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Behind the Lens: At a War’s Root, Unarmed Protests

Written by Karen Leigh Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

With photojournalism from Syria so focused on the mechanics of war – the guns, the fighters, and the casualties of battle – the unarmed protests that lie at the heart of the revolution often go undocumented, says Syria Deeply contributing photographer Nicole Tung.

Tung, an American whose images have appeared in publications including The New York Times and TIME magazine, has been making trips in and out of Syria since the early days of the war. Here, she focuses on a now-overlooked entity, the root of the crisis: the protest.

“They still go on today,” she writes from Istanbul, “and it’s important to remember the genesis of the Syrian revolution as beginning with peaceful demonstrations calling for reforms in the now-destroyed streets of Homs, Deraa, Aleppo and Damascus.

The images in this essay are of the protests in which ordinary civilians take part, all the while knowing that they could be surrounded and shot, arrested or killed by indiscriminate shelling.

These mass rallies and protests have endured through two years and so much blood. Yet people still go out to express themselves. It’s their loudest form of defiance.

Last June, I went to a demonstration in the village of Maarat Al Nouman, which has since been largely deserted by civilians. There had been a shell attack the night before, which killed nine people.

The next day, hundreds of people gathered in a square, grieving and angry. The emotion of that protest, while the corpses lay there, was powerful. Young men raised the bodies and marched amongst the crowd. Their chants were deafening.

In Aleppo a month later, I was in the neighborhoods of Salaheddine and Bustan Al Qasr, where daily protests were occurring even as the regime attempted to crack down.

Men and women marched long boulevards. Sometimes activists would purposely cut off the street lights so that protesters would be less visible to regime thugs. Or they would burn tires at the entrance to major streets so that no cars could pass, thereby preventing them from disrupting the demonstration.

It’s remarkable to me that today, civilians still go out and express themselves in this way. The nature of some protests has changed, of course — some have an overtly more Islamic tone, while others call for an end to the misbehavior of the Free Syrian Army.

But no matter the tone, it’s an outlet, and it remains the greatest expression of the Syrian struggle for freedom.”

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