Douma, Syria -- People have asked if I was surprised by the reaction to the photos of the Syrian boy in the ambulance, Omran. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t. Here is a child, a tiny child, caught in the horrors of war. You would have to be heartless not to be moved by those images. He was lucky that there was a camera to document his pain. But don’t think for a second that he is alone. There have been -- and will be -- countless others.
Over the last three years, I have documented thousands of people injured in Syria and a staggering number of them have been children. Photos of people carrying wounded or dead children from the rubble of an air strike, or a bombardment are routine. That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But that’s what it has become. It has become routine.
Do certain images of injured kids stay in my mind more than others? If you asked me that two years ago, then I could probably give an answer. But today, after witnessing the huge number of massacres that I have, it’s very hard to think of one specific instance. It’s become a daily occurrence. Now images stay in my mind for a short while before they slip away, to take their place alongside all the others. My own personal graveyard.
Take last week. It was a few days after the Omran photos shocked the world. That day, the first rocket from a Mig fighter hit a building full of families at 8:30 am. Most of the people were still asleep. More than 10 children were wounded in that strike. Five minutes later, there was another strike on another building. Same thing -- lots of children and women hurt. It was impossible to verify whether the strike was carried out by government forces of the Russians.
When I went to the hospital, there were about 10 kids there. One was a girl, Noor. She was eight years old. Her father was with her. Her heart had stopped beating. Doctors were doing their best to save her. Her father, crying, kissed her feet as doctors performed CPR.
After 15 minutes, the doctors gave up. She’s dead, they said. But the father didn’t accept it. Weeping, he started doing CPR himself, shouting her name. “Noor!” “Noor!” “Nooooor!!!!!” After 10 minutes of fruitless efforts, he collapsed in sobs on the floor.
That scene will stay in my mind for a while. But then it too will slip away, replaced by another. The new scene will be just as heart wrenching. And then it too will disappear, replaced by another. There will be countless others.
When the father collapsed, I couldn’t take any more photos. It was too much. I went to the spot in the city where they bring the corpses before burying them. Similar scenes awaited me there -- sobbing fathers seeing the children dead, seeing them for the last time…
One child who died in airstrikes that day had lost his father in a similar bombardment, in the same area, about the same time last year. His name was Emad. He was five years old.
Children are the main victims of this war. The lives of Syrian children have been affected most by this conflict. Every day, countless violations of children’s rights take place across the country -- aside from risking death in airstrikes and bombardments, they don’t have access to proper healthcare, or education. They don’t have access to a normal life.
They are innocent souls who are being killed in every possible way. Their only fault is that they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were born in a time of war.
With no end in sight to the conflict, many fear that this war will produce a “lost generation” of children, who will lack basic necessities and who will not have access to education.
I have photographed countless bandaged, bloodied children.
I have photographed countless tiny bodies wrapped in funeral shrouds, looking like they’ve gone to sleep.
Of course you feel sorry for the children more than you do for adults in this war. I don’t know why. Maybe there is something special in our hearts toward children because they are so innocent and they are being put through so much. Too much for such a young age.
I behave differently when I photograph child victims. I look for a way to ease their pain if possible. Sometimes I tell them jokes, sometimes I show them how they came out on a picture, sometimes I let them take some pictures.
The pain of Syria’s children is clear to anyone who cares about children in this world. My message to them: “I did my best to try and show their pain through my lens. You do your best to save them.”
This blog was written with Yana Dlugy in Paris.