Middle Eastern Cultural Awareness Week kicked off at UCSB yesterday to celebrate the Middle East’s unique cultures through festivities that include everything from Arabic lessons to belly dancing performances.

Hosted by the Lebanese Club and the Persian Student Group, the week of events is designed to honor various Middle Eastern countries. Starting with yesterday’s free Arabic lessons, traditional Arabic step dance performance and film screening, the awareness campaign will conclude with a Middle East culture show Thursday at 9 p.m.

Tonight, the Persian Student Group will perform their annual culture show at 7:30 p.m. in the MultiCultural Center theatre, featuring music, poetry and a free traditional Middle Eastern dinner.

Lebanese Club senior advisor Thalia Jarjour, a fourth-year economics and communication major, said the film screened last night, Caramel, documented the daily struggles of five Lebanese women living in Beirut.

“Our goal is to spread awareness of Middle Eastern culture by including all different sects and aspects of Middle Eastern culture in our events this week,” Jarjour said. “We try to unify the different peoples of the Middle East to come together to exhibit the beauty and greatness of the culture itself.”

The Middle Eastern Fair, which will boast tables of traditional Middle Eastern food and a dance performance by the Middle Eastern Ensemble, runs tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Storke Plaza.

According to event organizers, acclaimed Syrian-American spoken-word artist Omar Offendum will perform at the week’s concluding event — a Middle Eastern Culture Show which begins in Theatre and Dance 1710 at 9 p.m.
Omid Niroumand Zadeh, a third-year student and member of the Persian Student Group, said the week of activities was strenuous to organize, but well worth it nonetheless.

“It’s been a long process, but I think we accomplished everything we wanted to in organizing this week,” he said.

According to Jarjour, recognition of Middle Eastern cultures is particularly important because the region often suffers from brutal political clashes, which can divert attention from its cultural contributions.

“[This] is the one time all the different groups come together,” Jarjour said. “We put all religious and political differences aside to focus on the culture and traditions of the Middle East.”