Friday, August 15, 2014

New Photo Resource Uncovered: The Ottoman Imperial Archives

In recent weeks, the Ottoman Imperial Archives put digital photographs, illustrations and documents online, posting them as well to Flickr and Facebook.  As we explore the archives, we are finding many pictures of life in Palestine in the 19th century and of Turkish forces in Palestine in World War I. We present a preview below.

Caption reads: Reservists and recruits rounded up in Palestine by the Turks being marched unwillingly to barracks.
Right: Troops of the Turkish Regular Army marching newly-raised levies through Jerusalem to
a camp in readiness for their projected attack on Egypt.

These pictures and English caption appear in the Ottoman Imperial Archives. They show the forced conscription of residents of Palestine, including Jews, prior to the Turkish attack on the British controlled Suez Canal in 1914.  The picture on the right shows the confiscation of supplies and food stuffs from Jerusalem residents.

According to the report "Palestine during the War, 1914-1917" by the London Zionist Organisation, life for the Jews of Palestine was difficult and perilous:

Jews and Christians ...were for the most part not placed on active  [army] service but assigned to various labor battalions. The members of these battalions were the pariahs of the army; their clothing, feeding, and general equipment was abominable, and they were treated worse than slaves. The Jew would sell his last stick in order to scrape together enough money to ransom him from the slavery of this battalion. But there were still many who could not raise sufficient, and who had to serve in the labor battalions; and these had to leave their families behind entirely unprovided for.

A large part of the Jews in the workers' battalions never returned. They fell victims to epidemics and starvation. A large part of the families of these soldiers also perished from poverty and sickness.

"Ottoman army, preparatory to the attack on the Suez Canal, 1914," is the caption in the Ottoman
Imperial Archives. The handwritten caption above appears in an album in the Library of Congress

Pictured below are the Varhaftig/Amitay family from Tiberias with their son in a Turkish uniform and Jerusalem resident Mendel Kremer in uniform. 
Mendel Kremer, Turkish soldier, later a
pharmacist, journalist and spy (1910)

Varhaftig/Amitay family in Tiberias (courtesy)

Several of the photos of the Turkish
army in World War I also appear in the Library of Congress' American Colony/Matson Collection and have been featured here in the past.

Ottoman Imperial Archives: "Ottoman soldiers pass through the Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem" (1915)
In the Jaffa Gate photograph, note the Jewish  residents of Jerusalem in their black caftans and hats to the right of the troops.

The clock tower was built in 1908 in honor of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II.  After the British captured the city in 1917 the ornate tower was torn down.


  1. why did you not mention the Plain of Esdraelon in the second pictor, today known as Emek Yizreel or the Jezreel Valley?

  2. Fascinating post. Thank you for sharing.