Cultural Life in Idlib, Steps towards Recovery
Idlib’s populace is striving to achieve the goals of freedom and social revival which they called for and believed in since the break out of the Syrian revolution; culture and reading were at the heart of the movement since the beginning, both as a means and an end.
Four years from the opposition armed group’s control of the full range of the governorate and its incubation of more than a million persons, displaced from the suburbs of Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo for two years, the satisfaction of the people’s cultural and intellectual needs became a matter of urgency.
Addressing this, early individual attempts emerged that worked to lighten the conflict and the displacement’s percussions, in addition to the spread of militarization and security-based risks, manifested in shortage on resources and staffs, lost time and unrealized objectives.
Renovating the Damaged
“At the beginning of the liberation phase, the state of affairs was adequate; it was not stable, and the shelling was intense. […] Practical life was on hold, all of it. And then, it started to recover,” teacher Aya Radwan told Enab Baladi, describing the development of the cultural track in her city.
Late in 2018, Violet Organization conducted an initiative called “Share Your Book with Us”, through which it tried to collect donated books to revitalize the cultural center, which stood destroyed for two years as a result of the regime’s aerial attacks on the area in 2016.
Many of the area’s people complimented the organization’s efforts and welcomed them, having in mind the suffering of the center’s library following the books absence, thefts and destruction, which happened to a massive number of publications, as Mohammad al-Zeer, a stage actor, informed Enab Baladi.
Radwan added that the books, only 13 thousand in number once, became 25 thousand today, overjoyed with the efforts made to rehabilitate the museum and better the cultural activities, which, in their turn, helped teachers accompany their students on tours to identify the “history of the country”.
The museum was reopened in 2018, after it was closed in 2013 under the force of military action, robberies and sabotage.
Attempts at Progress
The area’s civil society organizations worked on holding cultural and entertainment contests and activities, which Radwan views as a great motivational step for youths’ creativity.
These efforts, seeking to push forward the cultural movement, “were at many times stricken with weakness, in terms of clarity of vision, the objectives aimed at and the results looked forward to,” Muhand Omar, a university student, said.
The events conducted by the university are flawed, insufficient to reach success, and the cultural and intellectual events organized by academies and organizations lack depth, Omar, a student of political sciences, added.
According to Omar, the courses, initiated in the area, are enhancing the “controversies” that young people are suffering from, for the courses are limited to the labor market.
To reach the desired development and contribute to addressing needs, a new youth cultural project is launched, and it is to start activities at the center of Idlib city.
“It is an answer to how we can make young people, inside Syria, read” the project’s director Basheer Jamal ed-Deen, described the project’s principles to Enab Baladi.
With five thousand books, so far donated and collected, and halls provided with power, computers and internet, in addition to places designated for lectures and reading areas, for males and others for females, Jamal ed-Din and his team aim to encourage the area’s people to read and offer them cultural services.
Getting books and academic sources, indicated by Omar, and the need to vary the range of these references was not neglected by Jamal ed-Din, who was an Idlib university student himself a while ago. Answering this situation, the library is to designate a section for references, in addition to monitoring the latest publications and working to provide them.
“I do not think that the reader would enter the library without at least liking a book or developing a desire to own one,” Jamal ed-Din added, commenting on the diversity of the books available in the library.
Glimpses of Light
Idlib governorate was never void of intellectual and cultural projects and establishments, which resemble the charity library that Jamal ed-Din and his team are preparing for. In the town of Ma’arrat Misrin, for example, the “Butterfly Effect” library was opened, where the organizers are seeking to provide books for the area’s women and children.
This library’s goal is to make “valuable” books available in northern Syria through collecting books and offering the Arab publishing houses a chance to donate books, the library’s director Ruba Yassine, told Enab Baladi in a former interview.
In another part of the governorate, in the city of Jisr al-Shugur, a cultural club was founded within the “Bridge of the Future” center, about which Khitam Jani, the club’s coordinator and a plastic artist, spoke to Enab Baladi.
“What triggered us to start it is our city’s urgent need and the massive shortage on similar cultural projects that raise the populace’s awareness and address youth, in particular, and other age-specific categories as a whole.”
The club will establish a library soon, with the sole objective of encouraging people to read, where initiatives in support of artistic talents are conducted, covering painting, calligraphy courses, poetry evenings, cultural seminars and open discussions.
“Despite the huge pressures, the waves of displacement from the city and the security status that has not achieved stability yet,” Jani believes that attraction to the club’s activities is “excellent”.
Supporting the projects that enable youths to understand the changes and the responsibilities they have to shoulder, expanding these projects as to attract them and trigger them to invest in the space of liberty that the revolution created despite all the pressures and the factors to keep in mind were among the top missing needs, said Omar.
Mohammad al-Zeer, who constantly seeks the cultural center due to his stage activities, believes that the return of intellectuals and artists is the most prominent of all needs.
The renovation of the cultural center and boosting the services it offers, including calligraphy courses, poetry and story contests, compatible with the society’s demands, in addition to the growing care in theater, were also among the needs.
As for Radwan, she hopes that the books’ types, number and fairs increase, as to overcome the “knowledge gap” and construct the damaged “cultural infrastructure”, while she prides herself on all that the area has achieved under the war and instability.