Saved from war, Bosnian trove of books finds new home

Fri Jan 17, 2014 9:39am EST
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By Maja Zuvela

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - When Bosnia's National Library went up in flames in 1992 in a bombardment during the Bosnian Serb siege of Sarajevo, Mustafa Jahic knew he had to act to save his own institution's priceless collection.

As curator of the almost 500-year-old Gazi Husrev Bey Library, Jahic was guardian of a treasure trove of Oriental literature in the heart of Sarajevo, a city under siege during Bosnia's 1992-95 war.

The fruit of his and others' efforts will be rewarded next week when a new state-of-the-art library, a stone's throw from the original in the cobbled streets of Sarajevo's historic Bascarsija district, opens its doors.

"A unique book that is destroyed can never be restored again," Jahic, 60, told Reuters.

"So for me to save a single book became tantamount to saving a human life. It steered me through the war."

Some 3 million books perished when the National Library and Sarajevo's Institute for Oriental Studies were razed in a bombardment by Bosnian Serb forces.

Fearing for his own library's 100,000 volumes, Jahic and a small team of fellow book lovers braved sniper fire to smuggle them in banana crates from one safe house to another.

The most precious were placed in the vault of the central bank. On equipment brought in through a tunnel beneath the city airport, Jahic microfilmed scores of Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Bosnian scripts - priceless testimony to the rich and turbulent history of the Balkans.   Continued...