The story was in the news for weeks in late 2012, when radical Islamist rebels in Mali were threatening to destroy all the 12th and 13th-century Islamic writings which had until that point been stored in Timbuktu. The manuscripts are included on the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage. Around 285,000 of them were saved in a secret rescue operation, and now these historical documents need to be preserved and made permanently accessible for research.
It was to that end that Foreign Minister Steinmeier opened the two-day International Strategy Conference for the Preservation of Manuscripts from Timbuktu on 18 June. Together with Mali’s Education and Science Minister, Mountaga Tall, and Ndiaye Diallo Ramatoulaye, the Malian Culture Minister, he took great interest at the start of the event in examining a number of examples of the delicate papers, densely packed with text and marked by the passing years, whose preservation these next two days are all about: the Islamic manuscripts from Timbuktu.
Testament to a rich literary tradition
Following the opening, the Europasaal at the Federal Foreign Office will see two days of consultations among high-level representatives of the Malian Government, renowned experts from Germany and Mali, and international supporters of the cause. They will be discussing how the writings can be conserved in future. Further measures need to be agreed on for the protection of these cultural artefacts.
The manuscripts, considered part of world heritage by UNESCO, are testament to a rich literary tradition and reflect the Arab world’s great scientific, philosophical and theological knowledge. The majority of the manuscripts come from the 12th and 13th centuries. They were kept in Timbuktu until the north of Mali was occupied by Islamists. A complicated assistance mission made it possible to protect the manuscripts from the threat of being destroyed by the Islamist rebels at the end of 2012. Since then, manuscript experts from Mali and Hamburg have been working to preserve and restore the manuscripts and to ensure permanent access to them for research purposes.
The Federal Foreign Office has been supporting the initiative along with international public and private funding institutions such as the Gerda Henkel Foundation.