MESA Academic Freedom Award

Sa'ad Eskander

2007 Recipient

MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom is honored to present its annual Academic Freedom award for 2007 to Dr. Sa’ad Eskander.

Dr. Eskander is the Director-General, Iraq National Library and Archive, where he has carried on a four-year struggle to defend and preserve the cultural heritage of all Iraq for all Iraqis. 

In the aftermath of the March 2003 invasion, some 60% of the archival collections were lost forever to looting and arson, along with 95% of the rare books and 25% of all the book collections.  When Dr. Eskander visited the library for the first time, the building had no furnishings, equipment or windows. What did remain was covered in soot.   

Since then he has worked tirelessly to restore the Archive's physical plant, including reopening the main reading room, creating the first conservation lab in Iraq, and a modern IT department and computer systems, and opening the library to all students and scholars. Under the most difficult of circumstances and against opposition from his own ministry, he has built a new 300 [correction: 425]-person staff, of both men and women, which crosses ethnic and sectarian lines, and has promoted transparency and staff participation in decision-making.  While 5 of his employees have been murdered, he has supported and defended many others, facing down gunmen in the chaos of Iraq under a government and an American occupation that has done little to ensure the safety of academics.

In a statement of 5 July 2006, the MESA Board of Directors registered its profound alarm as a community of scholars at this state of affairs. With it, the Board pledged its determination to take steps to promote programs and policies in Iraq and on behalf of the international community of scholars and researchers that would positively address this disturbing situation.

As part of that effort to attempt to better publicize the plight of Iraqi academics and in recognition of his extraordinary personal valor in working to preserve the remains of the archives of Iraq and to create a model institution inspired by progressive, non-sectarian values, which represent not only the basis for future scholarship on the country, but also its hope for cultural reconstruction and reconciliation, we make this award this year to Dr. Sa’ad Eskandar.

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