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Laila Shadid (left) and Zeynep Karadeniz (right) created Fenjan. (Photos from Laila Shadid and Zeynep Karadenniz)

Penn’s first undergraduate journal on the Middle East and North Africa is expected to release its first issue by the end of this summer.  

Inspired by their Middle Eastern backgrounds, rising College sophomore Laila Shadid and rising College junior Zeynep Karadeniz decided to create the journal, called Fenjan. They initially planned on launching the journal this spring, but delayed the launch after the coronavirus pandemic slowed down the journal's submissions process. Fenjan has received funding from Penn’s Middle East Center to cover various costs such as printing, domain ownership, and other publishing costs, Shadid said.

“There haven't been any publications about the Middle East at Penn, so far, and we wanted to bridge that gap and give people a platform to explore their interests on the Middle East,” Shadid said.

They both plan on covering a variety of topics relevant to the Middle East, and said they will have a better sense of their coverage and publication timeline after the journal's introductory issue is released and its editorial board is established.

Fenjan, the name of the journal, comes from the traditional coffee cup used across the Middle East, Karadeniz said. The word is used across various Middle Eastern languages — Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Azerbaijani — which Karadeniz said represents their commitment to cover all perspectives of the Middle East.  

Karadeniz said both editors have more than a “superficial connection” to the Middle East.

Shadid is Lebanese American — her father was Anthony Shadid, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. She attributes her passion for the Middle East and journalism to her father.

“He was just an incredible reporter and, you know, humanized the Middle East, in a climate that dehumanized the Middle East constantly, especially post 9/11,” Shadid said.

Karadeniz is Turkish American, born to Turkish immigrants, and grew up spending her summers in Turkey. Her father is from a small border town between Turkey and Syria, which Karadeniz says has "been extremely affected by rebel forces across the Syrian border and by the influx of Syrian refugees, almost to the point where it's basically inhabitable now."

Fenjan has been in the works since October 2019, with plans to launch while students were still on campus. However, the pandemic postponed the launch by making it more difficult to solicit submissions, recruit staff, and spread word about the publication.

In order to combat this issue, the pair of editors has posted applications on social media pages of their respective class years and has also been sending applications to individuals they think would be most interested, Karadeniz said. The University's Middle East Center also sent the application to its email listserv.

Although physical distancing guidelines for the pandemic has made in-person collaboration more difficult, Shadid and Karadeniz said now is the “perfect time” to work on the journal.

“[Coronavirus] has been very positive to push us to get this started and to launch this because everyone I think needs a little bit of positivity and activity in their lives right now,” Shadid said. “What better time to get people involved in a new project when there’s so much time on our hands?”

Shadid said Fenjan received a generous amount of money from Penn’s Middle East Center, which is a federally funded Title VI Center created in 1965 through the Higher Education Act of 1965.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 set aside funds for the creation of National Resource Centers housed in universities that would develop expertise on regions around the world and communicate, inform, and educate the public about those regions, according to Middle East Center interim director John Ghazvinian. To receive funding from the Department of Education, the center is mandated to submit a series of proposals of how it will use the funding to fulfill the general mission of a Title VI National Resource Center. 

In 2018, Penn's Middle East Center suggested various programs, including the “creation of a student-run journal that would help to foster engagement from our students on the region as well as serve as a kind of platform for students to exchange views and work related to the region,” Ghazvinian said.  

The creation of Fenjan is “a kind of natural outgrowth” of the center's mission, Ghazvinian added.

“I think a lot of people at Penn, faculty members specifically, who are involved in the Middle East Center or in various classes about the Middle East, know that there is a gap at Penn in this regard,” Shadid said. 

“They were all really excited to hear that we are starting this journal and bringing more awareness about the Middle East to Penn — an academic setting — to write about the Middle East, and discuss it and educate the community,” she said. 

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