Sheikh Zayed Book Award organises Arab-Russian Cultural Dialogue in Moscow

Abu Dhabi,

Panel discussion held in cooperation with Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 

The Sheikh Zayed Book Award organised a panel discussion in Moscow on Monday (9 December) to highlight the pivotal cultural role of Russian-Emirati cultural dialogue. Held at the Ritz-Carlton, Moscow, the Arab-Russian Cultural Dialogue event further aimed to introduce Russian audiences to Sheikh Zayed Book Award initiatives and attract further nominations to its annual award. 

Maadhad Hareb Al Khyeli, UAE Ambassador to Russia, took part in the session alongside HE Dr. Ali bin Tamim, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Authority and Secretary-General of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, and HE Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Special Representative on the Middle East and Africa.

Also present were Prof. Vitaly Naumkin, President of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences; Yury Pulya, Head of the Department of Periodical Press, Book Publishing and Printing of the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications (Executive Secretary of the Organising Committee); Dr. Vasily Kuznetsov, Director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences; and Dr. Dmitry Mikulsky, Chief Researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The panel discussion touched on the importance of developing relationships based on mutual respect, acceptance of the other, dialogue, and tolerance, and shed light on the already growing UAE-Russia relations, especially in the cultural field. 

At the outset of the event, Dr. Ali bin Tamim briefed the attendees on the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, launched in 2006 and carrying the name of the UAE’s late founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who believed in knowledge, science and culture as the pillars of a nation’s progress and the cornerstone of civilisation.

“On several occasions, the late Sheikh Zayed noted that books and culture are the basis of a civilised and highly developed nation,” bin Tamim noted. “We aim, through the Award, to motivate talented minds across a spectrum of disciplines and recognise the most creative and influential intellects in contemporary Arab culture.”

He stressed that Arab and Russian relations are deeply rooted in history and are currently witnessing significant developments across various fields. He also spoke about the history of Orientalism and the influence of early translators, who contributed to fueling Arabs' interest in Russian culture and literature. 

Bin Tamim gave examples of Arab and Russian Orientalists and translators who played pioneering and influential roles in building deep intellectual and cross-cultural connections. Orientalism began with Russian interest in the ‘East’, and the establishment of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg in 1724 led to the emergence of a Russian Orientalist movement that helped introduce Arab culture to the country and extend bridges of dialogue and communication between the two cultures. 

Bin Tamim discussed famous Russian Orientalists including Ignaty Krachkovsky, author of History of Arab Geographical Literature, in which he clarified that trade was the channel through which Arab culture was transmitted to Russia.

He noted that Arab culture had inevitably attracted the attention of many great Russian writers, poets, novelists and philosophers such as Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Anton Chekhov, among others. Tolstoy, for example, learned Arabic, and exchanged correspondence with Sheikh Muhammad Abdo, in which he showed his great respect for Arab culture. 

From this standpoint, bin Tamim stressed the importance of developing an Arab-Russian ontology that allows researchers to retrieve translation, synonyms and meanings of words from Arabic and Russian dictionaries.

He also called for organising an Arab-Russian linguistic conference, focusing on the origins, history and details of these two languages to take advantage of their richness and address their impact on civilisation and culture.

Bin Tamim also called for establishing a historical dictionary that focuses on the linguistic impact between Arabic and other languages, especially Russian. “This necessitates concerted efforts, mechanisms and ontology that combines Arabic literature and language with Russian. This also requires talented professional translators to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors who translated great Russian works and literature into Arabic. This is what the Sheikh Zayed Book Award is all about and is trying to achieve through its nine categories.”

The UAE and Russia come together in several annual events, reflecting their deep interest in enhancing their relations especially in the cultural and artistic domains. The two countries also take part in exhibitions and festivals held in each other’s nation, sharing expertise and consolidating historical cultural relations.

Earlier this year, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair announced Russia as the Guest of Honour for its 30th edition, to be held in April 2020. Russia’s presence is expected to attract a large number of visitors to the various cultural events and activities that will be held throughout the fair, covering literature, art, music, cinema and dance among others.

The most recent edition of the Moscow International Book Fair, held earlier his year, showcased the latest Emirati literary and intellectual publications, and the emirate of Sharjah has been given 'Guest City' status by the organisers of the fair. 

The Arab-Russian Cultural Dialogue panel discussion has resulted in joint cooperation between the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Kalima Translation Project, an ambitious initiative of Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi.

Kalima is an integrated cultural project aimed at reviving the translation movement in the Arab world. It has translated more than 1,000 books into 14 languages and Arabised many treasures of international literature and culture from foreign languages, including Russian.

For his part, Maadhad Hareb Al Khyeli, the UAE Ambassador to Russia, stressed the importance of literature, poetry and culture in people’s daily lives, noting that the Russian-Arab communication would allow Russian readers to know more about Arab culture and thought.

Prof. Vitaly Naumkin reviewed the history of Arab-Russian relations and referred to Orientalists who had played particularly significant roles in the world of thought and building bridges of communications between the two peoples. He lauded the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for its contributions to the worlds of knowledge production, translation and culture.

HE Mikhail Bogdanov also hailed the role played by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan as the founder of UAE-Russian relations, while Dr. Vasily Kuznetsov revisited the centuries-old history of Arabs in various regions of Russia, which led to the spread of their culture and contributed to bolstering cultural relations between Arabs and Russians linguistically and intellectually. 

Dr. Dmitry Mikulsky commended the historical ties binding Arabs and Russians, emphasising the importance of holding continuous meetings and conducting joint research, especially in the fields of language, art and heritage.

During the event, Yury Pulya spoke about historical Arab-Russian relations and referred to some personalities who actively contributed to the exchange of Arab-Russian culture despite the vast geographical distance. 

Pulya noted that the human and civilisational links between the two nations have contributed greatly to presenting Russian and Arabic literature to lovers of culture from both nations, and that the Sheikh Zayed Book Award has been a unique and effective initiative for promoting the exchange of cultures, translation and communication.

The audience enjoyed a musical performance staged on the sidelines of the event, in which musicians mixed Arabic music with Russian music.

The event was attended by representatives of Arab embassies, correspondents from Arab and Russian media institutions, authors, translators interested in Arabic and Russian literature, Russian students and researchers, as well as a large number of speakers of the Arabic and Russian languages.