Tag Archives: Syrians

Syria’s Agony: The Photographs That Moved Them Most

Syria has always been a tough place to cover for journalists. Confidently authoritarian with a ruthlessly formidable security and intelligence apparatus, Syria has long been one of the most policed of Arab police states. So when some Syrians defied their government to take to the streets in the southern city of Dara‘a in March 2011, the temptation to cover the story was overwhelming for many, including myself.

The story of the Syrian uprising is ultimately the tale of regular citizens silencing the policeman in their heads, breaking their own personal barriers of fear to speak, to demonstrate, to demand, to reject, to no longer be afraid, to live in dignity. It’s about what these people will do, what they will endure, and what they are prepared to become to achieve their aims.

It is also the story of a significant portion of the population that considers the regime of President Bashar Assad the country’s best option, because they believe in its Baathist secular ideology or directly benefit from its patronage or don’t have confidence in Assad’s opponents and fear what may come next. Understanding what this segment of the population will accept in terms of state violence, the narratives they choose to believe and their concerns is a critical component of the story, though one that is harder to obtain, given the paucity of press visas issued by Damascus.

The only way to tell the Syrian story, really tell it, is to be on the ground with the men, women and children who are central to it, whether in Syria on in the neighboring states that many Syrians have fled to. It isn’t easy to do — the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York City, has dubbed Syria the “most dangerous place for journalists in the world” — but it is essential. Nothing beats being there. There is no compensating for seeing, feeling, touching, capturing, living the story.

The images here are a testament to the power of being on the ground, of sharing and capturing a moment for posterity, of translating an element of a person’s life through imagery.

Take a look at the photos. Can you place yourself in these situations? Can you imagine what it must be like? What do you feel when you look at the images? Are you drawn into them, or are you repulsed? Can you relate to them, or are they too alien? This is the power of translating on-the-ground reporting to an audience. This is why we must and will continue to document the Syrian uprising from inside the country when we can, and we — members of the foreign press corps — are not alone. Sadly, as is often the case, local journalists (both professional and citizen) have disproportionately borne the brunt of the casualties in this crisis. Still, this story is not about members of the media and what we go through to tell it; it’s about the Syrians who entrust their testimonies, their experiences, their hopes, their fears, their images to us in the hope that they will help explain what is happening in one of the most pivotal states in the Middle East.

—Rania Abouzeid


This collection of testimonies is the third in a series by TIME documenting iconic images of conflict. See “9/11: The Photographs That Moved Them Most” and “Afghanistan: The Photographs That Moved Them Most” for more.

Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME. Reporting by Vaughn Wallace.



The Victims of Assad: Photographs by Peter Hapak

It was approaching midnight but many of the hundreds of Syrians who had arrived at the Reyhanli refugee camp in southern Turkey just hours before were still restless, even the toddlers. Most were concerned with where they were going to sleep that night, and if friends and family members had reached safety. It was difficult to get people to talk. Many were afraid to speak for fear of reprisals against relatives still in Syria, others were clearly physically and emotionally worn down. Nevertheless, some were prepared to share their experiences, their fears and thoughts.

TIME was granted vast access during the first week of April to the Reyhanli and Yayladagi camps in Turkish territory to document, through words and pictures, the travails of the thousands who were fleeing Syria. As photographer Peter Hapak and his assistant took portraits of several of the refugees against a white backdrop set up just beyond the tents, other residents of Reyhanli—both newcomers and those who had been there for months—swirled about.

A wiry young newlywed in a thin aqua blue zippered jacket was searching for his wife among the families milling around the cramped canvas tents. His Syrian border village of Kili in Idlib province was shelled and strafed by helicopter gunships that morning, an account repeated by many of the other refugees from the town. The 26-year-old with a thin mustache and enraged eyes was seething: “I buried a man today. Two others and me, we buried a man who had half of his head missing.” When the young man, who refused to give his name, returned to his house after the burial, his wife wasn’t there. Believing she had fled across the border, he headed for Turkey as well. “Now, I learnt from others who arrived after me that my family was behind me, that they have reached the border but haven’t crossed it yet.”

Brent Herrig for TIME

Peter Hapak photographs Syrian refugees in Reyhanli.

Like so many others in Reyhanli that night, the young man had made a perilous journey on foot through mountainous terrain to reach Turkey, guided and aided by members of the rebel Free Syrian Army along backroads and mountain trails to avoid Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops. Some had walked for hours; others for days; most brought nothing but the clothes on their backs and harrowing tales of what they had fled. They spoke of mass killings, of homes being shelled, burnt to the ground, of relatives marched in front of tanks as human shields in the village of Taftanaz.

“Assad’s army is trying to find us, they are hunting us down in these hills to shoot and kill us,” the young man said. His group, however, was lucky. It did not encounter Assad loyalists. Just days later, a Syrian refugee was killed and several wounded after Syrian troops fired across the border at a refugee camp in the Turkish town of Kilis after a skirmish with rebel fighters. It wasn’t the first time the regime’s firepower had chased its opponents across borders into Turkey and Lebanon, but where the Lebanese government has been pliant and weak in its response to the attacks, Turkey’s patience is waning. The country already houses more than 24,000 Syrians, and is expecting thousands more.

In just one day last week, more than 2,800 Syrians streamed into Turkey from Idlib, the highest 24-hour figure to date. The exodus belied President Assad’s pledge to adhere to an internationally backed ceasefire agreement brokered by joint United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The deal called on Assad to withdraw his troops and heavy weaponry from besieged cities and towns by Tuesday April 10, and for both sides to cease violence. But instead of winding down, the regime’s muscle escalated operations to crush the year-long revolt.

Syria has routinely ignored diplomatic deadlines and scoffed at half-hearted international ultimatums, relying on its Russian and Chinese allies to shield it from censure. But this time, Assad’s powerful friends signed off on Annan’s initiative. His dismissiveness may yet chip away at their support, or at the very least make it harder for them to insist, as they have, that the Syrian president must be part of any diplomatic solution.

International discord is one thing. The disunity among the opposition to Assad is another. The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, remains divided and beset by claims of corruption, personal pettiness, feuds and rising suspicion that its secular leader Burhan Ghalioun is merely a front for the powerful Islamists. The nominal military leadership of the Free Syrian Army isn’t in better shape. Corralled in a camp in Apaydin, they have offered little to the men fighting and dying inside Syria in its name.

In the real struggle, within Syria, it has always been a revolution of ordinary people, of farmers and taxi drivers turned armed rebels, of students and laborers who have become community leaders. But, if the accounts of the refugees in Turkey are any indication, these revolutionaries despair of receiving the help they need to beat Assad. Early on, they had baptized their uprising a “revolution of orphans,” bereft of support. As he scurried away with a thin foam mattress tucked under his arm, one man said, “Before we thought that the world didn’t know what was happening to us, now we realize that you do and you don’t care.”

“We only have God and our own hands!” said another man, who had been standing nearby. It was a view shared by many. Said the young man searching for his wife: “Tanks we can stand in front of, we can try and stop them, stand in front of them, die as martyrs, but how can we stop a helicopter? We are now in Turkey, we don’t want to be here.” Growing more agitated, he says, “We want weapons, we want to fight… We want weapons, we want weapons, we want weapons.”

More: Syria’s Year of Chaos

Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME. Follow her on Twitter at @raniaab.

Hapak is a contract photographer for TIME. In December of 2011, Hapak photographed The Protester, TIME’s Person of the Year. 

Escape from Syria: Photographs by William Daniels

When we arrived in Bab Amr, we began to send e-mails to editors saying we were there. We were excited, happy. Of course, we were scared of the situation, but we were happy.

On the first morning, shelling began very close to us. One boom, then a second. After the third, the Syrians with us shouted, “You have to get out!” Then a fourth rocket hit. We lost Marie Colvin, the American reporter, and my friend Rémi Ochlik, a photographer. The correspondent for Le Figaro, Edith Bouvier, was badly injured, as was Paul Conroy, a British photojournalist.

William Daniels—Panos for TIME

This week’s cover of TIME.

The Syrian army targeted Bab Amr everywhere, anywhere. There was no way to get out. One night we visited families staying underground. There were 150 people in a basement with only small lights. They had some rice and a bit of water. Everyone had a family member who had been killed. We felt very bad, thinking, Please help us get out of here; we have lost our friends. But we couldn’t say that, because they had lost everything.

The Syrians who were looking after us were never outwardly scared. They were totally confident. They would prepare medicine in the middle of the room, while we were cowering behind a wall. They were not scared of anything.

Rémi’s death affected me a lot. And perhaps it will affect me even more later. His career was taking off. He had just won the World Press Photo award. He was becoming famous. I was sure he was about to work with magazines he’d dreamed of working for, like TIME. We were excited about getting to Syria. We thought we had a lot of work. I thought, O.K., we’re here, we’ve come for this, to be inside Bab Amr. There was no time to think that maybe we’d made a mistake in going there.

I really liked Rémi. I had a lot of affection for him. Perhaps because I’m older, I felt a bit like an older brother. But sometimes he was the one advising me, especially when we were in dangerous situations. And he just disappeared, so quickly.

Rémi was cremated in Paris on March 6, the first anniversary of the Syrian revolution.

MORE: A Reporter’s Escape from Syria

French photographer William Daniels was on assignment for TIME in the besieged district of Bab Amr. On March 1, after nine days there, he and Edith Bouvier managed to safely cross the border into Lebanon.