Issues Points Memo – Interview with Cholaria Boris Shalikovich, director of the I.G. Papaskir National Library of the Republic of Abkhazia.
Interview conducted by Evelyn Iritani
IP: How much of the Abkhazian national archives were destroyed during the 1992-93 war with Georgia?
Cholaria: Before the war, there were 421 functioning libraries with a total stock of 7.5 million books. By the end of the war in 1993, there were five surviving libraries. Periodicals for the period of 1920-1935 were lost, 35-40% of the stock was burned, and everything was in a state of chaos. Books were scattered on the floor while bookshelves stood half empty.
It is important to note that in the National Library alone the whole stock of rare and valuable editions, which consisted of around 6,000 volumes, was lost. Even the card catalogues of the lost volumes didn’t survive. As a result, it is hard to say now what documents were destroyed, and we continue to search through the records in the registration books. It is a long and tedious process.
IP: How much of Abkhazia’s archives have been recovered or restored?
Cholaria: After the war, we began work on restoring our collection and by 1997, we had reopened 30 libraries with a total stock of more than one million books. Presently in Abkhazia, there are 37 libraries, including scientific libraries, containing a total of 1.4 million books. The library’s administration has gotten a grant from the international organizations (UN) that work on the stock restoration in Abkhazia. We asked the Russian Ministry of Culture and some big federal libraries in Moscow to help us with book stock restoration. Our request was accepted and over a three-month period, three representatives from our National Library worked in Moscow on compiling a 21,000 book stock collection. This project was completed in 2002. Search and restoration efforts have continued since then.
IP: What impact has the destruction of Abkhazia’s archives had on your country’s efforts to preserve its history and culture?
Cholaria: The destruction of our libraries, as well as the prolonged political, informational and economic blockade by Georgia, has had a serious impact on the psychological state of the Abkhazian people.
Due to those hardships, the financing for library services and the cultural sphere is minimal, people have stopped coming to libraries and the interest in reading has dropped dramatically. Our main readers are schoolchildren, students, and teachers. The National Library needs significant capital repairs, for example, 15,000 square-meters of space was burned during the war.
IP: Has the Abkhazian library project gotten support from around the world?
Cholaria: We at the National Library were able to arrange collaboration with a range of non-profit, international, and non-government organizations, such as the UN, Russian Abroad Foundation Library, Russian State Library, Russian State Public Library for Science and Technology in Moscow, Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, Non-profit Foundation “Pushkin Library”, the libraries of the Russian South from the cities of Rostov and Krasnodar, and from the Abkhazian community abroad. With their support we were able to accomplish a lot: we have completed capital repairs in the periodicals room and reading room and partial restoration of the room of regional studies, the building’s windows, and roofing. We also delivered printed publications in Russian and Abkhazian from Moscow to Sukhum.
With the help of the Russian State Public Library for Science and Technology a new information center was created with all the necessary hardware and software. Within the framework of the project we obtained several computers and other equipment, which allowed us to start the process of implementing new library technologies. We also started to create a new electronic catalog of the library’s stock of books and magazines.
IP: Can you provide me the names and contact information of the library project’s supporters?
- Russian Abroad Foundation Library
Russia, Moscow, 109240
Nizhne-Radishevskaya str., bld. 2
Phone: (495) 915 - 10 - 30, 915 – 10 -47.
Web site: www.bfrz.ru
Director: Viktor Aleksandrovich Moskvin
- Russian State Public Library for Science and Technology, Moscow
Phone: (495) 625 – 49 – 64
Fax: (495) 621-98 -62
Director: Yakov Leonidovich Shraiberg
- Central City Public Library named after Nekrasov, Moscow
Fax: (495) 915 – 90 – 68.
Director: Svetlana Nikolaevna Prosekova
- Russian State Library (RSL)
Director: Alexandr Ivanovich Visliy
- National Foundation “Pushkin Library”
Phone: (495) 621 – 09 – 59.
Fax: (495) 628 – 18 – 04
Director: Maria Alexandrovna Vedenyanina
IP: How can people reach you to offer their help?
Cholaria Boris Shalikovich
I.G. Papaskir National Library of the Republic of Abkhazia
Lakoba St., 111
National Library of the Republic of Abkhazia
Phone: (495) 442 – 6-64–15 (work)
For more information on the Abkhazian Library Project:
I.G. Papaskir National Library of the Republic of Abkhazia. (Boris Cholaria)
Dmitry Gulia Abkhazian Research Institute of History, Language and Literature