Syria in an Ot­toman Frame

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - from bi­b­li­cal to es­cha­to­log­i­cal

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.

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