Timbuktu Manuscripts Threatened by Conflict in Mali
Medieval manuscript in Timbuktu, Mali, one of approximately 1,000 imaged by the Northwestern University Advanced Media Production Studio.
Jennifer J. Yanco, director of the West African Research Association (WARA) in Boston, recently alerted ALA’s International Relations Office (IRO) and other organizations of the volatile military and political situation in Mali, which could threaten the safety of hundreds of thousands of ancient and medieval manuscripts in the city of Timbuktu.
On April 6, Tuareg rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad declared the northern part of Mali (which includes Timbuktu) independent. This followed a March 22 military coup that overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure for not providing enough troops to suppress the rebels in the north.
Malian scholars and librarians are currently hiding away the precious manuscripts to keep them out of any future conflict within the rebel-held city. Cape Town University Professor Shamil Jeppie told Reuters that he was in daily contact with curators and private owners safeguarding the historic texts. He added that since the April 1 occupation, rebels had stolen vehicles from the Ahmed Baba Institute, the local state library, but they did not enter areas where the manuscripts were stored.
West African scholars Habib Sy and Ibrahima Lo have prepared a petition, urging parties to the conflict to be mindful of the heritage of these manuscripts and to spare them. WARA has put the petition online and urges those with an interest in the region or the preservation of cultural heritage to add their names in support.
IRO Director Michael Dowling has alerted the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and the US Committee of the Blue Shield regarding this effort.