Monday, February 04, 2013

Timbuktu manuscripts update

INFORMATION ON THE FATE OF THE TIMBUKTU MANUSCRIPTS continued to develop over the weekend, but I was knocked down by a bad head cold and wasn't following the media. Lydia Polgreen at the New York Times has the latest: As Extremists Invaded, Timbuktu Hid Artifacts of a Golden Age.
The residents of Timbuktu suffered grievously under Islamic militant rule. Almost all of life’s pleasures, even the seemingly innocent ones like listening to music and dancing, were forbidden. With the arrival of French and Malian troops here on Jan. 28, life is slowly returning to normal.

But the city’s rich historical patrimony suffered terrible losses. Timbuktu is known as the City of 333 Saints, a reference to the Sufi preachers and scholars who are venerated by Muslims here. The Islamic rebels destroyed several earthen tombs of those saints, claiming such shrines were forbidden.

During their hasty departure from the city last weekend, the fighters struck another parting blow, setting fire to dozens of ancient manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Institute, the city’s biggest and most important library.


It turned out the worries were not unwarranted. In the chaotic final days of the Islamist occupation, all that changed. A group of militants stormed the library as they were fleeing and set fire to whatever they could find.

Fortunately, they got their hands on only a tiny portion of the library’s collection.

“They managed to find less than 5 percent,” he said. “Thank God they were not able to find anything else.”

None of the city’s libraries are in a hurry to return their collections from their hiding places, even though Timbuktu is back under government control.

Can't say I blame them. As for that less-fortunate less than 5 percent, Matt Blake and Sam Webb at the Daily Mail have some heartbreaking photos: Mali's history goes up in flames: Pictures show priceless texts torched by Islamist fighters fleeing French forces at Timbuktu.
These pictures show the scorched remains of priceless historical documents torched by Islamist fighters before they fled French troops as they closed in on Timbuktu.

The extremists set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts as they fled French and Malian forces.

Without firing a shot, 1,000 French soldiers backed by 200 Malian troops descended on the ancient desert trading post, as they tried to cut off the escape of al Qaeda-linked fighters.

But before they could be rounded up, the rebels scattered into the desert, torching homes, mosques and libraries, including parts of the city's £16-million Ahmed Baba Institute, home to some 20,000 ancient documents on culture, science and geography, as they left.

Background here and links.