“The Forsaken Sufferers of Mental Diseases”: Massacre, Humanitarianism and the Emergence of Modern Psychiatry in Late Ottoman Syria

By Lamia Moghnie
Submitted to Session P4750 (Psychiatry in the Middle East: Hospitals, Science and Care, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Starting from Europe’s first modern humanitarian intervention in response to the 1860 massacres of Mount Lebanon, I explore in this paper how psychiatric sciences emerged as part of humanitarian projects of modernization against, and governance of violence in Ottoman Syria, a cosmopolitan site of glocal reconstructions and exchanges. First designed to save the Christians, the European humanitarian intervention transformed into a full-on political, social and cultural reorganization of Syria in the name of preventing future violence and clashes between communities. The 1860 massacres allowed for an expansion of missions and charitable groups that went on to do work beyond rescuing, like education, religion and health. Theopilus Waldmeier, a Swiss Quaker missionary, joined the British Syria Mission in 1868, settling outside Beirut to run schools in 1874. In 1896, he relinquished his position to promote a new project for European funders which he deemed essential for the region: establishing a psychiatric asylum hospital for the insane. The Lebanon Hospital for the Insane (popularly known today as Asfouriyeh hospital) was founded in 1900, becoming an exemplary psychiatric institution frequented by people from Malta, Greece, Persia and the Levant and, later on, one of the main psychiatric institution in contemporary Lebanon, until it closed in 1982. Based on the hospital’s archival records, this paper will address how modern psychiatry became central to humanitarian projects of re-organizing Lebanon in the aftermath of massacre and violence. It will also explore and introduce the ways in which different diagnoses were used to medicalize social transformations and violence in late 19th and early 20th century Ottoman Syria.