RESIDENTS of Qaraqosh (Bakhdida)in northern Iraq can once again borrow books from the Christian library, three years after it was partially destroyed by fire during the occupation of the town by Islamic State (IS).
Tens of thousands of Assyrian Christian families were forcefully displaced from the Nineveh Plains region after the IS invasion in August 2014. More than 5100 Christian families have returned there after the liberation of Qaraqosh from IS in 2016, when work started to restore homes.
By this time, most of the library books had been burnt or stolen. Under the supervision of Fr Duraid Barber, of St Jacob’s Syriac Catholic Church in Qaraqosh, and with financial support from a partner organisation of the charity, Open Doors UK, the library was restored and reopened in December 2018. The restoration cost about £7000.
Fr Barber said last month: “It rose from the black ruins and demolition debris to a cultural centre. We dream that it will be a space where intellectuals, students, authors, poets, and other readers from our village can meet or do research.”
The library, which has been named in honour of Fr Louis Qasab, a priest from Qaraqosh, is part of the Christian Centre for Social and Cultural Activities in Qaraqosh. Seminars and art exhibitions are held at the centre, as well as Christian education and other church-related activities.
The new library has a large, modern reading hall. Its collection of 650 manuscripts and books includes categories on science, religion, fiction, politics, and children’s literature in Arabic, English, French, and German.
“We still lack books on philosophy, psychology, and religion, as well as modern literature, novels, and popular books,” Fr Barber said. “We also need dictionaries, and a bigger diversity of French and English books — especially the latter, since we have a few families who came back from Europe to Qaraqosh after its liberation, and their children got used to reading books written in English.”
The next stage of regeneration is to secure internet access and digitalise the entire collection, as well as to offer online PDF books. The new facilities will include computers and printers. Library staff are also preparing to promote the library in schools and encourage teachers to hold reading competitions to motivate students to read more.
Schools in Qaraqosh are also being reopened. St Joseph’s primary school was destroyed and looted during the invasion, before being used as a military base. IS militants drilled tunnels around the building to operate underground.
Open Doors UK supported the reconstruction of the school after the occupation ended. Today, it educates 130 primary pupils, and there are plans to admit secondary-school students next year.