This blog is for those wanting to keep up to date on all the work that the Vermont Council on World Affairs is doing around the world.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Recap on the VCWA Ambassador Series: "U.S. and a Region in Conflict"

Panelists and moderator Peter Calvelle discuss U.S. and a region in conflict*
Last week’s VCWA Ambassador Series, The United States and a Region in Conflict: on Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Kurds was a success by all means. Speakers on the panel included Ambassador Robert Ford, former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, Kurdistan Regional Government Representative to the U.S., and Abdülhamit Bilici, journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of Turkey’s largest daily newspaper, currently living in exile in the U.S.

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman*     
Ambassador Robert Ford*
The event was moderated by VCWA board member Peter Clavelle; the night’s discussion revolved around the protracted conflict in Syria and Iraq, U.S. foreign policy in the region, the potential of a Kurdish state, and the meaning of the rise of Turkish authoritarianism to the U.S., as well as to Turkey’s neighbors.

Peter Clavelle*
Abdülhamit Bilici*
With over 100 in attendance, it was no surprise that there were many rich questions for the speakers, some of which touched on Iraqi Kurdistan’s sentiments on the PKK in Turkey, predictions of how the current administration will address the war in Syria compared to the previous one, and tensions between Turkey and the U.S. in regards to U.S. support of the Kurds’ fight against ISIS.


The evening closed out with a reception where speakers and attendees had the opportunity to mingle over Turkish hors d’oeuvres, and ask any final burning questions of the experts. This panel presented a unique opportunity for Vermonters to get more than a soundbite on a topic that affects all of us in a greater capacity than we may realize.

A reception following the panel featured the opportunity to meet speakers and Turkish food!*

After the panel finished Thursday evening, it may have been the end of the excitement for Vermonters in attendance, but activities continued the following morning as the VCWA met once again with Ms. Rahman and Mr. Bilici at the Center for Media & Democracy to record two programs, featuring interviews with the speakers by Peter Calvelle. These interviews allowed a more in-depth discussion on each of the speakers’ respective backgrounds and more country-specific information. Be sure to keep an eye out on social media and your e-newsletters for these programs-- we’ll update with links as soon as they’re available!

VCWA Executive Director Patricia Preston (right), Abdülhamit Bilici, and I at the CCTV studio*

We sincerely hope that the programming provided expanded your knowledge and perspective on the topics discussed during the event and that you found value in attending because, well, this is what we do: the VCWA brings Vermont to the world and the world to Vermont by curating opportunities for Vermont community members such as yourselves to listen to, and engage in, civil discourse with leaders, experts, and influencers from all over the world in order to build a stronger, more globally aware community.


We thank Champlain College for providing an excellent space, the Center for Media & Democracy for covering the event and interviews, our speakers and moderator, the VCWA Board of Directors for sponsoring the event, and of course, all of the Vermonters who attended and who support our organization. We couldn’t have done it without you!

This post was written by Chelsea Beaulieu, VCWA Program Assistant

*All photos taken by Kathryn Ashley McNeish

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Recap: The Fusion Factor in Independent Arab Music with Diya Azzony

Last Tuesday, the Vermont Council on World Affairs welcomed #DiyaAzzony to Main Street Landing’s Black Box Theatre for a VCWA Speaker Series: The Fusion Factor in Independent Arab Music.

The evening began with a jazzy song called Waiting, that Diya wrote while waiting for his wife to get ready to go out one evening in Chicago. Diya, on electric guitar, was accompanied by his band mate Abdullah, on saxophone.

Diya and Abdullah play "Waiting"

After some questions from the audience, Diya and Abdullah were joined by Grup Anwar, a local band, headed by Anwar Diab Agha, who moved to Vermont from Syria in 2008. While Diya describes his music as fusion, Grup Anwar’s music falls into the more traditional Middle Eastern genre-- when the two groups combined, the audience was able to truly see the fusion of modern and traditional, and were impressed by the results. “The music was great. The integration of the different kinds of music was done really well. I could tell the jazz and Arabic music was fused and could pick out the two styles”, said an attendee, following the show.

Some topics discussed included the concept of “open tuning” used in Arab music, and the future of the arts in Saudi Arabia. It was an important learning opportunity for the Vermont community. “I thought what was really cool was how the audience, the visiting band, and the local band were able to not only translate linguistically for one another, but also to turn that linguistic translation into a reflection of the music they were playing”*, commented an audience member on not only the musical, but cultural fusion experienced that night.

Diya and Abdullah were excited to have been able to share their culture with Vermont, and during the reception, catered by the Skinny Pancake, Abdullah expressed his thoughts on the Fusion Factor, saying, “It’s like musical cultures, when we make a fusion between Arabic and jazz, it helps you learn more about the other culture – how they speak and what they do”. This night certainly helped Vermonters learn more about Saudi Arabian culture, and was a new and enlightening experience for many.

When asked what the Fusion Factor means to him, Diya remarked “It’s the musical sound I’ve been looking for and apparently I’ve found it in a lot of musical experiences. It keeps changing with the instruments, feelings, and people I encounter. It’s an ongoing feeling that keeps changing. It’s universal. It’s all about the harmony”. We certainly felt that harmony last week, and wish Diya well as he continues his musical journey.

Thanks to the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture and the Middle East Institute for making this event possible. With over 100 happy Vermonters in attendance, we must say, it was a great success!

If you made it to the event (or missed it) and want to see more of what the VCWA is up to, check out our next event this Thursday, which involves a discussion with experts on the conflict in Syria.

*Special thanks to Samantha Lewandowski for collecting quotes from the evening

This post was written by Chelsea Beaulieu, VCWA Program Assistant