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Amanat Baghdad to turn intellectuals' homes into heritage museums

Iraqi students on a field trip to the Baghdadi museum. [Khald al-Taie / Mawtani]

Iraqi students on a field trip to the Baghdadi museum. [Khald al-Taie / Mawtani]

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Amanat Baghdad has begun implementing a plan to convert deserted houses of Iraqi intellectuals who have died or left the country into heritage museums, officials announced last week.

Amanat Baghdad's first step will be to register all the deserted houses and then begin the process of taking possession of them.

Baghdad mayor Sabir al-Issawi has already given Amanat Baghdad instructions to initiate the necessary legal procedures to take over two houses in Baghdad, one of the late poet Mohammed Mahdi al-Jawahri and the other of famous architect Zaha Hadid who left the country.

Hakim Abdul Zahra, general manager of public relations and media at Amanat Baghdad, said officials were in touch with the Iraqis who inherited the two houses and discussions with them would soon achieve positive results.

As soon as Amanat Baghdad takes possession of these two houses, its workers will start the necessary renovations to turn them into museums.

"Everything is still under examination and study," Abdul Zahra told Mawtani. "However, there is initial support for Amanat's step, especially since it came in response to request from many Iraqi artists and intellectuals who called through the media for paying greater attention to leading figures in the fields of literature, sciences, culture, poetry and arts."

"The aim behind this step, which was taken in different countries around the world, is to try to defend our cultural heritage, honor the memory of our creative figures and intellectuals, and celebrate their achievements in various fields," he said.

Iraqi officials and intellectuals welcomed Amanat Baghdad's plan and described it as a "useful and correct step".

"Sponsoring such positive initiatives helps direct special attention to intellectuals, especially leading ones," said Ali al-Shlah, a member of the cultural committee in the Iraqi parliament.

"This experiment is very important," he told Mawtani. "Through the houses of those intellectuals, current and future generations can come close to the atmosphere under which those figures lived, and get to know their intellectual and literary achievements and output, and then benefit from them in developing research and public knowledge."

Al-Shlah said the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research made a similar proposal to turn the house of the late Iraqi scholar Hussain Ali Mahfouz in Kadhumiya into a public library featuring his books and other diverse publications.

"We hope that this proposal will see the light soon," he said. "We also hope that all the houses of creative figures will be turned into libraries, museums and institutions that will help support and enrich culture in the country."

Fawzi al-Atrushi, deputy minister of the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, told Mawtani that "houses belonging to Iraqi intellectuals and creative figures have high moral value".

"Any decision to preserve them against sale, demolition or extinction by taking possession of them and then turning them into heritage sites and museums will have positive results on Iraq's cultural reality."

Al-Atrushi said his ministry would seek to develop the project alongside many other cultural projects that are part of ongoing preparations to celebrate Baghdad as the capital of Arab culture in 2013.

Sabah al-Mandalawi, a playwright and head of the Union of Iraqi Artists, said Iraqi intellectuals "deserve all our respect and attention because of their role and great contribution to the advancement of this country".

"We certainly welcome the attempt of Amanat Baghdad to take possession of the houses that belong to those symbolic people and then develop them," he said. "For our part, we encourage this helpful step, which we believe was made in the right direction."