The war ravaged the library of Mosul University. The Czechs want to return the center of education to the Iraqi people

The war ravaged the library of Mosul University. The Czechs want to return the center of education to the Iraqi people

"This bridge was demolished by the fighters of Daesh in order to complicate the conquest of Mosul by coalition forces," says the driver when we cross the temporary bridge over the Great Zab. Near by there are flapping, sad, dusty flags of the camp for internally displaced people, where one can find the people who escaped the cruelty of the ISIL or the struggle between radicals and coalition forces. We are traveling from Erbil to Mosul. Our goal is the central library in the campus of the Mosul University, which was destroyed during the reign of the ISIL between 2014 and 2016. It was the conquering of the second largest Iraqi city by coalition forces.

Even the clouds of dust and sand that swirl the trucks stuffed with material to restore the city can not hide the fact that the war has only passed through here recently. Away from the road, squalls of professionals are working to clean up the countryside from mines, military checkpoints, trenches, and machine-gun nests with barrels of guns ominously peeping out every few kilometers.

Mosul welcomes us with wartime coulisses that every armed conflict leaves behind in a densely populated area. It´s hard to find a house without a screech. Somewhere there are a bunch of wrecks after a rocket attack, elsewhere there are at least bullets in the plaster. Among all of this, there is a life pulsating again, which is quickly coming back with its inhabitants after liberation of this part of the city. The main roads are full of cars and the market is trading again. However, traveling in Mosul requires a remarkable dose of improvisation, because the bridges and highway overpasses are in ruins, and so we zigzag where we can.

University, the most damaged part of eastern Mosul

The gateway to the vast campus of Mosul University seems busy, but almost immediately there is nothing that resembles the center of Middle Eastern education. The streets are lined with debris, with only a few buildings across the campus. "University campus is the most devastated place in all of East Mosul," Akram Hussein Albado, president of the University, told us a few minutes later. Even in buildings that can be used today, there is often no ceiling and basic equipment.

"In the days of the Daesh, only three departments of the university were needed by their fighters, that is the medical faculty, dentistry and pharmacy," says Dr. Abdul Ameer of university´s recent life. "In these disciplines, teachers were forced to go to work and teach, while the other employees of the university were simply dismissed by the radicals," he adds about the dark history of the institution.

The use of the abandoned complex by the Islamic state has many versions among the locals. The radicals' intelligence was shifting among the buildings and new chemical weapons were being developed in laboratories. Anyway, during the fighting for eastern Mosul, the camp became the target of allied air strikes that ended a three-year occupation of the radicals.

Teachers in the meantime taught in Kirkuk and other cities where the university and its students moved partially during the occupation. The tuition began to return slowly to the original price four months ago, but the management of the university expects a new semester with optimism. "We would like to reopen all 23 faculties, but we will have to combine two faculties into one building, for example, and I expect we will have 45,000 students again," plans Akram Hussein Albado.

A million books and rare books - everything burned

They will miss the heart of the university - the central library, which has been its pride since 1974. "There were 250,000 books and a million other volumes, an electronic library, newspapers and other sources necessary for research. Everything was burned, " says Abdul Ameer in front of the completely burned building. There is destruction everywhere and inside the library we can still see burned bookshelves which had sheltered many rare prints of unprecedented value. It is not allowed to enter the building due to unexploded ammunition.

"We have already received new books from several non-governmental organizations and private initiatives, which we are currently storing in warehouses, and the UN has helped us with cleaning work, but it is a priority to now restore the building and get the equipment in. We have a plan to reconstruct, but we have no resources," says Abdul Ameer, looking sadly at the burned-in entrance.

"You know, I also studied electronics here,at the Faculty of Engineering, and I was studying regularly in the library from 1975 to 1979," he recalls his student years with the same nostalgia as younger students. We disturbed 25-year-old Muaz Sami Salman directly in the auditorium during his statistics test. Like most others, he spent the last months of studying at Kirkuk, 170 kilometres away, and he is glad he can make the first exams back in his alma mater.

It was a house of knowledge not only for students

"Everybody, not just students, benefited from the library, and when someone was looking for a book he could not find in a bookshop, he could always find it in the library," says Muaz Sami Salman, who would like to work as a teacher after his studies. "I went to the library regularly, there were many rare books, books that opened up horizons and gave insight into other countries," says the student, adding that if students come up with some initiatives on their own to help the library, he would like to join them.

A 25-year-old student of the second year Omar Muhammad Abd is sitting in the other classroom above his test. Studying at Mosul University is prestigious. "Everything you look for, you always find in the library. When you are looking for a book, doing research, or just studying, you always go to the library, and I think the library is the foundation of every university," says Omar Muhammad Abd.

Barzan Abdulaziz Idrees, who graduated from the Pedagogical Faculty 11 years ago, is also keen to remember. "I really enjoyed the library, especially in the fourth year when I worked on my research," says Barzan Abdulaziz Idrees. "For me, the library was actually more important than the faculty itself, because in the library you could just find all the books. It was a house of knowledge for us all, far from just for students," explains his relationship to the library and adds that seeing the library in this state it is really painful for him.

At the beginning there was an ordinary human solidarity

The Czechs are not indifferent to the fate of the library, so the employees of the Library of the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague decided to help the librarians and students in Mosul. In cooperation with People in Need, who has a mission in Iraq, they organized a public library collection. "At the beginning, there was an article about the Mosul University Library in New Yorker and especially human and professional solidarity. Step by step all university libraries throughout the Czech Republic were involved in the collection, and we hope to collect as many funds as possible by the end of the year," says the director of the Faculty of Arts Library of Charles University Klara Rösslerová. "Our role is to help with the organization of the collection, then transfer the money to the library's representatives on the spot and keep an eye on how they will use it," adds Nada Aliová, People in Need Desk Officer for Iraq.

But lets´s go back to Mosul in front of the burned torso of one of the largest and most important libraries in the Middle East. "I'm really glad that people in the Czech Republic have decided to support the library, they really have to feel what we are experiencing now because they are helping the library at the other part of the world, which they may never visit in person," concludes Barzan Abdulaziz Idrees.

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Author: Petr Štefan