The first writer’s fair in the Kurdish-controlled areas was held in the north of Syria under the motto “Reading Expands the Horizons of Humanitarian Thought.” It is considered a new precedent in an area that was culturally “neglected” by the Syrian regime prior to the breakout of the Syrian Revolution.
The fair ran from 20 – 25 July in the city of Qamishli, under the organization of the Kurdish self-governing administration’s Culture and Arts Authority. The date of the opening coincided with the “martyrdom of Hercules.”
“Hercules” was a Kurdish author named Hussein As-Shawish from the Syrian Jazeera region who passed away one year ago. As-Shawish was a leader in the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and had a long history in the ranks of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in addition to his interests in writing and composition. His publications were featured in the writer’s fair according to Berivan Qadr, an official in the Culture and Arts Authority.
Approximately thirteen cultural institutions participated in the fair, among them the Jazeera Province Intellectuals Union, the Syriac Cultural Association, the Kurdish Writer’s Union in Syria, as well as a number of publishing houses and cultural personalities. The organizers imposed a symbolic fee on the fair’s participants but took on the full material costs of the fair, according to Berivan Qadr.
According to Qadr, the number of books presented at the fair reached nearly twenty thousand in various languages including Kurdish, Arabic, Syriac, and English. She noted that participation among writers, intellectuals, and publishing house owners was high, with 90% of those attending coming from the Kurdish-controlled areas.
The exhibition saw high demand from visitors, who requested that the dates of the fair be extended. However, according to Qadr, the Culture and Arts Authority refused, saying that they were unable to alter the fixed opening and closing dates.
Attendee Salah al-Din Muslim travelled 320 kilometers from the city of Ain al-Arab (Kobane) to Qamishli to witness the cultural event. Muslim considers this “first book fair in Ruja Ava” to bear significant connotations, despite the small number of books in Kurdish and Arabic printed between 2012 and 2017, a period considered the nucleus of an intellectual renaissance in the country.
Muslim added that “this first exhibition in the history of Ruja Ava is outstanding, and will bear fruit in the future despite the presence of printing errors and a weakness in the writing quality of the authors. However, these do not take away from its importance.”
From the city of Al-Malikiyah (Dayrik) in the far northeast of Syria, the Manisa Library, owned by Azad Dawood, participated in the fair with more than 1000 books. The books covered a number of languages, including Arabic and English, and varied in their type from poetry, to stories, to international literature.
Dawood expressed his satisfaction with the demand at his bookstand, saying that the fair was a golden opportunity for his library to encourage people to read throughout the war still raging on in Syria.
In his comments to “The Syria Voice”, Dawood mentioned that the exhibitor’s participation was limited to those from the Jazeera area, the city of Minbaj, and Ain al-Arab (Kobane), as they received significant assistance from the organizing body.
For his part, editor-in-chief of Sormey Magazine’s Arabic department, Abbas Ali Mousa, said to “The Syrian Voice” that “the exhibition is the first activity of its type, and the thought itself is wonderful and necessary,” pointing out the existence of some problems at the same time.
Mousa continued, “various problems existed from the event’s organization, to the identity of the fair, to the partitioning of its booths, to the preparation of the hall. The hall was not prepared to exhibit the books in an interesting and elegant way, and the presentation of the activities and lectures was limited to the work of the organizing body without the consultation of the participants. They were not asked by the organizers whether there were activities they wanted to have during the fair.”
A correspondent for “The Syrian Voice” met with several fair visitors and participants, and the signs of satisfaction with this event were clear.
Bashir Talaty, a visitor who met with the correspondent, said “if we want to preserve this nation then we must do so with writing and attention to the culture, and not rely on the available books that come from outside Syria.”
Talaty hopes that future exhibitions will expand and use their ability to self-promote. He also hopes they will include diverse books on their shelves.
Talaty noted that Syria holds an annual international book fair in the capital Damascus, which began in 1954 and is considered one of the oldest international exhibitions in the Middle East. Since the beginning of Bashar al-Assad’s rule in 2000, Syria has seen local exhibitions distributed throughout the major cities: Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs. However, the Jazeera area of Syria, or Ruga Ava as it is known by the Kurds, has remained distant from the cultural movement due to political and economic considerations.