A Syrian Bookstore Turns into a Cultural Hub

Istanbul, Turkey: A four storey building stands quietly in an inner street of the historical district of Fatih in Istanbul, Turkey. Looking at the calm building one can never imagine the buzz and life going inside.

Pages Bookstore and Cafe‘ which was founded by a Syrian couple, Samer Kadry and his wife Gulnar Hajo on 2015 is now considered one of the most important destinations for Syrians to find a place to connect them to their home, culture, and language.

“We had Bright Fingers publishing house back in Syria for children books since 2005. We came to Istanbul on 2013 where we continued with our publishing work, then realising there were no Arabic bookstores in the city while the number of Arabs is increasing we founded Pages on 2015. Where people can come read, borrow books, buy them or sit to work in the cafe. “ Says Hajo.

Pages, It’s Your Home

Once inside a very a cosy, familiar atmosphere is felt, wooden shelves hanged mainly dominated by Arabic titles but English and Turkish books are seen too. The Arabic language is heard in different dialects, conversations about books, arts, music are taking place.

The place was originally founded as a bookstore but then developed into a hub for Syrians to meet and talk, where they as Gulnar Hajo puts it “can feel Syrian and can feel happy”.

“Now Pages is among the tourist destinations in Istanbul and many nationalities come to visit us,” Says Gunnar Hajo, our slogan is “Pages, it’s your home” she added.

Turks and other nationalities come to visit the bookstore now too, read books, watch movies on the screening nights and listen to Syrian music. The founders see that music and art are the most important way of connecting people from different cultures and languages and that is one of the aims of the bookstore. They also see that Art is one way to advocate for peace and stand against war and the evil it is causing even if the war was stronger.

Pages is a means to Connect

Through Pages the founders are trying to change the image of refugees addressed by the media and adopted by many, they are aiming to show the rich Syrian culture “We don’t introduce ourselves well, we are a reader community and hard workers, we have writers, and rich culture, We want to show the real image of Syrians and Arabs and that we are normal people who have many sides as anyone else.Our duty is to deliver this to the world. Syrians are not just takers, we give and take, I know it is unfair to be 3 million Syrians in Turkey but we are here now and we should learn to live together”

Hajo who is originally an author and painter for children books now delivers reading and drawing workshops for kids in the bookstore where she reads for them in Arabic to keep them connected to their culture and language.

Teenagers and children come to read in the library and borrow books, they also consult her on which books to read and she helps them. According to Hajo, the new generations are the most important in the library’s plan, as the founders see the hope in the children and youth and they believe in them. “We believe in the coming generation and we are planning for the investment in them, we try giving them spaces to express themselves, ”She said

There are also many kinds of activities inside the bookstore like art exhibits, documentary screening, art workshops and music concerts and there are different kinds of books in different languages and the bookstore is a destination to different nationalities. The place is also a meeting point for Syrian artists who exchange ideas about their work and how to develop it.

There is a small Pages bookstore inside Syria now and they are planning to open a new branch in Amsterdam soon.

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