Arab publishing showcased at Erbil International Book Fair

250-300 Arab, Kurdish and foreign publishing houses participated in the fair.
Sunday 14/04/2019
Visitors tour sections of the Erbil International Book Fair. (Twitter)
Strong demand. Visitors tour sections of the Erbil International Book Fair. (Twitter)

Along with the Baghdad International Book Fair, the Erbil International Book Fair is an annual Iraqi book and cultural rendezvous with publishing houses familiar with the book fairs circuit.

The Erbil fair, however, has its own characteristics in that it is essentially Kurdish, even though Arab communities in Erbil, and Kurdistan in general, are sizeable. This is why there is strong demand for Arabic publications at the Erbil fair.

The number of books in Arabic at the Erbil International Book Fair exceeded by far that of books in Kurdish. Arab exhibitors and publishing houses at the fair represented more than 90% of the participants in the fair. This means the fair was really an Arabic event in a Kurdish region.

Readers, however, could find a fair share of publications in Kurdish from well-established publishing houses in Kurdistan, which are offering novels and works translated from various languages.

This year’s Erbil International Book Fair, which began April 3, was meant to compensate for the cancelled 2018 edition, called off because of political tensions between the central government and the Kurdistan region. The tensions were caused by the separatist referendum that former Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani called and which was rejected locally and by Arab and international communities.

Because of an embargo imposed on Kurdistan, Erbil International Airport and land crossings to Kurdistan were closed, which made it impossible for Arab and foreign publishers to participate in the fair.

When the political situation between Iraq and Kurdistan settled, the 13th Erbil International Book Fair opened October 9, 2018, six months later than originally scheduled.

Now, the fair is back to its traditional April date at the request of the Arab Publishers Union. This year’s fair was, therefore, the second in Erbil in less than six months, and news leaked by the specialised press claimed the level of participation was much lower than the previous edition.

Oddly, fair administrators have been very careful not to release information about the fair, except for bits and pieces of news provided by Al Mada Publishing Company, the fair’s official sponsor.

The information provided is incomplete and might be exaggerated for reasons known only to the fair’s administration. However, Kurdish and Arab patrons who follow these seasonal events seemed familiar with the hidden side of the story.

Al Mada said there were 250-300 Arab, Kurdish and foreign publishing houses participating in the current fair, the majority of which are Iraqi Arab and Kurdish publishers that usually take part in the event. Al Mada said the fair offered 1 million books, a large number that reflected the strong relationship between the fair and its patrons.

It also meant that there would be a great deal of competition in the form of new works offered and a reading base drawn by the large number of book-signing events.

This outcome is one of the objectives of the fair in the sense that the point of it is to provide greater opportunity for cooperation between publishers and those concerned with culture and books.

The idea is to determine the demand and develop resources to meet that demand and expand the market for books and other forms of media by creating appropriate outlets in every Arab country. The events contribute to popularising books as a basic cultural and knowledge medium and strengthen their role in developing knowledge and uplifting social values.

Book fairs also attempt to reinstate the value of culture as an engine for social awareness and mobilisation by becoming festive occasions in which fundamental cultural references regain their role and influence.

The fairs encourage publishers and cultural organisations to expand their publishing and translation activities and structure them to keep pace with international standards. They provide the chance to involve intellectuals, specialists and writers in the development of society.

Special participants and guests from Iraq, the Arab region and the world were present at the Erbil International Book Fair. Artist Kawkab Hamza from Iraq, Syrian artist Jamal Suleiman, Kuwaiti novelist Taleb Rifai and Syrian researcher Firas Sawah were scheduled to attend. Also on the schedule were Iraqi poets and novelists from the southern provinces and the Middle Euphrates along with Kurdish researchers and intellectuals.

Fair organisers are known for not revealing the list of the fair’s guests until the last minute. This is why the attendance of Egyptian writer Sayyed al-Qimni and guests from Morocco, Lebanon and other countries were not confirmed. These guests represent the mainstay of the fair’s daily cultural, research and intellectual seminars for the benefit and pleasure of fair visitors.