Istanbul Bookstore Caters To Syrian Refugees In Need Of A Good Read : Parallels The mere mention of Syrian refugees can conjure up images of families living in tents in the desert. But a bookstore in Istanbul serves as a cultural oasis and informal community center for Syrians.
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Istanbul Bookstore Caters To Syrian Refugees In Need Of A Good Read

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Istanbul Bookstore Caters To Syrian Refugees In Need Of A Good Read

Istanbul Bookstore Caters To Syrian Refugees In Need Of A Good Read

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Turkey has a problem; more than a million Syrians have taken refuge there, fleeing the war that's just across the border. The sheer numbers of refugees can lead to tension, which is being eased somewhat by a shared love of books. Two Syrian publishers and a Turkish partner have opened a bookstore in Istanbul with a broad list of titles in Arabic. NPR's Peter Kenyon visited that shop and found a kind of oasis for people who are tired of being seen only as victims of war.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Ask an Istanbul resident about Syrians, and you're likely to hear about the beggars huddled on street corners or the scruffy children swarming over cars at stop lights, trying to sell tissues or clean the windshield. But now Turks have a chance to see another side of Syrians - and Iraqis and Libyans for that matter - their love of literature, poetry and music.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIANS: (Playing music).

KENYON: A new Istanbul bookstore is giving Syrians and Turks the chance to see each other outside the context of war, displacement and loss. A Syrian trio plays in one corner of the restored, old house that is now the Pages bookstore as eager browsers flip through volumes in Arabic, Turkish, English and French. One teenager brings his choice over to his headscarf-wearing mother. It's an Arabic edition of George Orwell's "1984." She looks at it, nods and puts it on the pile to purchase. Partner and manager Samer al-Kadri has lived here for over a year now, after the publishing house he co-founded became impossible to run from Damascus because of the war. When he got here, he noticed right away the need for an Arabic bookstore.

SAMER AL-KADRI: There is a huge Arab community here, and there is no Arabic book. And this is our job.

KENYON: Upstairs, there's a combination playroom and reading room stocked with children's books - downstairs, adult fiction and nonfiction, some 2,000 titles in all - and in the basement, a small cafe. Kadri hopes the space will become a kind of cultural mixing zone for Turks and Arabs.

KADRI: You speak about exactly our idea (laughter) - exactly, exactly. This is what we want. We want to let people know us, to see us in different way and see them in different way. This is very important for us.

KENYON: Kadri says they're not just trying to attract better-off Syrians. The store will also let people borrow books or read them for free in the store. There are plans for book signings by Turkish authors, movies and workshops for both children and adults. As more and more visitors crowd the modest shop, Kadri's Turkish partner, Zeynep Sevde Paksu, says, of course, it's just a drop in an ocean of needs confronting Turkey's refugees these days. But it's something she can do to help Syrians - and her fellow Turks as well, at least those willing to have their stereotypes about Arabs challenged.

ZEYNEP SEVDE PAKSU: Because they will come and see here Syrian people are intellectual people. They are writers. They are poets. For example, for Turkish people, a Syrian person can't be unreligious. They're all mullah, OK (laughter)? And when they see Arabic book, they will just think it is a religious books. No, it's popular - there are love stories here, crime stories here - too many kinds of novels here.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIANS: (Playing music).

KENYON: From Baghdad's once-famous street of books, Mutanabbi Street, to the smoky literary cafes of Damascus, with names like al-Hijaz or Havana, the Arab love of poetry and prose continues, largely unnoticed by the rest of the world. Now there's an outpost of sorts in Istanbul, too. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIANS: (Playing music).

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