The AFP reported yesterday that “Iraq concludes first book fair in 20 years.”
Eye-popping news a Friday morning. First off, I hadn’t heard that Baghdad was having a book fair this year. And then, well, twenty years! (I had to employ my crack math skills: That’s no book fair since the end of the “Gulf War” in 1991.)
The AFP reported that the last book fair “of any kind in Iraq” was in 1990, before Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and the U.S.-led sanctions.
Meanwhile, the Kurdistan News Agency was reporting that the Baghdad International Book Fair 2011 is the first book fair in Baghdad “since April 2003.” They also note a first-time participation of Kurdish literature. The KNA interviewed Samia Aziz:
“The Kurdish literature will have a special significance in this fair, especially since the first day of the fair witnessed a wide range of readers, writers and literary figures.”
Radio Free Europe had reported Iraq’s “first book fair” (of all times?) took place in 2009, although it sounds as though it were mainly a sale of textbooks.
In any case, this international book fair is certainly significant, and the photos from Getty make it look quite professional, at least the book-sales aspect. The fair reportedly featured 200 publishing houses from 32 countries, including around 60 Arab houses. There were also a variety of literary events.
Ali Shauna, a 53-year-old civil servant, lamented that after the 2003 invasion, “Iraq fell into an intellectual coma, but the country is slowly waking up.”
“We can say that the Iraqis have started reading again,” he added.
There wasn’t much chatter about it on Twitter, but I did find one glowing review:
@boboms: 2day i were at Baghdad International Fair Book Really liked … Really nice i liked it then went to Kindi Street now¡Home i enjoyed 2day;-)
And this from the Iraqi Army (photo above):
Another report on the fair: