After a 10-year hiatus during which all publishing houses, libraries, and newspaper kiosks closed, and all cultural activities and events were suspended under the terrorist rule of ISIS, the first book fair in Raqqa, Syria, has been opened by the cultural authority of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), with the participation of 30 Syrian, Arabic, and Kurdish publishers, displaying 20,000 books and over 4,000 titles.
“Dozens of publishing houses from neighboring countries including Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, as well as European countries such as Italy, are partaking in the event. AANES has decided to revive culture in the city after years on ban, by motivating books and reading,” Ronahi Hassan, vice president of AANES’ cultural association, said in a phone call with Asharq Al-Awsat.
“The book fair includes many cultural activities and events, and artistic performances. The cultural association is considering turning it into an annual event,” she noted.
Azad Daoud, director of Manisa Library, highlighted the importance of this event, saying “its significance comes from the fact that Raqqa was subject to intellectual oppression for years. Books were burned, and reading was banned. Despite the low demand on books due to the bad living circumstances in the region, this book fair is highly important, and we hope it becomes an annual tradition in better circumstances.”
Writer Abdul Majid Khalaf, member of the fair’s organizational committee, said “the event is remarkable for residences and civil administrations in Raqqa. We plan to improve it in the coming years in partnership with prominent publishing houses and libraries from Syria and the neighboring countries.”
For his part, Abdullah Sheikho, manager of ‘Naqsh’ Publishing, said “we participated with around 14 English and Kurdish titles, in addition to translated works including ‘A Thousand Splendid Sun’ by Kurdish novelist Khaled Hosseini.”
On the organizational level, Sheikho said that although the number of partaking publishing houses and pavilions is limited, “the idea of holding such an event in a small city like Raqqa is a well appreciated step.”
The largest participation was by Kurdish publishers from the autonomous administration; they displayed Kurdish books, and children’s books in both Arabic and Kurdish. Kurdish publishing house from Iraq, Turkey, and Iran participated as well.
Among the participating publishers are Dar Al Mutawassit owned by publisher Khaled al-Nassiry, with over 250 titles including bestsellers such as Salama Kila’s “Syrian Left”, “Aleppo’s Tragedies”, “Images of Jihad from Al Qaeda to ISIS”, in addition to “Confessions of a Terrorist” by Syrian translator Mansour al-Maamari, and “Nineteen Women…Syrian Women Narrate” by writer Samar Yazbek.
The city of Raqqa is located on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River and extends over 27,000 kilometers square. Before the war in Syria, it was inhabited by over one million people, compared to only 300,000 today. The book fair concludes on Thursday.