At only twenty four years old, the syrian photojournalist, Abdulmonam Eassa, has already witnessed and documented the ruin of his hometown, Hamouria, on the outskirts of the capital, and the carnage of his people.
Though many would turn rancorous towards a world plagued by violence and injustice, Abdulmonam exudes tranquility. He opens up, with a kind stare and a charming smile.
“I need to rebuild myself. But I need to continue my work for Syria.”
His high school studies were indefinitely paused due to the enforced siege on his area. The Syrian government forces cracked down on Hamouria to fight the rebel control. With the restricted mobility, Abdulmonam and his friends had a lot more time on their hands. To shed light on their reality, they embarked on the unplanned journey of photojournalism by capturing the violence that surrounded them.
The siege started when he was 18 years old.
Now, six years later, Abdulmonem and his friends have dispersed throughout the four corners of the world-- their fate determined by where they were granted asylum.
Starting as an independent photographer, Abdulmonam posted the powerful and informative photos to his social media platforms. Soon after, his work began to be published in local agencies. By 2015, Abdulmonam started working as a freelance photographer for the world-renowned Agence France-Presse (AFP), until he was forcibly displaced by the Syrian government in 2018.
With a humble yet prideful tone, he recognizes that over one thousand of his photos have been published by the AFP: documenting the siege, the lives of families and children in the area of Eastern Ghouta, and the rebel fighters.
The importance of his community and its’ camaraderie permeates Abdulmonam’s discourse. He attributes his growth as a photographer largely to those who helped him along the way. For him, his success happened hand in hand with that of his friends.
“I depended on my friends to improve my skills. We all learned together. Besides getting inspired by pictures on the internet, we gained experience by self-training. I witnessed a lot of death, and I wanted to share with the whole world all that I could manage to document, especially, the airstrikes that led to the death of hundreds of innocent civilians.”
In February and March of 2018, through text, photo, and video, he broadcasted the massacres in Eastern Ghouta. In hopes of wiping out rebel groups, the Syrian government forces, with the support of the Russian Air Force's launched a military operation. However, many civilians, including many Abdulmonam knew, lost their lives in the conflict.
In the midst of the destruction, his home was bombed, along with many of its surroundings. Instead of crumbling under the ruins, the young man stood stronger and invested himself in rescuing the civilians in the aftermath of airstrikes during those two horrible months.
He never stopped taking photos.
“During the 5 years that I lived under the siege, I was injured three times while doing media work.”
After receiving threats from a police officer, for being one of the only journalists documenting the air raids, he knew this was the appropriate time to flee. At the same time, an agreement between the Syrian government forces and the rebel faction forcibly displaced everyone from Hamoria, and its’ surrounding territories to the north of the country.
Arriving in North of Syria, Abdulmonam tempted to cross the border, into Turkey, with nine failed attempts. At the the tenth crossing, it was a success.
As he recounts these moments, a sense of excitement and a slight nervousness runs through his body. Although a relief to have arrived in Turkey, at the beginning of May 2018, the young man was there illegally, which made him feel unsafe and limited his ability to work.
Filing various asylum requests, after a few months the life changing news came in: France was his new home. Filled with gratitude and ready to start a new life, he arrived in Paris on the first of October. Eager to assimilate to his surroundings, he has been taking french classes every day of the week at the Association Pierre Claver, a school designed to guide and integrate refugees.
He does not seem afraid, although being far away from all that is familiar would frighten most, especially at his age.
“Now I want to help from far. I will focus my coverage on Syrians that are here in Europe and tell their stories.”
With the same positivity, he acknowledged what he left behind is not completely lost. “I am almost sure the work of my friends and I will change something in Syria -- but it takes time.”
“My strongest memory is standing in front of my house, with a lot of people I care about: friends, family and neighbors. Although this memory is tainted, because it involves a lot of destruction and pain, it holds a lot of beauty. I have known everyone in my neighborhood since my first memory. We gave each other what we could, even though there was not much left. In the middle of destruction there was still a sense of community.”
The Shemagh scarf:
“In 2011, the first time the military forces marched into our city, the government forces killed 8 people: three of them were my cousins, and two were my neighbors (father and son). Only thirty minutes before their arrival I was in front of my house, with my shemagh scarf wrapped around the bottom half of my face. For some reason, I decided to give my scarf to my cousin. I felt like he would need it. When the officers came, I ran into my neighbor's house. I escaped but I heard the sounds. I heard them getting killed.”
“Before leaving Syria I bought another scarf, exactly like the one I passed on to my cousin. Today I love wearing it because I love the way it looks. But most importantly it reminds my family, my country and those fighting against the government and military forces. It is not just a scarf-- it is a political statement, a symbol of our cause. I also used it for protection on site, not to breathe in dust after the bombings.
I left almost everything behind. The only belongings I managed to bring with me are my computer, hard drive, camera and what was on my body. I had the scarf on me, so it is still with me today in France.”"