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Bashar Assad

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Recent developments in Syria's civil war show an escalation of involvement from outside countries and groups, with outcomes increasingly difficult to predict. As the fractured rebel groups continue their battles against forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, the European Union recently voted to end an arms embargo, opening the possibility of new weapons shipments to the rebels. The Shia militant group Hezbollah, from neighboring Lebanon, has sent fighters and support into Syria to aid Assad's troops. Russia plans to ship several modern anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria, to deter foreign interference. Israel, meanwhile, is prepared to use force to stop the delivery of such systems, which it views as a threat. Gathered here are recent images from the ongoing conflict, now more than two years old. [37 photos]

A Syrian boy holds an AK-47 assault rifle in the majority-Kurdish Sheikh Maqsud district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on April 14, 2013. In northern Syria, the Kurdish population has largely observed a careful compromise with regime and rebel forces, fighting alongside neither, in return for security and semi-autonomy over majority Kurdish areas, but there have been reports of Kurdish fighters joining the battle with Syrian rebels in certain areas, including in Sheikh Maqsud. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)     

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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.

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In the last week of June, at an airfield outside Moscow, Russia laid out a smorgasbord of military hardware—including everything from tanks to anti-aircraft batteries—and invited some of the most militaristic nations in the world do some pleasant summer shopping. Meat was grilled in barbecue pits, comely models stood around in mini-skirts, ’80s music and obnoxious techno pounded through the speakers, and once a day, a choreographer from the Bolshoi Theater staged a “tank ballet” of twirling war machines that was grandiloquently titled, “Unconquerable and Legendary.”

Welcome to the deceptively titled Forum for Technologies in Machine Building, the biennial Russian arms bazaar that President Vladimir Putin inaugurated in 2010. Delegations from Iran, Bahrain, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, among many others, attended the expo this year, and spent their time ogling cruise missiles, climbing into armored jeeps and trying out the most famous—and most deadly—Russian weapon of them all: the Kalashnikov assault rifle, which is thought to hold the stomach-turning honor of having killed more people than any other weapon in the history of man.

On the afternoon of June 28, TIME followed around the delegation to the arms bazaar from Syria, who, like many of the participants, would not legally be able to buy their weapons in the West (the TIME magazine story is available to subscribers here). For the past 16 months, Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have brutally tried to crush a homegrown rebellion, which has already cost around 15,000 lives, including thousands of women and children. The U.S. and Europe have responded by banning weapons sales to Syria, and along with their allies in the Arab world, they have pushed for an international arms embargo against Assad’s government. But Russia, the world’s second largest arms dealer after the U.S., has used its veto power in the U.N. to block these sanctions. With around $4 billion in weapons contracts to fulfill for its Syrian clients, Russia has continued supplying arms to Damascus, which gets nearly all of its weapons from Russia.

It was impossible to tell what, if anything, the Syrians came to the Moscow arms bazaar to purchase. Such deals would be signed behind closed doors, and both sides declined to comment. Colonel Isam Ibrahim As’saadi, the military attache at the Syrian embassy in Moscow, chaperoned the three officials in town from Damascus, and they would only say that they came to Moscow especially to attend the fair. The items that seemed to interest them most that day were armored military vehicles, trucks equipped with roof-mounted rocket launchers and brand new Kalashnikov assault rifles. Andrei Vishnyakov, the head of marketing for Izhmash, the company that created the AK-47, spent more than an hour selling them on the virtues of the firm’s new sniper rifles and machine guns. Before handing the head of the Syrian delegation a silencer-equipped AK-104, Vishnyakov said: “This weapon is perfect for close-quarters combat, house to house.” The Syrian official then lifted the gun’s sight to his eye and pointed it across the crowded pavilion, no doubt wondering how useful it could be back home.

Simon Shuster is TIME’s Moscow reporter.

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME and was named the 2011 Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International competition.

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Syrians by the thousands are fleeing the violence in their home country and seeking refuge in neighboring countries. Turkey this week is said to be considering a buffer zone in Syria to secure its own national security as well as aid fleeing civilians. Turkey is already sheltering some 17,000 of those who have fled. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday that nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the yearlong conflict in Syria. A cease-fire agreement accepted by Syria Tuesday that was drawn up by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan was met with skepticism, and fighting continued between rebels and President Bashar Assad’s soldiers. -- Lloyd Young (32 photos total)
Syrian refugees are seen through a barbed wire as they arrive at border between Syria and Turkey, near Reyhanli, Hatay province, on March 27. Syrian President Bashar Assad's crackdown on dissent, which monitors say has seen more than 9,100 people killed since March 2011, triggered an influx of refugees on the Turkish border as officials say the current number exceeds 17,000. (Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

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AP cameraman Ahmed Bahaddou and I sneaked into Syria from Turkey, traveling with the rebels’ Free Syrian Army. Our aim was to understand and cover the conflict in the country’s northwest region, as well as in the hard-hit Homs neighborhood of Bab Amr, under siege for weeks by government forces.

Almost as soon as we arrived, news broke of a massacre and the military victory of Bashar Assad’s forces in Homs. But after traveling in the country for about 10 days it became clear that the rebel stronghold of Idlib was likely to be the next source of news.

Saturday, March 10, was a horrifying day in Idlib. Ahmed and I had slept the night before in a hospital for security. The city was completely dark, making it impossible to drive in the city, and the sounds of the fighting could be heard everywhere.

Turky

Rodrigo Abd—AP

March 12, 2012. A Turkish man drives a tractor on a dirt road in Turkey, meters away from the Syrian border.

After waking up that morning, we began documenting the chaos as dozens of civilians and fighters brought the wounded and dead to the hospital. We could hear that the fighting was very close, with the sound of bullets whizzing nearby. Assad’s forces were taking control of all the neighborhoods and it was clear they were not going to welcome the presence of journalists.

It was time to leave.

In the last light of the evening, we saw fighters celebrating the destruction of a tank, and we ran with them, trying to avoid the direct line of fire. A sudden big explosion that spewed a huge grey smoke over a group of wounded soldiers created a terrific scene that I quickly photographed.

After we ran back to the hospital I encountered some of the most moving images of the conflict: a group of rebel fighters weeping over their dead comrades. They may not be my best photographs, but I think they tell a lot about the situation in Syria.

We left Idlib that night, traveling again with the Free Syrian Army. After walking in the dark in complete silence through a passage, we then hiked more than 11 kilometers to avoid military checkpoints in hopes of reaching a friendly city.

Anything we suffered to tell the story was nothing compared with what the Syrian people have experienced in nearly a year of conflict: broken families. Human rights abuses. Children severely injured. More than 7,500 people dead. The cruel realities of a country with a dark future.

Rodrigo Abd is a photographer with the Associated Press. See more of his work here.

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(AP) Fighting between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and members of the Free Syrian Army continue in Syria. The U.N. estimates that Syria’s crackdown has killed more than 7,500 people so far. The killings add to the pressure on U.N. Security Council members who are meeting to decide what to do next to stop [...]

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