Abdulla Agrin: “I’ve donated my books to public libraries on times occasions.”
Abdulla Agrin is one of those writers and intellectuals who has brought openness to the world of reading and writing stories and conducting research through books. He was born in 1942 in Chwarbagh, Slemany. His date of birth was changed to 1949 to avoid conscription, as was often done at that time.
There is a good deal to say about this quiet man who has served his nation so devotedly. He inherited a good deal of culture and experience from his grandfather. As he says, his grandfather was the Kurdish poet, Mahwi (18301907), and he has a large collection of his books, manuscripts and poetry in his home. Talking about 1868, when the region was still under Ottoman rule, he says Sultan Abdul-Hameed ordered a house and a khanaqa to be built for his grandfather. "I was born and grew up in that house. My uncle Saeed was also interested in poems and religious sources, and a lot of people would come to visit the khanaqa of my grandfather. I grew up among those people; I would go to the divan of my grandfather and uncle and listen to poems and talk about books, reading and poems."
Abdulla Agrin started his studies late. Having graduated from the Industrial Institute, he went to the College of Arts and gained an MA and Ph.D. in Kurdish literature. Now, in addition to his political work, he is an instructor at the College of Arts, and a member of the Kurdish Language department at the University of Salahadin. Regarding his interest in collect- ing books, he says: "It's important for me to have books in my house, because when people visit you and see that your house is full of books, they will know the household is an intellectual one. I had some books in a box once, but when we saw them, we read them from cover to cover."
He has a story to tell about the day he bought a book for the first time. "I was 11 years old when I went to school in 1952. Our school was in a mosque. There was a boy there called Kamal Abdullah, who was blind in one eye. His parents were dead and he lived with his grandfather. He told me once that he had a book by Mahwi. When he brought it to show me, it turned out to be the four collections of Salim, Kurdi, Nali and Mahwi, the four Kurdish poets. He asked if I wanted to buy them, and we agreed on a price of 100 Fils. Since I couldn't ask my father for the money, I asked my mother, who gave me 90 Fils the next day. And that’s how I got to buy the four books. I still have the Mahwi volume; some people took it away from me once, but I got it back and it’s safe with me now. It was printed in 1922, and the other three in 1934.
I started collecting more books in 1957, starting with Mohammed Moharram's stories and the magazines of Payam and Hataw. In 1958, I had about 24 books. I was involved with the publications of the Student Union of Kurdistan, and embarked on political activities through this organization. Later, I worked for KAJIK and PASOK. When Mustafa Barzani started the Kurdish revolution in 1961, I had some political books and publications, which I put in a can which I hid in the walls for fear of the Regime. It contained a beautiful gift with a hand-written slogan on it: “Yan Kurdistan Yan Naman”.
One of the most difficult things about collecting books is fear of the authorities and the army. The Baath regime arrested many people for keeping even ordinary books, which is why the books Dr. Abdulla Agrin hid in a can in the wall also ended up being burned. "It was in 1968 when I was in Baghdad. The army was attacking Kurdistan and the people in the house in Slemany were afraid they would be punished if books were found in their house. When they were repairing the wall of Mahwi's house, they accidently found the can covered with mud. They thought it might be Liras from Mahwi’s era, so they opened it one night. When they opened it and saw the books, they burnt them soon after." Which is how Agrin's books came to be burned.
The books he began collecting in 1968 were mostly about national matters, but there were also magazines and articles. After the agreement signed on 11 March 1971, I built a house in the Shekh Mihiadeen neighborhood and devoted a room to a library. When I returned to the mountains in 1974-1975 and joined the revolution, I worked on the Voice of Iraqi Kurdistan. After the revolution, I was exiled to Samawa province in the south of Iraq for five years. During that time, Ahmed Hardi, the Kurdish poet, gave me his books when he joined the revolution. Luckily I managed to arrange to have the books kept safe on that occasion. I had about 6 000 books by this time.
After the uprising, he served in the PASOK leadership and then in Yakgrtin party before joining the PDK. He was both the editor of the Kurdistan Front and head of the PDK’s department of relations. Currently, he heads the PDK research center and teachers at university, but he is also a literature specialist who loves stories above all else. After he moved to Erbil, he presented all his books— 12 000 volumes in all--to Slemany public library.
After establishing a library in Erbil, he once again presented books to the central library of Salahadin University and to the library of the College of Arts. He has also presented over 700 books to the PDK library.
In a visit to his current home in Erbil, we were shown his small library there, which contains only specialized books and a large number of documentary cassettes, historical photos, manuscripts and letters. He says that he will continue to collect the books that come his way and present them to public libraries for the public interest.
When Abdulla Agrin talks about books, it's like he is talking about political and social events. He says he always urges his students to buy books and read them. It's not important what they're interested in or how they think, the important thing is urging young people to read. "Books are food for the mind. Individuals are not important, but books and their contents are… because I consider a book to be like a human mind". He believes that books are a source for all of science, and that every social, cultural, economical and scientific matter can be found discussed in books.