Syria’s refugees remind us of the price of revolution

A Syrian refugee family wait for rebels to help them across the Turkish border. Photograph: Giorgos Moutafis/AFP/Getty Images

Jonathan Jones writes: Here is the truth about revolution, war, dictatorship and resistance. It is a simple truth and it is crushing: people suffer. In this powerful picture by Greek photojournalist Giorgos Moutafis a refugee family in Janoudia in north-western Syria wait for rebels to help them across the border into Turkey. In the bold rhetoric of our time, this might be described as a picture of defeat, an indictment of Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on opposition to his rule, a call to arms for western democracies that are so much less eager to help in Syria now than they were in Libya a year ago. Perhaps it is all those things, and anything else politics wants it to be. But first, it is a human document.

Five children sit in a pool of light amid the dark, their faces patient and resilient, their confusion and fear obvious. Each has a different expression but none are smiling. One child gazes downward while the youngest-looking boy stares at the camera. The adults in the picture, knowing more, look back at the photographer as they gather close to the children. Everyone’s eyes seem to be searching, puzzling. The glow that warms their faces reveals a moment of contemplation before the next arduous stage of a journey.

Painters have known for centuries how to use nocturnal light to intensify our recognition of vulnerability. In his painting The Nativity at Night, which dates from about 1490, Geertgen tot Sint Jans shows the Madonna and child by candlelight against the dark. In this photograph, the shiny wall of the tent or canopy behind them creates a starless black night. Against this eeriness, Moutafis is able to give this family a profound dignity as the human instinct for light in the shadowed hours heightens their meditative companionship.

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3 thoughts on “Syria’s refugees remind us of the price of revolution

  1. peterbrown

    The situation is dreadful and tragic but responsibility is not entirely to be laid at Assad’s door.
    As with Libya, the soon forgotten target of western interference, Syria could become even worse if Assad was toppled. Despite his many faults there are still those who support him and fear the disperate rag-bag of armed insurgents with their uncontrolled arms and links with al queda and god knows who else. The fact there is complete disunity in the ranks and a commitment to attack each other if the anarchy spreads should be a warning to those who leap onto the anti Assad band-wagon.
    Most SSyrians want peace and reform. To dismiss Assad’s ability to deliver real and meaningful reforms out of hand plays into the hands of zionists and western allies who would like to see a weakened Syria which lacks independence… to assume his overthrow at any cost would benefit the Syrian people and the Arab peoples in general is dangerous. Apart from that; the west’s utter hypocrisy in turning a blind eye to democratic movements in puppet states who toe the line with the US plans is proof of the insincerity towards arab people’s rights…. why not send guns to Bahrain, Saudi et al! Stop trying to break up Syria and Iran, stop playing politics with people’s lives.

  2. Norman

    All things considered, who will view similar photos taken of Americans fleeing the coming revolution in this country? I wonder, will the photos be taken by an Muslim?

  3. delia ruhe

    I think PeterBrown is right. The protests in Syria were entirely peaceful — until outside “interests” began to interfere, not the least of whom was Turkey, fanning the flames of civil war. Yes, Turkey, NATO member and thus obliged to support Western causes.

    Alistair Crooke (Conflicts Forum) has had a coupla good article on the situation, and until very recently was thought to have gone off his rocker. (That’s what happens when you challenge received wisdom.)

    There are several reasons why the West would like to see regime change in Syria. For the US, high on that priority list is that Syrian regime change may lead to a more “acceptable” reason for the same in Iran — anything to destroy the slippery slope upon which the petrodollar is now perched.

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