While the financial crisis continues to take its toll on the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan, there is one cultural centre that refuses to go under.
The Andisheh Cultural Centre is located on the fourth floor of a building on one of the city of Sulaymaniyah’s busiest streets. It opened in 2012 in what was formerly one Iraqi Kurdistan’s biggest libraries but has since managed to successfully straddle the line between commercial and non-profit.
This week, the fourth in a series of annual festivals the Centre organizes will begin, with three days of activities held in Sulaymaniyah and two days in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil. During the festival, 42 new books will be presented and six awards will be given out to authors in various categories. And while many other local cultural centres and activities have been curtailed, the Andisheh Centre is hanging in there.
Hundreds of locals come here to read and the centre is trying to publish as many as one hundred books a year. It may well be the biggest publisher of local books in the country, suggests the centre’s owner, Hazar Majid.
“When we first opened, we were hoping to transform the library into a significant centre for local culture,” explains Majid, who was born in Iran but who left because of the political situation for Kurds there. “After four years, we are about halfway there,” he adds.there is less bureaucracy involved in being able to borrow a book.
Today, his project consists of several sections – these include the library containing around 25,000 books in several languages, including Persian, Turkish and English, a book publisher and seller, an area for events and a children’s section.
There is also a special area that serves as a public library, where locals who cannot afford to buy books, or who do not want to buy them, can borrow books.
People would rather come here than go to Sulaymaniyah’s actual library, Majid says, because there is less bureaucracy involved in being able to borrow a book.
“The centre is industrializing the local publishing industry,” says Hussein Husseini, a lecturer at the University of Sulaymaniyah, who has had six of his own works published by the Andisheh Centre. The Centre has published 25 scientific books in Kurdish and as Husseini points out, “that is unprecedented in the history of Kurdish culture and science.”