On 17 May 1992 the Oriental Institute (Orijentalni institut) in Sarajevo, home to one of Europe's most important collection of Islamic manuscripts, was attacked by Serb nationalist forces with incendiary grenades. Virtually all of its contents were consumed by the flames.

Losses included 5,263 bound manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew and local alhamijado---or adzamijski---(Serbo-Croat-Bosnian in Arabic script), as well as tens of thousands of Ottoman-era documents.

Other libraries and archives attacked by various nationalist forces include Bosnia's National Library in Sarajevo, which also housed the national archives; the library of the Museum of Herzegovina, the Archives of Herzegovina, and the library of the Roman Catholic Archbishopric in Mostar; the Orthodox monastery in Zitomislic; and numerous other collections throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Now a group of concerned scholars and librarians in the United States and Canada have begun a project to assist the librarians of the Oriental Institute, and other archives and libraries in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in an innovative effort to reassemble at least part of their destroyed collections.

Since it opened in 1950, the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo has encouraged use of its collections by foreign scholars and has maintained exchange relations with other institutions throughout Europe and the Middle East. As a result, a substantial part of the collection was sent or taken abroad in the form of microfilms or photocopies and survives even though the originals are lost.

Several Institute staff members have traveled abroad, surveying collections for copies of Bosnian material. However, given that contacting the outside world from Sarajevo remains difficult and expensive, they need help from colleagues worldwide to identify such materials in the hands of foreign individuals and institutions.

The immediate aim of our project is to compile a database indicating the present locations of copied materials outside Bosnia. The technology to duplicate and store images of documents is readily available; what is needed is information to help track down what remains.

When Sarajevo's Oriental Institute and other cultural institutions in Bosnia are rebuilt, this database will enable our Bosnian colleagues to obtain copies of the copies of the lost manuscripts---thus resurrecting ``virtual'' collections from the ashes and helping to thwart the intentions of those who have sought to destroy them.

Friends and colleagues who possess or know of the whereabouts of any such microfilms or photocopies anywhere in the world are therefore urged to contact Andras Riedlmayer, Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University, 32 Quincy St., Cambridge MA 02138 USA. (tel.: 617 495-3372; fax: 617-496-4889; e-mail:

There is an interactive form to help you send us information about copies in your possession or in collections you know about.

It has been done before! Click here for the stories of the destruction and rebuilding of the Louvain Library in Belgium and the Angevin Archives in Naples.

More on-line information is available. Click here for many more links about the destruction and reconstruction of cultural property in Bosnia-Herzegovina and what you can do to help.

The Bosnian Manuscript Ingathering Project

We appreciate the technical assistance for this project provided by Dominion Software .

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