Istanbul Bookstore Caters To Syrian Refugees In Need Of A Good Read

Istanbul Bookstore Caters To Syrian Refugees In Need Of A Good Read

2:14pm Jun 19, 2015
Pages bookstore partner and manager Samer al-Kadri (center) talks with customers. The Syrian founded a publishing company in Damascus, but fled when the war made it impossible to run. He wound up in Istanbul, where he noticed a lack of books in Arabic, an
Pages bookstore partner and manager Samer al-Kadri (center) talks with customers. The Syrian founded a publishing company in Damascus, but fled when the war made it impossible to run. He wound up in Istanbul, where he noticed a lack of books in Arabic, an
Peter Kenyon / NPR
  • Pages bookstore partner and manager Samer al-Kadri (center) talks with customers. The Syrian founded a publishing company in Damascus, but fled when the war made it impossible to run. He wound up in Istanbul, where he noticed a lack of books in Arabic, an

    Pages bookstore partner and manager Samer al-Kadri (center) talks with customers. The Syrian founded a publishing company in Damascus, but fled when the war made it impossible to run. He wound up in Istanbul, where he noticed a lack of books in Arabic, an

    Peter Kenyon / NPR

  • A trio of Syrian musicians performs at the opening of Pages bookstore in Istanbul. The store has a cafe and a play area for children, and owners hope to host movie screenings and workshops.

    A trio of Syrian musicians performs at the opening of Pages bookstore in Istanbul. The store has a cafe and a play area for children, and owners hope to host movie screenings and workshops.

    Peter Kenyon / NPR

  • Arabic- and English-language books are displayed in the new Syrian-run Pages bookstore in Istanbul. Titles in Turkish and French are also available.

    Arabic- and English-language books are displayed in the new Syrian-run Pages bookstore in Istanbul. Titles in Turkish and French are also available.

    Peter Kenyon / NPR

After four years of war, Syrians are everywhere in Istanbul — on street corners, squatting in abandoned buildings. But a new venture run by Syrian and Turkish book lovers aims to be a cultural oasis for Arabic readers, and, along the way, give Turks a fuller picture of the Syrians, Iraqis and Libyans increasingly filling the city.

In a painstakingly restored old wooden house in a working class neighborhood, Syrians, Iraqis and Turks mingled recently amid the shelves of the Pages bookstore.

A trio of Syrian musicians performs at the opening of Pages bookstore in Istanbul. The store has a cafe and a play area for children, and owners hope to host movie screenings and workshops.

A trio of Syrian musicians performs at the opening of Pages bookstore in Istanbul. The store has a cafe and a play area for children, and owners hope to host movie screenings and workshops.

Peter Kenyon/NPR

A Syrian string trio played in the corner, as browsers flipped through volumes in Arabic, Turkish, English and French. One teenager brings his choice — an Arabic translation of George Orwell's 1984 — over to his headscarf-wearing mother. She looks at it, nods and puts it on the pile to purchase.

Partner and manager Samer al-Kadri has lived here for over a year now, after Bright Fingers Publishing — the company he co-founded in Damascus, Syria — became impossible to run because of the war.

When he got here he noticed right away the booming population of Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans and other Arabs, and saw a gaping need for an Arabic bookstore.

"There is a huge Arab community here, and there is no Arabic book," he says. "And this is our job."

Arabic- and English-language books are displayed in the new Syrian-run Pages bookstore in Istanbul. Titles in Turkish and French are also available.

Arabic- and English-language books are displayed in the new Syrian-run Pages bookstore in Istanbul. Titles in Turkish and French are also available.

Peter Kenyon/NPR

Upstairs, there's a combination playroom and reading room stocked with children's books. Downstairs is adult fiction and nonfiction, some 2,000 titles in all, and in the basement is a small café. Kadri hopes the space will become a kind of cultural mixing zone for Turks and Arabs.

"We want to let people know us, to see us in different way, and see them in different way," he says. "And this is very important to us."

Kadri says they're not just trying to attract better-off Syrians: The store will also let people borrow books, or read them for free in the store. There are plans for book signings by Turkish authors, movie screenings, and workshops for both children and adults.

As more and more visitors crowd into the modest shop, Kadri's Turkish partner, Zeynap Sevde Paksu, says they know their efforts are just a drop compared to the ocean of needs confronting the some 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey these days. But it is something she can do to help Syrians, and her fellow Turks as well — at least those willing to have their stereotypes about Arabs challenged.

"They will come and see here — Syrian people are intellectual people, they are writers, they are poets," she says. "For example, for Turkish people a Syrian person can't be unreligious — they're all mullahs, okay? And when they see Arabic book, they will just think it is a religious book. No, it's popular — there are love stories here, crime stories here — too many kinds of novels here."

From Baghdad's once-famous "street of books," Mutanabbi Street, to the smoky literary cafes of Damascus, the Arab love of poetry and prose continues. Despite the conflict raging in their country, Syrians who are descended from some of Damascus' leading poets and writers are converting their family homes into literary and cultural centers.

Now there's an outpost of sorts in Istanbul, too.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Turkey has a problem; more than a million Syrians have taken refuge there, fleeing the war that's just across the border. The sheer numbers of refugees can lead to tension, which is being eased somewhat by a shared love of books. Two Syrian publishers and a Turkish partner have opened a bookstore in Istanbul with a broad list of titles in Arabic. NPR's Peter Kenyon visited that shop and found a kind of oasis for people who are tired of being seen only as victims of war.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Ask an Istanbul resident about Syrians, and you're likely to hear about the beggars huddled on street corners or the scruffy children swarming over cars at stop lights, trying to sell tissues or clean the windshield. But now Turks have a chance to see another side of Syrians - and Iraqis and Libyans for that matter - their love of literature, poetry and music.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIANS: (Playing music).

KENYON: A new Istanbul bookstore is giving Syrians and Turks the chance to see each other outside the context of war, displacement and loss. A Syrian trio plays in one corner of the restored, old house that is now the Pages bookstore as eager browsers flip through volumes in Arabic, Turkish, English and French. One teenager brings his choice over to his headscarf-wearing mother. It's an Arabic edition of George Orwell's "1984." She looks at it, nods and puts it on the pile to purchase. Partner and manager Samer al-Kadri has lived here for over a year now, after the publishing house he co-founded became impossible to run from Damascus because of the war. When he got here, he noticed right away the need for an Arabic bookstore.

SAMER AL-KADRI: There is a huge Arab community here, and there is no Arabic book. And this is our job.

KENYON: Upstairs, there's a combination playroom and reading room stocked with children's books - downstairs, adult fiction and nonfiction, some 2,000 titles in all - and in the basement, a small cafe. Kadri hopes the space will become a kind of cultural mixing zone for Turks and Arabs.

KADRI: You speak about exactly our idea (laughter) - exactly, exactly. This is what we want. We want to let people know us, to see us in different way and see them in different way. This is very important for us.

KENYON: Kadri says they're not just trying to attract better-off Syrians. The store will also let people borrow books or read them for free in the store. There are plans for book signings by Turkish authors, movies and workshops for both children and adults. As more and more visitors crowd the modest shop, Kadri's Turkish partner, Zeynep Sevde Paksu, says, of course, it's just a drop in an ocean of needs confronting Turkey's refugees these days. But it's something she can do to help Syrians - and her fellow Turks as well, at least those willing to have their stereotypes about Arabs challenged.

ZEYNEP SEVDE PAKSU: Because they will come and see here Syrian people are intellectual people. They are writers. They are poets. For example, for Turkish people, a Syrian person can't be unreligious. They're all mullah, OK (laughter)? And when they see Arabic book, they will just think it is a religious books. No, it's popular - there are love stories here, crime stories here - too many kinds of novels here.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIANS: (Playing music).

KENYON: From Baghdad's once-famous street of books, Mutanabbi Street, to the smoky literary cafes of Damascus, with names like al-Hijaz or Havana, the Arab love of poetry and prose continues, largely unnoticed by the rest of the world. Now there's an outpost of sorts in Istanbul, too. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIANS: (Playing music). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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