Course:ARST575K/LIBR539H/Syrian Archive

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Syrian Archive
Type Community Archives
Founder Hadi al Khatib

Jeff Deutch

Established 2014
Parent Institution Mnemonic

The Syrian Archive is a digital archive launched in 2014 by Hadi al Khatib and Jeff Deutch. It is a project of Mnemonic, a non-profit organization in Berlin dedicated to helping human rights defenders by using digital documentation of human rights violations.


Organization and History

The idea for the Syrian Archive was conceived in 2014, when Berlin-based IT specialists Hadi al Khatib, who moved from Syria to Germany in 2011, and Jeff Deutch were working with a huma rights lawyer in southern Turkey, helping Syrian journalists and lawyers to capture evidence of atrocities that can be later used in a court. Al Khatib and Deutch noticed that many records that evidence human rights violations are at risk because they easily get lost due to the lack of standardization and cataloguing.[1] The metadata of these records, in particular, are in danger, meaning that the important context and information would be lost. Social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, are increasingly becoming a tool to gather evidence, but they are very unstable because they would often remove the contents from their servers. Recognizing these issues, al Khatib and Deutch founded the Syrian Archive later in 2014 to preserve the Syrian digital footprints documenting human rights violations during the Syrian conflict.

The Syrian Archive is a low-cost, sustainable, and rapid-response initiative that aims to “support human rights investigators, advocates, media reporters, and journalists in their efforts to document human rights violations in Syria and worldwide through developing new open source tools as well as providing a transparent and replicable methodology for collecting, preserving, verifying and investigating visual documentation in conflict areas.”[2] It has a vision “to preserve data as a digital memory, to establish a verified database of human rights violations, and to act as an evidence tool for legally implementing justice and accountability as concept and practice in Syria.” [2]

The archive started with the mere funding of 3,000 euros (4,447 CAD) but has grown exponentially since.[1] In December 2019, Al Khatib and Deutch established Mnemonic, a non-governmental organization that has the mandate to archive digital information documenting human rights violations and international crimes.[3] Since then, Mnemonic has created two more digital archives, titled the “Sudanese Archive” and the “Yemeni Archive,” which collects digital records that document atrocities in Sudan and Yemen, respectively.  


According to Flinn, Stevens, and Shephard, a community can be defined as any group that comes together and self-identifies themselves by “locality, ethnicity, faith, sexuality, occupation, shared interest or by a combination of the earlier mentioned details.”[4] In the case of the Syrian Archive, the community is formed based on their locality and shared interest in preserving evidence of atrocities in the Syrian conflict.

The Syrian Archive is actively driven by this community. Like many other community archives, the Syrian Archive was started by enthusiastic individuals who do not have information, a library, or an archival degree. It was rather the urge to witness and memorialize the human rights violations in Syria that prompted al Khatib and Deutch to start the Syrian Archive.[5] In other words, al Khatib and Deutch started the archives as social activism[6] – to hold those in power accountable, to expose and provide a platform for human rights violence victims, and to memorialize the horrible events taking place in Syria.

The Syrian Archive is also designed in a way to promote and encourage community participation. In fact, the archive would not be able to operate without their active participation.

The Syrian Archive collects sources from “individual journalists and field reporters, larger media houses (e.g. local and international news agencies), human rights organisations (e.g. Syria Institute for Justice), the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets), local field clinics and hospitals.”[7] This unique collection development process also indicates that the Syrian Archive continuously shares the stewardship of digital materials with the community.[6]


The Syrian Archive does not receive or accept any donations from any governments directly involved in the Syrian conflict. It is a fully independent organization that accepts donations from individuals through its Patreon page. They also have partners and funders who support their cause. Please see their About Page cited here to see a full list of their partners and funders. [2]


Type of Materials Acquired

The Syrian Archive collects visual documentation created by journalists, lawyers, and human rights activists. The videos mainly document the Russian airstrikes, clustered incidents, and chemical weapons. The site has preserved approximately 3,578,591, verified 8,249 videos, and investigated 2,069 incidents.

Verification Process

The Syrian Archive is unusual in that its appraisal process has a strong focus on verification, due to its archival purpose to provide a reliable archive of information that can be made publicly available and accessible for interested parties. Their Data and Operational Model is based on the Electronic Discovery Reference Model developed by Duke University’s School of Law.[7]

Prior to the acquisition of material, the Syrian Archive established the following databases:

  • Credible sources for content
  • Credible sources for verification

The first database includes “over 3,500 credible sources”, many of which “began publishing or providing visual content in late 2011-early 2012 and also publish work in other credible media outlets.”[7] Credibility is determined by an analysis of the source, from the reliability of past coverage to history and activity. The Syrian Archive also works to identify where the source is based and whether or not material uploaded by the source is original, or aggregated from other news organisations or accounts.

Sources in the second database provide additional information used to verify content from the first database. Content verifiers include citizen journalists, human rights defenders and humanitarian workers based in Syria and abroad. To preserve data integrity, sources in the first database are not part of the second.

Once verified, the material goes through processing. For digital content, this means their preservation and storage in external backend servers. The process of preservation includes identifying the spoken language in the material, as well as standardising the data format while preserving the old one. The preservation process also includes assigning individual hashes and timestamps to material, to ensure and prove the integrity of the data.

The Syrian Archive is an unusual community archive in that, although it stems from a communal concern that about elided or suppressed history and voices in public or government archives,[4] there is a focus on accountability and objectivity that is more typical of the very archives they stand in contrast to. Where a community archive centred around a communal heritage or identity might deliberately make space in its acquisitions policy for subjective memories and the construction of identities, the process by which the Syrian Archive appraises material to add to its collection has an emphasis on verifiability and objective records of events.


As mentioned previously, part of the impetus behind the development of the Syrian Archives was to ensure that records that were evidence of human rights violations would not be lost, either to censorship or to a lack of standardisation and cataloguing. As such, a standardised metadata scheme is a key step in their process of acquisition.

However, given the political nature of the Archive’s background, as well as the legal utility of the material it contains, it was important for them to develop their own framework. This framework is developed “in consultation with a variety of international investigative bodies”, including other archival institutions as well as human rights and research organisations.

Some examples of metadata fields include:

  • Description of the visual object as given
  • Source of the visual content
  • Original link where footage was first published
  • Identifiable landmarks
  • Weather
  • Specific languages or regional dialects spoken
  • Identifiable clothes or uniforms
  • Weapons or munitions
  • Device used to record the footage
  • Media content type

Media is catalogued in Arabic and English, though search functions seem to vary depending on the language used.[8]


Though the Syrian Archive has over 3 million records archived in their infrastructure, they only make accessible the videos that have been verified as detailed in the previous section. As of October 2021, there have only been 800 videos published on their webpage.

Videos that are published are freely available to anybody with internet access, on their Data Archive page. They can be searched by title, date (before and/or after), and location.

Community Programming/Services

The Syrian Archive’s parent organization, Mnemonic, offers rigorous training on “tools and archival strategies for analysing and verifying digital information.”[9] This helps the community to create resources that can be submitted to the Syrian Archive to be preserved.

The Syrian Archive also conducts various investigations through their archived collections. Complemented by other resources such as interviews and freedom of information requests, their investigation themes include:

  • Data Sets
  • Attacks On Civilian Infrastructure
  • Accountability
  • Attacks On Medical Facilities
  • Chemical Weapons Attacks
  • Chemical Supply Chain
  • Russian Attacks[10]

Moreover, there are two main projects, which ultimately serves the community:

Lost and Found

Lost and Found focuses specifically on social media content that are at-risk. The Syrian Archive defines social media platforms as “an accidental archive,”[11] which provides invaluable historical contexts and evidence of human rights violations. For this project, the Syrian Archive:

  • Engag[e] with press to advocate for a more critical approach towards content moderation implementation;
  • [Work] with social media companies to reinstate hundreds of thousands of records; and
  • [Write] policy papers addressing the risks of content moderation policies on human rights documentation.[11]

Syrian Digital Memory

Syrian Digital Memory project aims to re-humanize the Syrian digital memory of the 2011 uprising and its subsequent war by conducting autobiographical narrative interviews with Syrian digital content producers.[12] By bringing the power back to the individuals who experienced the uprising and the war, it makes the digital memories accessible to people around the world, including Syrians.

Institutional Affiliations

The Syrian Archive explicitly accepts no money from governments directly involved in the Syrian conflict. They do, however, have partnerships with various organisations, mostly international human rights or academic institutions. The following institutions are listed as their partners:

Under Mnemonic, its parent organisation, the Syrian Archive has sister archives in the Sudanese Archive and the Yemeni Archive.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Knight, B. (2016, Dec 29). "Syrian Archive catalogues war atrocities online". Deutsche Welle. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Syrian Archive - About".
  3. "Mnemonic - About".
  4. 4.0 4.1 Flinn, A., Stevens, M., Shepherd, E. (2009). "Whose memories, whose archives? independent community archives, autonomy and the mainstream". Archival Science. 9(1): 71–86.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. Hobbs, C. (2010). Reenvisioning the personal: Reframing traces of individual life. In Eastwood, E & MacNeil, H. (Eds), Currents of Archival Thinking, 213-241.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Caswell, M. (2014). Seeing yourself in history: Community archives and the fight against symbolic annihilation. The Public Historian, 36(4), 26-37.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "Syrian Archive - Method and Tools".
  8. Moustafa, Laila H. (2021, Feb 3). Syrian Archive. The American Archivist Reviews Portal. ​​
  9. "Mnemonic - Tools and Methods".
  10. "Syrian Archive - Investigations".
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Syrian Archive - Lost and Found".
  12. "Syrian Archive - Syrian Digital Memory".