What started at the age of 12 as a hobby quickly turned into an obsession, and today, Jamil Murad is the number one collector of Syrian stamps and banknotes in the country.
The 37-year-old, originally from Sednaya, Syria, has dedicated his life to documenting the rise and growth of the Syrian state.
The collection itself is fascinating as it reflects periods of occupation, wars, and refugees in Syria, much like what is happening today. If anything, Murad’s hobby is a standing testament that history does repeat itself in itself, somehow.
His living room is home to dozens of heavy albums holding thousands of stamps, banknotes, coins and historical documents, and he specializes in the period of the Syrian Republic.
“For me, these collections are like a walk through Syria’s history, and it is important to protect and treasure that,” he says.
One of the very first stamps issued in Syria, which he owns, dates back to 1919. “The collection begins when Syria began,” he says.
Holding up the stamp, he points out, “These are French stamps with an over-print on them reading T.E.O., which stands for ‘Territory of Enemy Occupation.’”
Holding up a series of stamps from 1925, it is possible to read “secours aux refugee” printed across them. “This was when the Armenian refugees came to Syria, fleeing the Turkish genocide,” Murad explains. “The Syrian state created a special tax in order to raise money for the Armenians.”
And perhaps that could be one lesson to those who lack the funds to aid today’s Syrian refugees.
Much like what is happening today, Syria was subject to attempts of dividing it. At one point, the French attempted to separate Syria into several states or ‘autonomous regions,’ which lasted for two years.
In 1936 Syria signed the Independence Treaty, and again new stamps were issued.
Other stamps in his collection highlight the significant dates within Syria’s history. In 1938, for example, when Turkey’s founding father Kamal Ataturk died, stamps in Syria were printed with a black border, to mark his passing.
Today, it is doubted that Syria would do the same if a Turkish official died, given the turbulent and severed relations between both countries.
For a collector such as Murad, a period is not complete unless it contains a block of four stamps, used stamp on an envelope, samples of the stamp, and stamps with possible errors.
“I’ve gotten to the point now where I challenge myself in my collection, to see if I can beat what I currently have,” he says, at one point holding up an envelope of a letter sent from Damascus to Baghdad with both British and French seals. “These seals indicate both British and French intelligence intercepted and opened the envelope.”
But his obsession with collecting snapshots of history does not stop with stamps. Murad has one of the most expansive collection of Syrian banknotes in the country’s history.
One of the rare notes in his collection is a 100 Lira note, the equivalent of what 1.5 million Liras would be today. But the rarest note in his collection is the 1939 250 Lebanese Lira.
“The note itself was worth around $16,000 back then, as there are only four known to exist,” he says proudly.