Innocent victims of the Syrian civil war at the Internally Displaced People camp in Syria where Syrian children now leave to escape all the violence and destruction around them. Image: Amir Kabir Jabbari
SYRIA—The Syrian civil war is a never-ending conflict. Since it started more than six years ago, many people have been killed, including women and children. In addition to all the bombing, chemical weapons have also been used to devastating effects. The most recent happened April 4, 2017, when Syrian warplanes dropped poisonous gas on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern Syria. The attack killed more than 80 people, including children.
The pictures that emerge after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his people left the world in horror. They captured people gasping for air as they formed from the mouth. But the most gruesome pictures were those of children. The images of children killed by the poisonous gas and those wearing oxygen mask just to breath infuriated people across the globe. Many could not hold back tears.
Enraged by Assad’s callousness, leaders across the globe, including the United Nations condemned the Syrian leader for using chemical weapons and committing war crimes in his determination to maintain power. Assad has, however, denied the accusation, blaming the opposition for the atrocities. Suffice it to say that his denials did not warm any heart and he was thoroughly rebuked by world leaders. In response to the massacre of innocent souls, President Trump ordered the US air force to attack the airport where the planes that dropped the chemical weapons departed.
While the focus has been on Assad, he is clearly not the only one responsible for the death of children in Syria. So also is ISIS that has shown total disregard for human life. With every passing day, children are murdered by the dangerous group that hides under the cloche of religion. Children that are not killed are maimed for life. Others end up as orphans because their parents were slaughtered.
The impact of the Syrian civil war has been devastating to children. In addition to losing their parents, many have become refugees in their own land. Places essential for children’s emotional and social growth have all been destroyed: schools, hospitals, playgrounds, parks, and homes that were sanctuaries for children are all in ruins. According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “More than 8 million Syrian children are in immediate need of aid—including more than 2 million child refugees.”
It is in the effort to bring attention to the impact of war on children that Iranian photographer Amir Kabir Jabbari traveled to Syria to carry out a project focused on the Syrian civil war children. The photography project focuses on war children as they continue to survive in spite of the war and destruction around them. The idea for the project began in 2015 after Amir completed a photography project on war children in Kobane. After returning to Tehran, he realized that there was more he could do to bring attention to the plight of Syrian civil war children. “I felt the urge to contribute more. To help in an honest way. But also my way. Since Children have always been one of my fascinations, I chose to go to Syria to make a series with them. Luckily, I got permission to access Aleppo,” he said.
With an intense desire to help and the permission to enter Aleppo, Amir returned to Syria. Camera in hand, he went through the streets of Aleppo capturing children in their natural environment. Unlike many of the traumatizing photographs of war children in the media, Amir accentuates the humanity of the children. His understanding of children as the future fueled his passion to bring new meaning to their experience. For him, it was more than photography. He explains:
Children are so pure. In them, I see the future of mankind. By educating them in a new way, they can make a big difference for our future. Working with children is more than just about photography. It’s about the humanity. I search for a way to connect with them and use photography as my tool. I let the children create the image with me, by explaining how my equipment works. I create an atmosphere where they feel free to be creative and forget about the war for a while. This way we can tell their story together.
Storytelling is at the core of Amir’s new photography project about Syrian civil war children. Borrowing from 100 years of Iranian photography history of ‘akas-bashi’, he created a series of authentic images of Syrian civil war children devoid of the usual media sensation. Working with the children, they created an outdoor studio using a white canvas as the backdrop. The war children posed in front of the white canvas and the camera went click, click.
In one of the photographs, a boy stands in front of the white canvas. Placed in what looks like the top of a roof, the backdrop is surrounded by clothes hanging on lines and destruction in the distance. Despite the derelict environment, there is so much dignity and pride in this little boy. Hands akimbo and a bright smile on his face, the boy shows off what is perhaps his best outfit. His blue shirt has the images of Mickey Mouse and some alphabets. His torn red short matches his tee shirt perfectly. On his feet are flip-flops with red and blue straps. The boy projects pride in a way that says, “You can’t kill my soul”.
In another image, a boy wearing a red polo tee shirt with number 75 boldly written on it stands in front of the white canvas. His faded jean short reveals his skinny and malnourished legs. On his feet are blue flip-flops. The smile on his face shows a boy who finds joy in his own existence despite the adversities and poverty around him. However, this boy is not alone in this amazing image. In the foreground of the photograph is another boy, perhaps waiting for his turn in front of the white canvas. He looks away as if contemplating a lurking danger.
The photograph of a little girl taken in what looks like a refugee camp is beautiful and haunting at the same time. Wearing a sleeveless dress with flower motifs, the girl who is just about 4years old stands in front of the white backdrop. On her feet are oversized red shoes that seem to have been borrowed from her elder sister or mother. Perhaps they came from the feet of a war victim. That is the story of the Syrian civil war children. There is so much innocence in this picture. In what seems an attempt to get herself ready for the photograph, the girl uses her arm to clean her mouth. It was at that moment that the camera went click. Not even the atmosphere of poverty could take away from the charm of the girl in the picture.
The picture of a boy on a bicycle with his father standing beside him is another important image from the Syrian civil war children project. Standing in front of the white canvas backdrop that was placed in the ruins of the Syrian civil war, they smiled as they gazed into the camera. Moments like this are very rare in the Syrian civil war zone. Because of the war, parents do everything to spend every moment with their children. This is one of such moments.
These images of the Syrian civil war children are thought-provoking and gripping. However, there are people who will look at some of the images and call it a romanticization of the impact of the Syrian civil war experience as it relates to the war children. But, there is more to this project than many people will ever know. In addition to endangering his own life, Amir was able to collect images that show the resilience of the children. But more importantly, the pictures reveal the impact of trauma on children. Some of the images present the impact of war through the eyes of the war children. In fact, the project began with a little insight into the destruction. To begin the photo project, Amir placed the white canvas backdrop in the middle of a Syrian street. All around the backdrop is absolute destruction and horror: bombed buildings and crushed cars are everywhere. There is an eeriness about this picture that gives credence to the fact that there is nothing good about wars.
Amir Kabir Jabbari’s photographs bring attention to the duality of existence in Syria: One moment there is war and the next, silence. For the war children, the experience is even worse. The psychological trauma of war is particularly devastating to Syrian children who continue to carry the burden of this war. That is why these images are beautiful and troubling at once. Amir explains why it was necessary to present a different angle of the experience of the war children:
With this I want to take the people out of the war zone as we usually get to see them ‘media-wise’ in a destroyed surrounding. I want to give them back their personality and let them feel their importance again in this world,” he said. Amir’s photography adventure in Aleppo effectively reminds those examining the impact of the war in Syria that nothing good comes from war.
Amir’s Syrian civil war children photography project articulates photographer’s commitment to addressing the plight of children. This is evident in his activities in Tehran where he is deeply engaged with the life of children, especially those affected by social and political processes. He volunteers as an art therapist with the association of Children with Cerebral Palsy & Autism
A self-educated photographer, Amir Kabir Jabbari dropped out of the university to pursue his passion for photography in 2012. A restless photographer with a passion to explore new and innovative ideas, Amir has been working on various genres of photography and videography for the past six years. For his work, Amir has won several awards and recognition. His work has received the runner-up prize in the Oxford COMPAS photo competition 2016: New Horizons held by Oxford University. Additionally, he has received the Special Motion Award – ChepCut film festival (London) in 2016 and was awarded at the Art Week in Istanbul Technical University in 2015. His Short film, Kobani 15, has won the “Lorenzo ilMagnifico” in Florence Biennale.