Photographs by Maryam Ashrafi, Nish Nalbandian, Yusuke Suzuki
Daily, Syria finds its place in the headlines: a higher death count, a new rebel group, the continual destruction of national treasures and the use of chemical weapons. A civil war is threatening to erase one of the world’s oldest civilizations. As informed citizens of the world, it’s our challenge and responsibility to find empathy and connection within the carnage. The featured photographers in this issue of ZEKE helps us do exactly that.
Editorial photographer Nish Nalbandian has documented the Syrian war since its beginning. As the conflict unwaveringly escalates, his photographs tell a story of the war on a human, rather than political level. Yusuke Suzuki, a freelancer based in New York, transports viewers to the war’s frontline with photographs offering a glimpse at the chaos and shortages of food and medicine in Aleppo witnessed through a humanizing lens. Maryam Ashrafi’s powerful photographs of Kurdish women fighters honor their courage while left to bury the fighters and pick up the pieces of the war-torn country.
The Syrian Civil War — a four-year conflict that has, to date, claimed over 200,000 lives and displaced over 11 million — was started by a couple of pranksters, kids aged 13 to 15 years old. In the southern city of Daraa they snuck out one cold night. “The people want to topple the regime,” they scrawled on the walls of their school. “No teaching, no school, until the end of Bashar’s rule,” another wrote.
Such antics were common in a country silenced for decades by threats of violence and ubiquitous surveillance. You couldn’t even buy spray paint without an ID in Daraa. And while most would consider the act itself nothing more than a case of teenage rebellion, with the backdrop of the Arab Spring, the Syrian state interpreted it as an anti-government demonstration and responded accordingly. The boys were arrested and tortured.
Parents inquired to authorities about their sons. “Forget your children,” one official reportedly said. “If you really want your children, you should make more children. If you don’t know how to make more children, we’ll show you how to do it,” CNN reported.
Outraged and offended, Daraa’s residents took to the streets. “What they did in Daraa was unheard of, protesting day after day. It sparked a revolution,” said Mohamed Masalmeh, a Syrian activist.
Their unprecedented displays of solidarity weren’t without a price. Security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing several and igniting further furor. As outcries grew in strength, the regime’s response grew in brutality.
In July 2011, only a few months after the boys snuck out that cold night, hundred of thousands were protesting nationwide, calling for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad who has held his post since 2000, following his father’s 30-year rule. That same month the Free Syrian Army, formal fighting units begun by a handful of defected soldiers, was formed. Now, four years later, Syria burns.
What began as a rural and provincial-driven uprising, tapped into the deep-seated political and economic issues that have plagued the country for much of its history. The cradle of Middle East agriculture and cattle breeding, Syria was once the battleground for empires — the Hittites, Egyptians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians each had at one point called it theirs—before decades of colonization, political unrest, and brutal dictatorship. It wasn’t surprising that, following similar examples of revolution in the Arab Spring, Daraa’s cries of rebellion were soon echoed by the entire country and Syria descended into a merciless civil war.
At its inception, the conflict was between those for or against President Assad. The story today is much more complicated having evolved to include the interests of neighboring countries, the influence of world powers, and, perhaps most alarmingly, the rise of jihadist groups like The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
ISIL, an extremist group evolved out of al-Qaeda, has employed brutal tactics to command territories across Syria and neighboring Iraq. The group considers itself a “caliphate,” meaning it is governed in accordance with Islamic law, and has demanded the sworn allegiance of Muslims throughout the world.
Islamist and jihadist groups such as ISIL now outnumber secular forces in the conflict, their involvement turning the Syrian Civil War into a “war within a war.” Not only are rebel groups, deeply divided themselves by political allegiances, fighting President Assad’s government forces but they are fighting jihadist ones as well.
“You have so many conflicting interests and players struggling for dominance,” says Jean-Marie Guehenno, director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University and former United Nations Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, ”and the groups are becoming increasingly fragmented and radicalized...The great fear is of the conflict spilling over to other countries, starting regional wars and redrawing the map. It would be a catastrophic event with killing on an even bigger scale.”
It’s difficult to imagine violence of even greater proportions. The United Nations has repeatedly investigated alleged human rights violations concluding that war crimes — mass murders, torture, rape, public executions, and disappearances — are being conspicuously committed by all sides. No incident demonstrates the war’s savagery more clearly than that of August 2013 when rockets filled with sarin, a nerve agent and certified weapon of mass destruction, descended on several largely civilian districts around Damascus. The Western world, outraged, demanded the destruction of the country’s chemical munitions arsenal. It has since been dismantled but use of toxic chemicals, like chlorine and ammonia, has been documented since.
Such horrific conditions have unsurprisingly resulted in the largest refugee exodus since World War II. Over 11 million people, or half the country’s pre-war population, has been forced to leave their homes. An estimated 4 million have fled Syria entirely to neighboring countries like Turkey and Lebanon which, without adequate international support, struggle to provide refugees with even basic resources.
“I hate to make comparisons about who’s suffered more,” says Michel Gabaudan, president of Refugees International, “but the level of violence faced by Syrians has been surprising even to those used to working in these situations.”
According to a report by the United Nations, total economic loss to the region since the start of the conflict equals over $200 billion. Syria’s education, health, and welfare systems are now nonexistent. And an end to the fighting is nowhere in sight, threatening to destroy one the oldest civilizations on Earth.
“A whole generation of Syrians has been killed or robbed of productive futures,” says Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher for Turkey. “Even if a settlement was reached, most refugees don’t show a willingness to return and it would take a tremendous amount of time for conditions of the settlement to translate into conditions for return.”
Yusuke Suzuki,a ZEKE featured photographer, quotes in his artist’s statement that the fighters say, “We only have time to think how we can win the battle.” But as the country they bleed and die for crumbles in eruptions of violence, do they ever think: will there be a future for Syria left to fight for?
For more information
Center for International Conflict Resolution:
Syrian American Medical Society:
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights:
World Health Organization:
ZEKE is published by Social Documentary Network (SDN), an organization promoting visual storytelling about global themes. Started as a website in 2008, today SDN works with nearly a thousand photographers around the world to tell important stories through the visual medium of photography and multimedia. Since 2008, SDN has featured more than 2,000 exhibits on its website and has had gallery exhibitions in major cities around the world. All the work featured in ZEKE first appeared on the SDN website, www.socialdocumentary.net.
Fall 2015 Vol. 1/No. 2
Executive Editor: Glenn Ruga
Writer: Paula Sokolska
Copy Editor: Barbara Ayotte
Social Documentary Network Advisory Committee
Barbara Ayotte, Medford, MA
Director of Strategic Communications
Management Sciences for Health
Kristen Bernard, Salem, MA
Marketing Web Director
EBSCO Information Services
Lori Grinker, New York, NY
Independent Photographer and Educator
Steve Horn, Lopez Island, WA
Ed Kashi, Montclair, NJ
Member of VII photo agency
Photographer, Filmmaker, Educator
Reza, Paris, France
Photographer and Humanist
Jeffrey D. Smith, New York NY
Contact Press Images
Steve Walker, New York, NY
Consultant and educator
Frank Ward, Williamsburg, MA
Photographer and Educator
Jamie Wellford, Brooklyn, NY
Photo Editor, Curator
ZEKE is published twice a year by Social Documentary Network
Copyright © 2015
Social Documentary Network
Print ISSN 2381-1390
Digital ISSN: Forthcoming
ZEKE does not accept unsolicited submissions. To be considered for publication in ZEKE, submit your work to the SDN website either as a standard exhibit or a submission to a Call for Entries. Contributing photographers can choose to pay a fee for their work to be exhibted on SDN for a year or they can choose a free trial. Free trials have the same opportunity to be published in ZEKE as paid exhibits.
Cover photo: Yusuke Suzuki from Faces of the Free Syrian Army on SDN.
Photographers and writers featured in this issue of ZEKE Magazine. Whenever possible we have linked to their SDN profile page which has contact information and links to their other exhibits on SDN.
Maryam Ashrafi is an Iranian-born photojournalist, living in Paris. She received her BA in social documentary photography from the University of Wales Newport. Since graduating, she has focused on photographing global, social, and political issues, particularly concerning women.
Miguel Candela specializing in the human drama of life, is restless in his intentions to satisfy his personal requirements in capturing still images, the color and reactions of people, places & events. Hi shows the public in images, the diversity of humanity from their way of life, practices, homes, beliefs, traditions, relations, costumes, and reactions to issues or general situations of the time.
To be a photographer helped him to perceive the world not as how it is but the way it is lived, without boundaries, to enable him to comprehend his surroundings, to respect other cultures and their ways of thinking. Photography opened him into new horizons and value the present as a historical event. He sees his works as an affirmation that “every person has his or her individual unique history, every individual has an intriguing story to tell.”
Candela has travelled extensively and spent extended periods in various countries in order to photo-document the people, their community, and their way of life in Mali, Nepal, Kenya, the Philippines, Bangladesh and across China, and in his current base of operations in Hong Kong.
Caterina Clerici is an Italian freelance multimedia journalist, currently based in NY. A Columbia Journalism School alumna, she has regularly contributed to many international publications, including The Guardian US, Repubblica and La Stampa. She currently also works as a freelance photo editor at TIME.
Albertina d’Urso has dedicated years to social and humanitarian reportages. Her works were rewarded in several award such as Canon Young Photographers Award, Lens Culture International Exposure Award, Julia Margaret Cameron Award, and Lucie Awards. She has exhibited internationally including in Insa Art Center in Seoul, 291 Gallery in San Francisco, Speos Gallery in Paris, VII Gallery in New York, MIA- Milan Image Art Fair, Festival Fotografico Italiano, New York Photo Festival, Angkor Photo Festival, Forma Centro Internazionale di Fotografia in Milano. She published the book TI MOUN YO, Children of Haiti, Contrasto, that was voted Documentary Book of the Year at the International photography Awards. Her work is regularly featured in magazines such as Vanity Fair, Marie Claire, Panorama, L’Espresso, Foto8, IL, Vision, Burn...
Nish Nalbandian’s focus is editorial photography with an eye for the humanity in the subject. Hi work is suitable for a range of editorial, NGO, and documentary outlets.
He has photographed in more than 35 countries worldwide, in a wide variety of environments and situations from wars to sporting events, from back alleys to luxury resorts, and from cities to remote deserts. He is skilled at gaining access to people and areas to photograph the story. Hi is well-versed in providing imagery in a timely and dependable fashion from even the most remote locations. He is fully trained, insured, and equipped to work around the world in a wide range of conditions.
His editorial work has appeared in such diverse outlets as the Human Rights Watch World Report, The Los Angeles Times, The Denver Post, National Geographic Traveler, Le Journal de Quebec, Le Journal de Montreal, The Oslo Times, The Stratford Beacon Herald, The Calgary Sun, The Toronto Sun, WorldMag, Kickstand Magazine, Review of Religions, New Scientist, and Vocativ.com. His archive is currently syndicated by Redux Pictures, and he contributes work to Redux, Polaris, and Agence QMI.
My commercial clients have included Western Digital, Otterbox, Arai Helmets, Come Sit Stay Pet Resort, Good Biker, Fresh Agenda, and Luxlow Cycles. My fine art work is represented by Out of the Blue, and Borealis Press, and syndicated throughout the world via such outlets as World Art Group.
Mariette Pathy Allen
Mariette Pathy Allen has been photographing the transgender community for over 35 years. Through her artistic practice, she has been a pioneering force in gender consciousness, contributing to numerous cultural and academic publications about gender variance and lecturing throughout the globe. Her first book Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them was groundbreaking in its investigation of a misunderstood community. Her second book The Gender Frontier is a collection of photographs, interviews, and essays covering political activism, youth, and the range of people that identify as transgender in mainland USA. It won the 2004 Lambda Literary Award in the Transgender/Genderqueer category. She received the Pioneer Award at Fantasia Fair in 2014.
Daylight books published Mariette’s new book, TransCuba, in April, 2014. This book is bilingual, containing several essays, interviews, and 70 color photographs. Photographs from the book are in a solo exhibition in Havana, and will travel around Cuba.
Mariette’s life’s work is being archived by Duke University’s Rare Book and Manuscripts Library, and the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s Studies. In addition to her work with gender, Mariette’s background as a painter frequently leads her to photographic investigations of color, space, and cultural juxtapositions such as east/west, old/new, handmade/manufactured.
Paula Sokolska is a freelance journalist in the Boston area and the managing editor of MedTech Boston, an online startup publication covering the nexus of health and innovation. She has a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University where she specialized in science and narrative writing.
She has written for BU Today, BU News Service, Zeke: The Magazine of Global Awareness, and Spotted by Locals.
USK, also known as Yusuke Suzuki is a New York- based freelance photographer, originally born and raised in Chiba, Japan.
He studied the guitar when he was in Japan, but once he went to the Philippines on his summer break with his friends and witnessed the tragic situation of the lifestyle there, he started to reassess his own life.
In 2006, he set off to Afghanistan to see what was going on in that side of the world. During his first stay, he met photographers and journalists that ended up changing his life. As he witnessed their photographs, he was so staggered that he bought his first camera as soon as he returned from his trip. Later on, he would return to Afghanistan twice more to take photographs.
He realized that photography has the power to make change, so he decided to study Journalism more seriously, and to move to the United States. He made the change of switching what he holds in his hands from a guitar to a camera.
He studied photography at New England School of Photography and has expertise in documentary, visual journalism, sports photography, live concerts, and any kind of events.
His works have been published on CNN, The Washington Post, Reuters, Al Jazeera, NHK(Japan), Internazionale(Italy), Haaretz(Israel), Toronto Sun(Canada), Estadao(Brazil), Rianovosti(Russia), Hindustan Times(India), Metro Boston, Tu Boston, Salem Radio Network News, The province.com and El Planeta.
Tom Szustek was born and raised in Poland and graduated from Jagiellonian University, Krakow. He moved to Ireland in 2003 and resides currently in Dublin.
Szustek regularly freelances for Polish community weekly newspapers in Ireland “Kurier Polski” and associated websites and he is committed to the documentary projects in Ireland and North Africa.
His photographs, which cover wide range of subjects — news, documentary, daily life, social issues — appeared in magazines and newspapers across Europe. He is co-founder of photojournalism agency Uspecto Images.
Nima Taradji is an editorial portrait and documentary photographer based in Chicago, Illinois.
He was born in Iran, grew up in France, and then moved to the United States where he attended college in Texas and then moved to Los Angeles and now reside in Chicago.
He is a co-founder & member of Core Images — a socially conscious photographic agency with a strong desire to inform and raise awareness of events that shape our global community and affect our lives.
He is currently working on several long term documentary projects in Chicago concerning subjects he finds to be important.