Timbuktu is Retaken, Rebels Burn Manuscripts As They Flee

It has just been reported that the Malian and French army force has taken back nearly every city once sieged by the Islamist rebels, including Timbuktu. However it absolutely breaks my heart to hear that before fleeing, rebels burned down the Ahmed Baba Institute which was home to thousands of important, ancient manuscripts.

The Ahmed Baba Institute was just down the road from where we lived and I conducted many interviews there during my Fulbright research. At the time they were in the process of digitizing these historical artifacts, so I am slightly hopefully that at least some of them have survived in this format.

All in all though, the news is devastating. While it's wonderful that there has been no reported loss of life in the retaking of Timbuktu, this loss of history is substantial.

By the way, these gorgeous photos are by my talented friend photographer Alexandra Huddleston who was working on a Fulbright in Timbuktu the same year as me. You can see more of her striking images of a disappearing life on her website here.

UPDATE 2/2/13:

Wait! It looks like most of the manuscripts were in fact saved! Luckily many people had anticipated that they were in danger and moved them to the capital or hid them in homes. This is SUCH a relief.