Brock University will play host this weekend to a unique conference about a little-known cultural group from the Middle East.
Called Baluchi Identity and Culture, the two-day workshop features more than a dozen speakers from the United Nations Educational, Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Canadian and international scholars sharing their insights into the Baluchi people and their way of life.
“Not many workshops have been held because there are not many experts,” said Behnaz Mirzai, associate professor of history and conference organizer. “(The participants) are very excited because it’s very unique. It was a struggle to find scholars.”
There are about 15 million Baluchi, most of whom live in a region called Sistan and Baluchistan, which straddles Pakistan and Iran.
Though there are Baluchis scattered throughout Afganistan, Oman, Africa and United Arab Emirates, Mirzai said there are few scholars studying them because of various issues, including travel in Baluchistan.
Mirzai has published several papers on the Baluchis since she began studying slavery in the African diaspora in 1998.
She released a documentary about Baluchistan in 2008 called Afro-Iranian Lives and recently finished a second film, for which she received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant to produce. It’s called The African-Baluchi Trance Dance and will debut at the conference this weekend.
Mirzai is also collaborating with UNESCO on the creation of a virtual network of scholars studying slavery in the Middle East.
She described the Baluchis as underpresented. For that reason, Mirzai said she felt compelled to organize an academic event in their honour.
“That connection, that emotional support I had with the people I worked with, I thought it was important to visualize (in a documentary) but also to have a conference on these people” Mirzai said. “For me, it was a responsibility to represent these people.”
Baluchi Culture and Identity runs Saturday and Sunday in Pond Inlet. For more information, visit the workshop website.