hussein’s cousin Ali Hassan Majid. Both would later oversee the use of chemical weapons in the genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds, for which Majid – known as ‘Chemical Ali’ – was hanged as a war criminal in 2010. (Photocopy of a photograph, EUL MS 403/3/1/3/1)

In addition to taking part in the PUK’s military activities, Sheikhmous was also in charge of the party’s ‘Foreign Relations Committee’ from 1975 to 1986 and there are various press releases and other correspondence items that he wrote during this time that provide fascinating insights into the Kurdish network in Europe, amongst other things. He returned to Sweden in the mid-1980s where he took an active role in working with, and for, Kurdish refugees in the country. A large section of the archive covers his correspondence with Swedish politicians, involvement in Kurdish cultural events, academic conferences and political activities that reveal the concerns and efforts of the Kurdish community in exile to support the Kurdish cause. As Christine Allison has noted in her chapter ‘The Shifting Borders of Conflict, Difference and Oppression: Kurdish Folklore Revisited’, Sweden became the centre for Kurdish cultural productions by the diasporic Kurdish community until the 1990s (Gareth Stansfield and Mohammed Shareef (eds), The Kurdish Question Revisited (2017) p.120.)  The archive contains numerous examples of such cultural production, including material relating to poetry, dance, music and literature (EUL MS 403/4).

In addition to his involvement in the cultural activities of the Kurdish community in Sweden, Sheikhmous also returned to academic work, and from 1986 to 2000 worked at the Center for Research in International Migration and Ethnic Relations (CEIFO) in the University of Stockholm, as a researcher, lecturer and administrator. In both his academic and administrative work, he focused particularly on the human right issue, studying the experience of Kurdish migrants and refugees, as well as investigating the claims of genocidal campaigns against the Kurds in Iraq that were carried out under Saddam Hussein.

It should be understood that the aim of establishing Kurdistan as an independent nation-state has not been a dominant part of the Kurdish agenda for much of the period in question. Although there are many papers in the Sheikhmous archive arguing the need for varying degrees of autonomy or self-regulation, the most important concern has always been to secure basic human rights for the Kurdish people, including that of speaking and writing in Kurdish, using their own language to educate their children, preserving traditions and dress, and resisting attempts at forced Arabisation of their homelands.  Tragically, the denial of these rights has often been accompanied by brutal forms of repression, particularly in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Due to the significance of such issues in the history of the Kurds, there is a distinct section within the Sheikhmous archive (EUL MS 403/8) dedicated to documenting matters relating to human rights. These include correspondence between Omar Sheikhmous, the PUK and the Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies during the 1970s and 1980s, appeals for medicine and aid for children, published reports by Amnesty International (to which Sheikmous has belonged since the early 1960s) and other charitable organisations, international humanitarian appeals, reports of atrocities, and records of the victims of the Anfal campaign (1986-89) and Halabja bombing (March 1988). [As a side note, there is also a section of published works in AWDU on the Kurdish Human Rights Project, including legal documentation and court proceedings, at KHRP 323.]

Sheikhmous continued his advocacy for Kurdish rights during the years (2001-2007) he spent in senior roles at the Kurdish Service of the US multimedia agency ‘Voice of America’ (VOA), providing an international platform to promote the cause of the Kurdish people and provide accurate information regarding human rights abuses and the political realities of life in Kurdistan. Sheikhmous’ work for VOA is represented in the archive by audio and video recordings, e-mail correspondence, interviews and other papers. (EUL MS 403/6.)

An undated letter to the PUK from the KDP in Syria. (EUL MS 403/3/2/1)

While Sheikhmous was devoting his energies to this work in Sweden, the PUK continued its fight in Iraq, alongside the KDP and – during the Iraq-Iran war – with Iranian support.  Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 led in turn to Iraq’s invasion by US-led coalition forces during the Gulf War, and following Saddam’s defeat in March 1991, the Kurds took part in an uprising against what was regarded as a weakened regime. Although the Iraqi government launched a massive retaliation against the Kurdish and Shi’ite Arab rebels, the imposition of a no-fly zone by coalition forces provided some protection for the Kurds and the Kurdistan National Assembly was established in June 1992. The Assembly was a delicate balance between representatives of the PUK, led by Jalal Talabani, and Massoud Barzani’s KDP, but the power-sharing did not last: a bitter civil war broke out between the two parties in 1994 and continued intermittently until the signing of the Washington Agreement in 1998. Thousands died during the fighting. The archive contains numerous documents relating to this civil war, including correspondence from Jalal Talabani, internal PUK communications, PUK press releases, presscuttings and commentaries, as well as parliamentary papers recording the positions and activities of PUK members within the National Assembly.

The 1998 peace agreement led to greater collaboration between the PUK and KDP, with both parties supporting the coalition forces that invaded Iraq again during the 2003 Gulf War. Following the permanent collapse of Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003, a new Kurdish Regional Government was established in 2005, with Massoud Barzani elected its president while Jalal Talabani was elected President of Iraq, a position he held until 2014. Omar Sheikhmous acted as personal adviser to Talabani from 2007 to 2012 and the archive contains many papers relating to the autonomous government, including tourism pamphlets encouraging international visitors to return to Kurdistan.

The history of the PUK and the other Kurdish political groups is a complex one, of ever-shifting alliances and rivalries, schisms and reunions. The archive contains material relating to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), founded by Abdullah Öcalan in the Kurdish village of Fis – about 50 miles from the city of Diyarbakır in Turkey – in 1978. Their violent guerilla activities did not appeal to all the Kurdish groups in Turkey, and in June 1988 eight non-PKK groups came together to form TEVGER ( from Tevgera Rizgariya Kurdistan, or Kurdistan Liberation Movement).  The archive has the text of an address to Tevger in Florence in 1992, that seems to have been given by Sheikhmous himself (EUL MS 403/1/7). In 2009 PUK co-founder Nawshirwan Mustafa founded a breakaway party, known as Gorran (In Kurdish بزووتنەوەی گۆڕان or Movement for Change). The archive contains many letters written by Nawshirwan Mustafa to Sheikhmous, Jalal Talabani, Kemel Fuad, Ahmad Bamerni and PUK military commanders during the 1970s and 1980s, providing some fascinating insights into the evolution of Mustafa’s political views.

In the next in this series of blogposts, we will look at the significance of the Sheikhmous archive within the wider context of contemporary Kurdish studies.

 

 

 

 

Exploring the Omar Sheikhmous Archive, Part 1: The KDP 1945-1975

Between 2007 and 2011 Omar Sheikhmous (born in Syria in 1942) generously donated a large collection of personal papers, books and periodicals to the University of Exeter that reflect and record a lifetime’s involvement in Kurdish political and academic activities. A prolific author, lecturer, conference-organiser and broadcaster, Sheikhmous has made an enormous contribution to Kurdish studies over the last four decades, but he has also been closely involved with political activism in his native Kurdistan. His archive offers a uniquely-detailed insiders’ perspective on the formation and activities of major Kurdish political bodies in Iraq, Syria and Iran – including the PUK, KDP, KDPI and Iraqi Communist Party – as well as numerous smaller groups, students’ organisations and exile associations. It also includes rare documents and personal correspondence with the likes of Jalal Talabani, Kemal Fuad, Fuad Masoum and other leading political and cultural figures. In the first of a series of blogposts, we will be looking at some highlights from the archive and exploring what they can teach us about the history of the Kurdish people.

Part 1: The Kurdistan Democratic Party from 1945 to 1975

In 1975 Omar Sheikhmous was a founding member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which has often had bitterly hostile relations with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), especially during the civil war of the mid-1990s. However, the archive contains numerous documents relating to the KDP’s early history, many of them rare and valuable in the insights they provide into the development of the Kurdish movement.

Material relating to the history of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (EUL MS 403/3/2/2)

Origins: the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad and the KDP in Iran

The Komalay Jiyanaway Kurdistan [Society for the Revival of Kurdistan], known as the ‘Komala J.K.’ for short, was founded in Mahabad in 1942 and quickly became the focus for the Kurdish nationalist movement, publishing a journal Niştiman [‘Motherland‘] and devising what became the Kurdish national flag – red, white and green. In 1945 Komala J.K. was disbanded to make way for a new political party that could operate in the open and replaced with The Kurdistan Democratic Party. Emboldened by the setting up of the autonomous Azerbaijan People’s Government in northern Iran, as well as the arrival of a large group of around 1,000 armed Iraqi Kurds and their families, headed by Mustafa Barzani, an independent republic was declared in January 1946, with Qāżi Moḥammed as its president and a parliament of thirteen ministers.declared Mahabad an independent Kurdish People’s Government.

For a short while the little republic flourished. Moḥammed wanted Mahabad to become the centre of a new revival of Kurdish culture, and a newspaper and political monthly – both called Kurdistan – were published in the town, as well as two literary journals, Havar and Hilal. Textbooks were also printed in the Kurdish language, which was used to teach children in the classrooms.

Throughout this time the republic had relied upon support from Soviet Russia, and when this was withdrawn in the autumn of 1946 as part of an agreement with the government in Tehran, the end came swiftly. Barzani and his tribesmen left and Iranian forces swept into Mahabad in December. Qāżi Moḥammed was arrested and hanged with his brothers Seif and Sadr at dawn on 31 March 1947.

We have a number of interesting items relating to Mahabad in the Sheikhmous archive, including copies of some of the Kurdish periodicals and newspapers that were published during the Republic. These include the first three issues of the Persian-language periodical Gir wa Gali Mindalani Kurd (1946), an issue of the periodical Niştiman (1945) and five issues from 1946 of  the newspaper Kurdistan , which like Niştiman was written in Sorani Kurdish. There are also some later materials, such as an undated French leaflet commemorating the Republic that includes a rather gruesome photograph of the execution of Qāżi Moḥammed and his co-leaders. A letter to Omar Sheikhmous from Qāżi Moḥammed’s only son Ali, written in 1991, is also in the archive.

 

Copies of the newspaper ‘Kurdistan’, printed and published by the KDPI in Mahabad in 1946. EUL MS 403/3/2/1

The KDP in Iraq

Although the tragic end of the Republic effectively crushed the KDP in Iran, Barzani had managed to establish the party across the border in Iraq, where the new KDP of Iraq held its first congress in Baghdad on 16 August 1946. Following the fall of Mahabad, Barzani fled to the USSR and did not return until 1958: his place was taken by Ibrahim Ahmad, who had been the head of the Suleymania branch of Komala JK. A talented writer and political leader, Ahmad became chairman of the KDP in Iraq at the second party congress in 1951. He would later become the father of Jalal Talabani, co-founder of the PUK, future Prime Minister of Iraq and a close friend of Omar Sheikhmous: as a consequence of which we have a great deal of correspondence and other documents written by Talabani in the archive.

Over the next ten to fifteen years, the KDP continued to grow in Iraq, often working closely with the Iraqi Communist Party. On 14 July 1958 General Abd al-Karim Qasim led a coup in Iraq that toppled the Hashemite monarchy which had ruled the country since 1920. This was done with the support of the KDP, and under the new regime Barzani was able to return from exile. There was, however, tension between him and Ibrahim Ahmad, whose socialist leanings were not to Barzani’s likings. Good relations with the Iraqi government did not last either, as Qasim broke his promise of granting Kurdish autonomy and instead stirred up trouble among the Kurdish tribes. On 11 September 1961 Barzani led the Kurds in taking up arms against the Iraqi forces, beginning a war that would last until 1975. During this time Qasim was deposed and killed by another coup led by the Ba’ath party; further infighting and coups followed until the Ba’athists consolidated their power in 1968.

A handwritten open letter from the KDP (15 July 1964) – EUL MS 403/3/2/1

We have a number of documents from this period, including a cyclostyled handwritten proclamation to the Kurdish people by the KDP (12 May 1962), a six-page handwritten open letter from the KDP (15 July 1964 – illustrated above) and a KDP press release signed by Mustafa Barzani (10 February 1965).

The KDP and the Ba’ath Party, 1968-75

The Ba’ath Party never had any real desire to promote Kurdish autonomy, but the manifesto drawn up in March 1970 – negotiated with Saddam Hussein – seemed to meet most of Barzani’s demands, recognising Kurdish as an official language and inviting members of the KDP to join a government taskforce for implementing the manifesto. Suspicion remained on both sides however, there was several assassination attempts on Barzani that were likely backed by the Iraqi government, and neither party could agree over the status of Kirkuk. In the background too, Barzani had moved away from Soviet Russia to align his party with the US and Iran, while Baghdad and Moscow had grown closer. In March 1974 Saddam Hussein imposed a revised version of the autonomy manifesto and gave Barzani two weeks to respond. His rejection of the offer launched a full-scale conflict between the Kurdish peshmerga and the Iraqi forces, but sadly Barzani would realise too late that the support offered by the Shah and the American authorities was a means to an end rather than a loyal commitment.

Poster by unknown artist commemorating the execution of KDP member Layla Qasim, who was hanged in Baghdad in April 1974. EUL MS 403/7/7

Not for the first time, the Kurds would find themselves exploited by the west and then abandoned in their time of need. The US support failed to materialise, and in March 1975 the Iraqi government persuaded Iran to withdraw their support of the Kurds in exchange for access to the vital Shatt al-Arab waterway connecting the Iranian port of Abadan to the Persian Gulf. The Kurdish uprising collapsed overnight and Barzani, with around 100,000 of his followers, crossed the border to take refuge in Iran. He died four years later.

This was a confusing and complicated period of Kurdish history and one of the great strengths of the Sheikhmous archive is the number of original documents that provide insights into what the different parties were doing and saying at this time, both in private and in public. In addition to correspondence between KDP members, there are press releases, KDP newspapers and publications, open letters to the Iraqi public and communications to the Kurdish community in exile.

In the next blogpost in the series, we will look at the founding of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in June 1975 and the role played by Omar Sheikhmous in the party’s development and activities….

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: ‘New Milestones’ and ‘Flora Britannica’

Since my last cataloguing update, I’ve been working on two further sections of the Common Ground archive. They relate to the New Milestones project and the Flora Britannica project – two very different, but very interesting projects run by Common Ground in the 1980s and 1990s. Read on to find out more about these projects and the material relating to them in the Common Ground archive.

New Milestones

The New Milestones project was launched by Common Ground in 1986 to explore ‘what places mean to the people who live in them, and…how to express that meaning in an imaginative and accessible way through sculpture’ (‘New Milestones: Sculpture, Community and the Land’, 1988, p. 15). The aim of the project was to support local communities in commissioning a sculpture to celebrate and draw attention to an aspect of their local landscape. The project involved close collaboration between Common Ground, local communities and sculptors to create permanent works of art with significance for present and future inhabitants.

Publications and promotional material for the New Milestones project (EUL MS 416/PRO/3/2/6)

The pilot phase of the project took place in Dorset, where five sculptures were produced by Christine Angus, Andy Goldsworthy, John Maine, Peter Randall-Page, and Simon Thomas between 1985 and 1988. Later, the project was extended to Yorkshire, where a series of sculptures were produced by Alain Ayers and Richard Farrington. The last sculptures commissioned as part of the New Milestones project were produced by Michael Fairfax in Somerset. A conference and exhibition about the New Milestones project was held at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester between 16 July and 3 September 1988. In addition, a book by Joanna Morland (Project Officer) with an introduction by Sue Clifford and Angela King (Co-Founders and Co-Directors of Common Ground), entitled ‘New Milestones: Sculpture, Community and the Land” was published in 1988.

Material in this section of the archive comprises project administration files, including correspondence with local communities and sculptors; printed material relating to promotion and publicity of the project; and photographic material, including photographs of the sculptors at work. You can find the full catalogue description for the New Milestones section here or by clicking the image below.

Flora Britannica

Flora Britannica was a project launched by Richard Mabey with the support of Common Ground, which ran from 1992 to 1996. The project sought to discover the diversity and distribution of plantlife in Britain, as well as to record and explore the historical and contemporary associations and uses of plants, including information about customs, stories, recipes, remedies, and games. It had two aims: to produce a major book concerning the cultural flora of modern Britain, and to start a process of popular interest and activity at the local level, carried out by people all around the country. Invitations for people to share their knowledge of local plants were circulated on television and radio, as well as in newspapers, magazines and local newsletters. Common Ground and Richard Mabey received thousands of responses.

Publications and promotional material for the Flora Britannica project (EUL MS 416/PRO/7)

The major output of this project was Richard Mabey’s encyclopedia of wild plants of the UK, which was entitled ‘Flora Britannica’ and published by Sinclair Stevenson in 1996. Richard Mabey incorporated the information sent in by people from across the country. Other related publications published in the course of this project include two pamphlets entitled ‘Flora Britannica: The Handbook’ (1992) and ‘Local Flora Britannica’ (1995), as well as a Flora Britannica newsletter named ‘Woodbine’. In addition, throughout 1994, 1995 and 1996, Common Ground encouraged people to reinforce and renew their affections for everyday plants through initiatives the charity named ‘local floras’, which included a pilot project in Northamptonshire.

Material in the Flora Britannica section of the archive comprises project administration files; correspondence; papers relating to the pilot project in Northamptonshire; papers relating to publications and promotional material; and press clippings and publicity material. You can find the full catalogue description for the Flora Britannica section here or by clicking the image below.

A particular highlight of the archive material relating to the Flora Britannica project are the thousands of letters about local flora from people around the country. These letters contain fascinating details about biodiversity and the cultural connotations of plants, and the correspondents often enclosed related material, such as photographs or pressed flowers. Common Ground originally organised this correspondence alphabetically within office transfer spring files, which were stored vertically. This is not suitable storage for these papers, so for preservation purposes, these files have now been repackaged into 66 acid-free folders within 10 boxes, and all rusty fastening have been removed. In doing so, I hope this valuable resource will be available for people to consult in years to come. You can see the repackaging process in the photographs below.

Photographs showing the repackaging process of correspondence in the Flora Britannica section of the archive

The cataloguing of these sections of the archive were completed between November and December 2019, and descriptions of all the files are now available on our online catalogue – do go and have a look! Since January I have been cataloguing material relating to Common Ground’s Orchards project and Field Days project. Pop by again soon for the next update on the cataloguing project!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.