Azerbaijan International

Summer 2003 (11.2)
Page 10

Readers' Forum
Preserving Manuscripts

I was horrified to learn of the recent looting and destruction of so many cultural icons and documents in Iraq due to the war. Loss of the Archaeological Museum in Baghdad is a great tragedy for all of humankind, not just Iraq. Now hundreds of invaluable monuments, dating back to the Sumerian, Babylonian, Acadian and Assyrian period will be lost forever.

This list includes the ancient cuneiform tables-the main eyewitness of ancient history for the Middle East, including Azerbaijan. Many of these fragile clay tablets have been either stolen or shattered into pieces. This is a tragedy of indescribable proportions.

The arson carried out in the National Library in Baghdad is another misfortune. Hundreds of valuable manuscripts and books dating from the Ottoman period went up in flames. It is difficult to imagine how libraries and museums could so easily be destroyed in this our "civilized" 21st century.

These sad events in Iraq underline how essential it is for all countries, and especially those in the developing world, to take measures to prevent such tragedies from happening. Can you imagine a similar loss of such collections in museums such as the Louvre (Paris), the Hermitage (St. Petersburg), the Metropolitan (New York), or the British Museum (London)? Who can guarantee that this will not be repeated?

For many of us in these young countries, documenting our rare archives via computer technology is much easier said than done. We need equipment-computers to create databases, scanners, digital cameras and software to help manage our photos, and compress long files. In addition, we need training. Many of our older specialists are intimidated by the new technology and afraid of losing control, status and power to younger people who are learning these technologies.

I think that a great concerted effort must be made to digitally record all our manuscripts and historical documents, even in museums that might be considered insignificant. Of course, such projects are very expensive, but the world's cultural heritage must be protected. These rare documents and artifacts are among the greatest cultural treasures of the world.

Farid Alakbarov, PhD
Institute Of Manuscripts, Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences

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