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UNC Libraries celebrate Persian new year Nowruz

The North Carolina Iranian-American community has given generously to UNC Libraries — and now the libraries say they hope to give back.

UNC Libraries will be celebrating Iranian-American culture through Nowruz — or Persian New Year — tonight at Wilson Library, thanks to support from the community and the growth of the library’s Persian collection.

“Nowruz is actually two words, ‘now’ and ‘ruz,’ and it means ‘new day,’” said Middle Eastern and African Studies Librarian Mohamed Hamed.

“It comes in the beginning of spring. There are gatherings everywhere. They go and meet with each other, have food and celebrate their culture and civilization.”

The event will feature a talk by Reza Zarghamee, author of “Discovering Cyrus: The Persian Conqueror Astride the Ancient World,” calligraphy by Fatemeh Sayyady, live Persian painting, food and a display of some of the Persian collection.

Tonight’s celebration is a culmination of recent growth in community participation and their continued support.

“When I started here in 2010, I realized that we have a very supportive Iranian community here in North Carolina, and I don’t see this happening in other places,” Hamed said.

“Here I see (the community) is very supportive and very active in terms of supporting the library, meeting with us and (with) donations.”

In February 2011, Hamed met with the local Iranian community with the support of Carl Ernst, UNC professor and co-director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations, where he was able to list the needs of the library.

“From that day they started really working with me as part of their community and saw the library as one of the goals, as one of the directions they wanted to support,” Hamed said.

“We always have communications. We meet every month — they give their ideas and thoughts along with their support — and that’s why we have the celebration on Nowruz.”

Ernst has had long-standing relations with the Iranian-American community in North Carolina. His involvement established much of the growth with UNC’s Persian studies program and their library collection.

“This is quite exceptional,” Ernst said.

“In meetings of Middle Eastern librarians from major universities, they are amazed to hear how much our small community here in North Carolina has been doing to support Persian studies. We’re fortunate to have such forward thinking, philanthropic supporters.”

Ernst also said that 10 years ago, the Persian studies program only had a fraction of the student enrollment in courses that they have now.

“Many more Americans are becoming aware that we are, for better or worse, connected with the Middle East,” he said.

“The role of (the) University is to make people understand different cultures in a meaningful way, regardless of the crises that come and go.”

UNC Libraries spokeswoman Judy Panitch said she is excited for the event this year after last year’s Nowruz event attracted more than 200 attendees.

“It celebrates these wonderful gifts we’ve been receiving and the growing collections, and for students it’s a chance to learn more about what the library has to offer in a celebratory manner,” she said.

“We would love it if it inspired students to a new course of study or just awareness of some of the resources the library has to offer, whether it’s Persian or some other area or language.”

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