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 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 war from 1992 to 1995.
His and others’ efforts were rewarded 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, opened its doors recently.
“A unique book that is destroyed can never be restored again,” said Jahic. “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.
Two decades later, the works are together again. Funded by a US$9 million donation by the government of Qatar, the library holds 25,000 manuscripts from across the Islamic world.