This is not how editorial discussions normally go. This morning I contacted Fared Al Mahlool over WhatsApp for a potential story on the catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and northern Syria on Monday. Fared is an internally displaced Syrian living in Idlib. He’s a photojournalist who has contributed to New Lines in the past. Fared told me that he was willing to take on the assignment, but first had to attend to a more pressing business. He was speaking to me from the cemetery, where he was burying his close relatives. His maternal uncle along with most of the uncle’s family had died in the earthquake, leaving behind only one son, who was in the intensive care unit. It took rescuers until 6 a.m. on Wednesday to recover all the bodies.
The death toll from the earthquake has now exceeded 12,000, over 1,700 of whom died in northwest Syria. First responders from Syria Civil Defense — also known as the White Helmets — have been working around the clock in search of survivors. But the relief effort is hampered by Russia’s and the Assad regime’s obstruction of cross-border aid and by the lack of manpower and machinery. There are only about 3,000 White Helmets, an insufficient number given the scale of the catastrophe. They also have limited fuel and heavy equipment. Nevertheless, they keep working miracles. But for each triumph, there are many more tragedies. And the pain is compounded by the regime’s ruthlessness, which shelled the affected areas within hours of the earthquake, and by the bitter winter that has been as unforgiving as the regime.
Monday’s catastrophe has put Syria back in the headlines. But this disaster is exceptional, and all it has revealed is that the mundane horrors Syrians have been enduring since 2011 have not yet abated. Under such circumstances, survival alone is an act of defiance. And in a place forsaken by the world, the drive and resilience of these rescuers and medics has become an enduring symbol of hope. It is their story that Fared captures in these photos. [Continue reading…]