Saving books from the Syrian war

An underground library in Daraya. Source: Humans of Syria.
An underground library in Daraya. Source: Humans of Syria.

A group of young Syrian people have built a secret library, hidden in a basement in Daraya, a city located south of Damascus. Their goal is to save Daraya’s books, as the city is currently under the control of local Islamist groups and has been under siege by Bashar al-Assad’s army for the past three years.

Daraya is located near the Mezze military airport, a strategic site for the Assad regime. The city is under the control of Ajnad Al-Sham Islamic Union and the Martyrs of Islam Brigade (Chuhada al-Islam), both Islamist groups working with the rebels of the Free Syrian Army.

Daraya was bombed in September 2015.

Constant bombing has halted any kind of cultural activities or schooling, which is why a group of young Syrians decided to create a library, providing locals with a place to read and study. The activists say that that their library contains close to 11,000 books saved from the rubble of destroyed buildings.

“Our library contains many books written in Arabic as well as foreign languages, and lots of books on philosophy and theology”

Abu Malek helped set up the library. FRANCE 24 contacted Malek with the help of Humans of Syria, a collective of young Syrian photographers.

"I haven’t been able to read or study since the siege on Daraya began. Many other young people are in the same situation. That’s why my friends and I came up with the idea of trying to salvage books from the rubble of destroyed houses. When we collect books, we take notes on where each book was found so that, after the war, we can return the books to their owners if they want them. We also saved any books we could from the city’s libraries and bookstores, though many were burned. For us, it is a way of preserving our cultural heritage.

Daraya Library. Source: Humans of Syria.

We decided to build the library in a basement in order to protect the books from bombs. We’ve now transformed the space so it feels like a real library. Each book is shelved by theme and then arranged alphabetically. We have many books written in Arabic as well as in foreign languages, and books on philosophy and theology. We also set up tables and chairs to create a comfortable space for reading and studying.

Daraya Library. Source: Humans of Syria.

Working on this library really helped me find a new purpose for my life. Before, I spent days feeling both bored and terrified as I waited for air raids. Now, I advise library members who come to check out books and we chat about what we have been reading.

Our next goal is to build up our documentary film collection, but we lack the funds to do so."