Syria in an Ottoman Frame
Photography entered the Holy Land with the aim of eternalizing the biblical past. Many photographers believed that the Orient of the late 18th century was preserved from the days of Jesus Christ. According to them, the Orient had not changed for the last two millennia… Unbeknownst to them, it would soon lose its authenticity in the face of industrialization and globalization.
Those who visited undertook the mission of recording the last remnants of this “biblical” life. The albums of the Middle East they produced were as sought after in European markets as if they had been a fifth gospel.
In fact, there was something quite “Christ-ian” in those photographs: a non-European combination of poverty and tranquility, a paradoxical coexistence of plurality and peace, silence and wisdom, simplicity and acquiescence.
Without acknowledging it, photographers of late Ottoman Syria recorded the last days of a long peace that would come to an end with World War I. Never again would the photographers of the 20th century freeze an instant of amity in those lands.
These images framed by Ottoman era photographers were not in fact the latest instants of biblical past, but the first instants of an eschatological demise that haunts Syria even today.
Turkish Review provides here a collection of photographs from Newcastle University’s Gertrude Bell Archive and the archives of the Library of Congress: Let these images remind readers that what is at stake in Syria is not just the future of a modern state, but also the past of an ancient land.