Refugee Hosts local researcher, Leonie Harsch, has encountered an archive of photos during her extensive mapping of the Hamra neighbourhood in Beirut. In this piece, Leonie reflects on some of these photos, which form the archive of Mukhtar Michel Bekhazi, as a way of approaching questions of hospitality, refugee-host encounters and ‘the local’. In particular, these photos capture something of Hamra’s recent history – as both a place that has been shaped by conflict, but also by overlapping displacements: of Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis and Lebanese. The fact that these photos are themselves ‘hosted’ in a space where refugees and hosts can receive some form of support provides a poignant example of the role that heritage and archives can and often do play in framing refugee wellbeing. The Refugee Hosts project will be further exploring notions of ‘heritage’ in more detail through the ‘Moving Objects’ project, as well as the ongoing analysis of interviews, workshops and field notes. If you find this piece of interest, please also see the suggested readings at the end of this piece for more.
Historical Photos of Hamra, Beirut
By Leonie Harsch, Refugee Hosts local researcher
Michel Bekhazi is a Mukhtar in Hamra, one of several elected local civil servants in the area of Ras Beirut, of which Hamra is a part. Residents of the neighbourhood come to his office in order to register newborns, renew their passports, or issue death certificates. The Mukhtar offers his administrative services to anyone living in the area, including refugees – provided that they have a valid residency permit. The office is located on the ground floor, with a window front opening towards a patio around which a few clothing and phone stores are grouped.
Passing by the office, I noticed that it hosts an extensive collection of historical photographs of the neighbourhood, offering glimpses into how the streets and architecture have changed through the decades. With the Mukhtar’s kind permission, I was allowed to take pictures of this living archive. Meanwhile, the office’s secretary generously shared anecdotes and explanations relating to the photographed locations, offering a narrative of the area’s history that resonates with what several groups of people have been telling me in the course of the field research: drawing on her memories, she described how Hamra, before and during parts of the Lebanese civil war, was Beirut’s cosmopolitan centre, a multi-confessional space characterised by its nightlife and debates in sidewalk cafés, bars, and cinemas. This started to recede with the war and its aftermath.
The following series of images features impressions from the times of the Ottoman Empire through the period of French Colonialism and until the middle of the twentieth century. These photos are a record of the neighbourhood’s past which residents of Hamra, hosts and refugees alike, encounter in their daily lives when seeking services from the Mukhtar. They invite reflections on how the area of Hamra has urbanised and physically changed – while some part of the past remains hosted in the space of the office. As such, this photo collection relates to the Refugee Hosts project’s focus on history and memory as central elements of the dynamics shaping contemporary experiences and perceptions of hosting. The Refugee Hosts project will be exploring this in more detail through the exhibition ‘Moving Objects’, due to take place in early 2019.
All photos reproduced with kind permission from the archive of Mukhtar Michel Bekhazi.
Read more pieces from the Refugee Hosts blog:
Ager, A. (2017) ‘Sounds from Hamra, Lebanon‘
Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) ‘Contextualising the Localisation of Aid Agenda‘
Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2017) ‘Representations of Displacement Series: Introduction‘
Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. and Qasmiyeh, Y. M. (2017) ‘Refugee-Refugee Solidarity in Death and Dying‘
Qasmiyeh, Y. M. (2017) ‘Refugees are Dialectical Beings Part One: Writing the Camp-Archive‘
Qasmiyeh, Y. M. (2016) ‘Writing the Camp‘
Stonebridge, L. (2018) ‘Memory as Host: Poetry and History in Baddawi‘
Stonebridge, L. (2016) ‘Poetry as a Host‘
Stonebridge, L. and Qasmiyeh, Y. M. (2017) ‘Time Machine: Views from Palestine, 1900‘