Up until just a few months ago, Mosul had been occupied by Islamic State militants who, in an effort to destroy the cities’ ancient culture, had torched the cities’ university library which has contained hundreds of thousands of ancient documents, including a Koran from the ninth century. Since being freed from the extremists, the volunteers have returned to Mosul and are working to help restore the library back to its former glory and help save and recover the books that remained.
Ali ِAl-Baroodi, a Mosul local and ammeter photographer, who once taught at the university, has helped spearhead a movement along with local blogger Mosul Eye to help rebuild the library and care for the books that survive. “At the beginning when we went by the library, we couldn’t hold back our tears, and we thought it was all over,” Mr Al-Baroodi said. “We thought nothing survived from inside the library. Then we found that some books have survived and some of them are old manuscripts from 100 to 200 years ago. So we could save 86,000 books and removed 36,000 surviving beautiful books to a safer place. It was a big accomplishment.”
The books are being stored in a safe place whilst the library is repaired and book donations from around the world have been flooding in from as far afield as the UK, the United States, Canada, Italy, Germany, and France. “Now there is a substitute location. It’s not operating unfortunately, it’s not operating right now because of the lack of shelves, the lack of a lot of things,” Mr Al-Baroodi said. “A lot of institutes, including the Minister of Culture in Italy and Marcello Lippi — the famous Italian football coach — they all made campaigns to send books to Mosul.”
As ABC.net reports, a book festival was held in Mosul last week for the first time since the city was taken by IS years ago. Thousands attended and celebrated books, poetry, music, and the arts. Mr Al-Baroodi said it was a clear sign of the resilience found in the people of Iraq.
“We expected a couple hundred people, but it was a big surprise to find no less than 3,000 to 4,000 people. We couldn’t count because the audience was so huge,” he said. “People are so hopeful despite all the odds, despite all the hard circumstances. In the beginning we didn’t have water, we didn’t have electricity. We had to dig for water to use well water.”
Al-Baroodi has stated it was very emotional to see culture returning to such a war torn city which was a battle zone just months ago. The city is beginning to return to life but a lot of work still remains in certain areas. “In fact I felt speechless because nobody at all, nothing in the whole world expected this city to come from the ashes in this way,” he said. “Publishing houses did not only send books and donations for the festival, but heads of festivals, university chancellors attended. In fact it was the biggest event since ISIS. Fortunately in the eastern side of Mosul where I live, life is almost back to old days. Water is back, the electricity is back. But unfortunately on the western side of Mosul, it’s still a tragedy.”