One of Lebanon's most influential families recently decided to open its records to the public beginning with a display at the Phoenix Centre for Lebanese Studies.
The Phoenix Centre, affiliated with the Holy Spirit University – Kaslik, hosted the display in June.
The decision to make these documents available to the public sets a precedent in publicising the archives of a family that carried significant political clout in Lebanon.
The Sursocks are one of Beirut's Greek Orthodox aristocratic families whose name is synonymous with historical events in Lebanon since the 1800s. Thanks to its wealth, the family built strong relationships with world leaders during the Ottoman Empire and later during the French mandate.
Records were kept inside the Sursock Palace in Achrafieh, built by Moussa Sursock in 1860, a site that remains symbolic of the family's past glory.
The palace is home to Lady Yvonne Cochrane, Moussa's granddaughter and the wife of Desmond Cochrane, Irish Consul of the first Irish Embassy in the Middle East.
In June, Cochrane gave family documents to the Holy Spirit University, which will make them available to the public for research. The university will restore and number the main documents, retain a copy, and return the originals to Lady Cochrane, said Rodika Al-Ageel, co-ordinator of this initiative.
"This is the first time such important documents are being displayed publicly," Al-Ageel said. "The records highlight the role of the family during important stages of Lebanon's history, whether during the Ottoman Empire era, or under the French mandate and later during the Declaration of the State of Greater Lebanon."
Cochrane considered disclosure of the records an important step in documenting Lebanon's history.
"The Sursock family's most important legacy is stacks of documents, some of which are of a political nature, while others are diplomatic," Cochrane told Al-Shorfa. "There is a lot of correspondence between members of the family and generals of the [French] mandate, as well as Ottoman seals and records, most of which are related to my father, Alfred Sursock."
"The archives are not only part of the history of a family, but intertwine with the country's history," she said. "The Sursock family's correspondence with a large number of kings such as King Faisal, as well as princes and generals such as Gouraud and Wigan emphasise its contributions to the country's history."
"Such a legacy is also available in the archives of other Lebanese families, and I hope they will follow my example," Cochrane said.
The Sursock family comes from Byzantine roots. Jabbour Sursock first arrived in Lebanon in 1740. He lived in the town of Barbara, north of Lebanon, before his descendants moved to Beirut and settled in Rue Sursock.
The family's wealth was acquired during the 19th century through agriculture and later in manufacturing. They owned land from Mersin in Turkey to Egypt, passing through Lebanon and Palestine.
Their wealth paved their way to building strong relationships with the Ottoman Empire, France, Egypt and Russia.
"These relationships opened the door for these families to host the rulers of France over Lebanon and Syria, such as Generals Gouraud, Catroux, Sarrail and De Jouvenel. Jamal Pasha, who later became known as 'As-Saffah' (The Butcher), also visited the family's palaces," Cochrane said.
She said that these relationships soon turned into friendships. As a result, members of the Sursock family were appointed to serve as representatives for several kings and rulers.
Throughout years of foreign rule in Lebanon, the Sursock family used its connections to establish landmarks that exist to this day, including the horse racing arena in Beirut, Zahrat Al-Ihsan School and Saint George Hospital.