'Paper archaeologists' kick off European Year of Cultural Heritage at the Ankara Book Fair
The bibliopole* profession and its concern with the preservation of rare books was the theme of the first event organized by the EU Delegation to Turkey to mark 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage. The event, organized in partnership with the Bibliopole Union Association, catered to the thousands of visitors of the Ankara Book Fair on Saturday, 17 February.
What is a bibliopole and how does this profession contribute to cultural heritage preservation? This was the guiding question for Mr. E. Nedret İşli, Chairperson of the Bibliopole Union Association, and Mr. Tolga Gürocak, its Deputy Chairperson, to engage the audience. The bibliopole profession took its roots in Turkey in Istanbul, back in the Ottoman times, close to the grand mosques and Muslim theological schools called 'medrese'. There, unique books were replicated to ensure their messages would be carried on. The bibliopole profession has later taken up the preservation and trade of these books and replicas as cultural values. The most important centre of the old book trade in Istanbul had been the Bibliopoles Bazaar, the world's largest market in the 16th century. The profession began with an apprenticeship and was passed from father to son. In the book trade of Istanbul, all diverse communities of Turkey took part, including the Greek, Armenian, Jewish communities and the Levantine, some foreign nationals who settled in the city. These bookstores, mostly located in places such as Bâb-ı âli Caddesi, Çakmakçılar, Galata, İstiklâl Caddesi, have been a great service to Istanbul's bookstore history.
"A bibliopole is like a paper archaeologist" Mr İşli says, "It is the person who discovers, brings to light, and carries on the importance of material thought lost". As a bibliopole of decades, Mr. İşli shares a sincere regret with the audience: "The most exciting experience I had during my profession was at the time of my consultancy work with some museums, when I came across a few imperial orders (ferman) given to the Saruca Pasha Family. I picked up three imperial orders by the grandfather-father-son, Murat II - Fatih the Conqueror - Beyazıt II, and in great excitement I rushed off immediately to Sadberk Hanım Museum for them to be purchased, preserved and exhibited there. But much later I wondered what had happened to the rest; why did I not think of purchasing them all? At each enthronement these imperial orders had been renewed - they were so valuable!" While losing these fermans from sight since, Mr İşli adds that for a bibliopole, seeing a document is more important than selling it: "The more one sees, the better one gets".
In modern times, the bibliopole profession has gone online and thus greatly facilitated access to relevant information for the broad public and the specialized seekers. Mr İşli recalls the times when books were sought through letter correspondence, meaning days and weeks of requesting information, negotiating prices, paying and delivering books – it's all much faster now. Most bibliopoles today also take great interest in 'ephemera' (word derived from Greek): items of daily use, such as posters, tickets, postcards etc., as more material keeps emerging compared to rare books.
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* A bibliopole is a person who buys and sells books, especially rare ones. The word bibliopoleis from the Greek biblion for "book" and poles for "seller."
Story by K. Dilek Tütüncü
Photos by Özgür Arslantürk and E. Nedret İşli