“Witnesses to War” Aims to Show the Resilience of Syrian Children

This powerful photo book project captures the moving resilience of children in war-torn Syria.

Much of what we know about the tragedy that war has brought upon Syria is taken from the perspective of a bigger picture. A powerful project, however, puts the focus on the most vulnerable victims of this conflict. Syrian war photographer Bassam Khabieh put his lens and narrative to use to tell us the story of loss, tragedy, and the astonishing resilience of Syrian children for a photo book titled Witnesses to War: The Children of Syria.

In his Kickstarter campaign, Bassam has shared the compelling rationale behind the photo book, providing a close-up view of how the war in Syria has been impacting children. However, instead of merely showing them as victims, he wanted to show their strength as individuals “who have known little other than war.”

He states:

“Rather than portray children as victims, I want to illustrate the incredible resilience of Syria’s children. Yes, there are bombings, displacement, and violence. But children and families are also holding on to fragments of normalcy through schools held in basements, games played in temporarily safe streets, and events celebrated under tenuous conditions.

“Even as I write this, the situation in my city of Douma has gotten worse. During the first months of 2018, we experienced weeks of carpet bombing and a scorched earth campaign by the Syrian government. And then came the recent chemical attack in April. In May, thousands of families were displaced from Douma — including me and my family. Fortunately, I’ve relocated to Istanbul, Turkey for the time being, but we need your help to ensure this project is told and spread across the globe.”

January 7, 2014 – Men hold up a baby rescued from underneath rubble after an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad destroyed buildings in Douma, an eastern suburb of Damascus.

September 16, 2017 – Students walk in a damaged classroom on the first day of school in the rebel-held Douma suburb of Damascus, Syria. These young children have grown up with no recollections prior to the start of the ongoing Syrian conflict.

Girls attend a class celebration for successfully completing the school year in the rebel-held besieged town of Douma. Schools in the region have limited supplies with which to teach as the rebel held area has been under siege for years.

October 16, 2013 Children ride on a merry-go-round made from remnants of Russian bombs on the second day of the Eid holiday.The artist Abou Ali al-Bitar has been using remnants of weapons to create toys to entertain children in Douma.

While Bassam didn’t start out as a photographer, he ended up becoming a recognized war photographer when the war in Syria broke out seven years ago. Whatever the outcome of the gruesome war, he stresses that the children need all the attention and support in this time of need, making the book even more urgent for him to complete.

“While most war photography is centered on armed combatants, it doesn’t necessarily show the true impact of violence. By assembling this unique body of evidence on what war means to the youngest members of my community, we can also see what we must address in the future in order to support our children as they become adults.”

Bassam Khabieh in Syria

The 172-paged Witnesses to War is set to feature 90 photos, with introductions by Leslie Thomas and Amy Yenkin, and essay, vignettes, and interviews with Bassam by Alia Malek. The texts will be in English and Arabic. Bassam is also working with the Karam Foundation to hold the funds in Chicago and secure them for the publication.

To learn more and show your support for this project, visit the Witnesses to War Kickstarter campaign and pledge at least $75 to grab a copy of the book.

All images by Bassam Khabieh via the Witnesses to War Kickstarter campaign