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An Introduction to the New Syrian National Archive


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One of the first acts the Syrian people performed when they rose up against the Assad regime was to destroy photographs and public monuments depicting Hafez al-Assad, Bassel al-Assad, and Bashar al-Assad. They proceeded to replace the national flag with another one from a bygone era. The other thing the Syrians destroyed was the notion of dynastic legacy. The relentless and predictable growth of such a legacy dictated how the Syrians occupied themselves in their waking and dreaming life. It had an inner, hierarchical structure that reinforced the passing of time and the oppressive force of history.

To experience life under such a legacy is to live inside a compressed archive with a recurrent theme that continuously expands inside the minds of citizens. The list of events is long: the commemoration of the Ba'athist coup d’état of March 8, 1963; the Corrective Revolution of November 13, 1970; the October War of 1973; the memorial of Bassel al-Assad’s passing, just to name a few examples. The frequency of such events sets an annual calendar that takes over the personal memories of the Syrian people.

They take out a loan on their present and future for real estate they will never own. They resemble a Japanese soldier who was lost in the jungle for thirty years, only to reemerge later with little history except for his participation in the war. The Syrian people are forced to become props that exist in an archive that is built around the Leader, his Party, and his Family. The outcome of such a stasis is a stranglehold over the freedom of ideas, a stranglehold that has governed Syria for the past forty years.

A torrent of images of Syrian heroics, deaths, conversations, and screams flooded the web as soon as the revolution broke out. These new Syrian diaries were formed by digital images and videos of the everyday. Syrians diligently used social media (blogs, articles, and forum entries), unleashing massive amounts of information documenting events and ascertaining facts. All of this has been archived on the web for circulation and use.

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