Delight in books and the joy of reading at the Baghdad Book Fair

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BAGHDAD – Protesters in Baghdad have staged a sit-in protest demanding the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Anti-terrorist forces patrol the streets. The federal court was considering whether to certify the results of the parliamentary elections two months ago.

But at the Baghdad International Fair, no one cares about that.

Inside the Baghdad International Book Fair. There is not even a large book fair of the same name that the Iraqi government has been funding for decades. Yet this is a book fair.

There, hosts enjoy the opportunity to browse the aisles of paperbacks and hardcovers stacked on desks in pavilions of various countries. Arranged to pronounce the word “book” to pose for a selfie in front of fake volumes pasted together. For many Iraqis far removed from political turmoil and security concerns, Baghdad’s true, lasting character.

“There is a huge gap between the people on the street and the political elite,” said Mason Al-Temluji, a former culture minister who visited the exhibition. “People on the street are not interested in what is going on in politics.”

Ms. Temluji, an architect, described a small renaissance in Baghdad culture that was nurtured by young people interested in advanced security and connecting with the world.

“The new generation is expressing ideas that were rejected by previous generations,” he said. “There’s a lot going on here.”

At the exhibition ground in the city’s fashionable Mansour district, some of the halls that were normally used for trade shows have been converted into old Baghdad. Buses drop off children in school uniforms during class trips. Groups of friends sit in the winter sunlight and sip Arabian coffee and espresso at outdoor cafes.

Inside, the pavilions have the privileges of printing companies in the Arab world and beyond. An Iranian publisher has fancy coffee table books on the cultural wonders of the country.

At the Kuwait Publishing House stall, psychiatrist Zainab al-Jury translated books on ancient Mesopotamia and a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson into Arabic. Most of the books in the stall were paperbacks.

Dr. Jury, 30, who works at a psychiatric hospital, said, “Studying is my treatment.

Paperbacks are far from the feeling and smell of old books that Dr. Jury loves so much. Still, he has been looking forward to the book fair for months.

“It’s satisfying to go to this place even if I haven’t bought any books,” he said.

Iraqis love books. “Cairo writes, Beirut publishes and reads Baghdad,” says an old proverb.

In the 1990s, my first reporting mission to Baghdad was to a closed country. This is Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

The United States expelled Saddam’s forces from Kuwait and the United Nations imposed severe trade sanctions on Iraq. In a formerly rich country, the shock of sudden poverty gave the city and its citizens a hard edge.

But in those rare scenes behind the closed doors of people’s houses, there were often books – in some houses, on beautiful, built-in wooden shelves, they were all read and almost every book was considered an old friend by its owner.

Iraqis are proud of their ancient heritage as the heirs of the world’s first known civilizations on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Cuneiform symbols engraved on clay, the earliest form of writing that appeared in southern Iraq 5,000 years ago.

In the ninth century AD in Baghdad – the largest city in the world at the time – Bait al-Hikma, or the House of Knowledge, a large library and translator at the Intellectual Center, undertook the task of translating all existing important works into Arabic. Intellectual discussion. Scholars from all over the Abbasid Empire, from Central Asia to North Africa, visited the institute to research and promote scientific progress.

Twelve centuries later, on Al-Mudanabi Street, Friday’s market lives a love of books and ideas, where vendors sell used books on the sidewalk, which is at the heart of Baghdad’s traditional cultural life.

At the Baghdad Book Fair, two booksellers sit under a large inflatable plastic snow globe with Santa Claus under an angel lamp covered from the ceiling.

Hisham Nasser, 24, holds a degree in finance and banking, but optionally works at the book publishing house Cemetery. “American Nietzsche” is one of the most important shelves presented by the publisher of the exhibition about the influence of the German philosopher in the United States.

Mr. Nasser, 24, declared Nietzsche “the second largest mind in human history.” First, in his assessment, Leonardo da Vinci.

He is credited with writing nine bestselling novels, including the best-selling books by Iraqi author Burhan Shaw, and “Baghdad’s Mork,” set against the backdrop of post-war violence in Baghdad. The turbulent and violent history of Iraq since the 2003 US invasion has provided a rich source of food for writers.

“The war has given the Iraqis a lot of stuff,” said psychiatrist Dr Jury, who said most of the clients at the exhibition were young people.

In Iraq’s worst times, books have proved a comfort.

When the Islamic State captured parts of Iraq in 2014 and declared Mosul the capital of its caliphate, the country’s second-largest city, Iraq, came to a standstill. Almost all books with music were banned. Women were mainly confined to their homes. In the nearly three years since ISIS invaded the city, many have stayed home and studied secretly.

At the first reading festival since Mosul’s liberation from ISIS, thousands of residents flocked to a park event to train child fighters. Families with children, the elderly, the young – all are openly hungry to read again.

Bookseller Mr. at the Baghdad Exhibition. Nasser says that while many people now read digital books, he and many others like to have books in their hands.

“When you open a paper book, it’s like stepping into a writer’s journey,” he said. “A paper book contains the soul of the writer.”

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