I knew Ahmad Masoum Kousa through Jamilla Azazi, who shared on Facebook his photos, photos that leave you speechless. Considering the tragedy illustrated in those photos you can’t add anything more. Any word of support or pity is useless. He is a gifted young man, who tries to present what a TV material or someone from outside can’t really experience.
I heard about the Syrian war on the TV news. The emphasis was always on the war, the conflict, and less on the survivors, who are condemned to a life of hardships. The war is not affecting only the Muslims here, but also the Kurds or Yazidis, as they are also called.
I didn’t feel like just looking at the pictures and thinking of how hard their lives were. I just built up my courage and wrote to Ahmad. Lately he said he would like to give up photo shooting and posting. He was feeling down because he could no longer get his photos’ messages to the public on Facebook, because nothing was changing in the life of his peers.
I asked him if he agrees to give me an interview, as much as I will be able to since I am not a journalist, but just a blogger, and this way to carry on his message. He liked the idea and accepted goodwilled.
If you might consider that I didn’t ask the right questions or that he didn’t give me the answers, I warn you that it was a tough job. I look at Ahmad as you look at a precious crystal and touch his soul with so much care. I didn’t mean to pry and to hurt him. I took whatever he could tell me and hoped that my public readers would understand the message he conveyed.
Question: Who is Ahmad, the man behind the pictures? Tell me more about yourself.
Ahmad: Ahmad Kousa is a Syrian photographer, who is doing documentaries. I lived in Syria since I was born. I grew up during the war and studied its consequences. Like any other child I had the dream to have a cell phone that could take photos, but I was unlike many children due to the fact that I was born in Syria, so for approximately one year I used my mom’s cell phone to take pictures. My dream about photography grew bigger, so I bought myself my first cell phone in 2017.
Q: You are a student. How is the life of a Syrian student?
A: Yes, I do study at the Faculty of Civil Engineering from the University Al Furat. After classes are over, I also go to work (he is employed in a store.)
I took the liberty of asking him how expensive the life of a Syrian student is, just to be able to compare it to the living costs in Romania. He told me every month he is paying approximately 150$ (100$ = 300,000 in Syrian currency) for tuition, housing and food. When I asked him if he can match his expenses with his salary, he said he is also doing extras.
For a Romanian student, this might be more or less expensive, depending on how much parents’ support he’s got.
Q: When did your passion for photography begin? How do you take these photos?
A: I was a fan of the documentaries about the life of the war survivors, “The Children of Syrian War”. This was impossible with a cell phone. I started asking people who had professional photo cameras how I could buy one, how could I earn money. One day I worked up the courage and asked a professional photographer on Instagram. He answered me: “With the money I earned!”. I was shocked to hear that phrase, because that was impossible in my country, but I had to deal with this answer as it was.
I saved the whole sum of money in two years. Once, my father gave me an amount of money to buy some clothes, but I saved the money and told him that my old clothes will still do, and that I have to buy a camera no matter how much it will cost. I saved this money in my piggy bank, with the (almost non-existent) hope that I will actually buy a camera someday.
I will never forget the day I bought the Canon 750d in 2019, the day my dream came true. At the same time, I was also sad, because me and my camera were witness to the people’s suffering, but the excitement that people can see through my photographs, felt my heart with enthusiasm. I called it “my weapon”.
I wanted to carry on this war with my lethal weapon, the one that talks about the reality of poor and depraved Syrians. My goal was and still is, to keep the Syrians and Syria forever present in the world’s memory, and to show how we suffered and fought to survive, so that every man, every door you will unlock will have a story to tell.
I also did documentaries for the humanitarian cases from this refugees’ camp, and because of these investigations their lives changed.
Q: I saw one of your posts, saying you gave up photography, that you will not show anything anymore. Was it a moment of weakness?
A: Yes, it was a moment of weakness, a moment when I thought my work was useless. I got back on track and I realized my photos still need to show our life, the life of these people. I promised myself that as long as I breathe, I will keep alive the memory of these people.
Q: You are close to the kids, photographing them, how do they see the war? Are they still kids or their spirits become precociously mature?
A: I think they will be offended to be called kids. Their spirit matured with the first exploding bomb. What we see in their eyes can’t be put into words. Most kids work all day long to earn some money, to make sure they have even one meal. Lots of the little girls replaced the mothers, since they take care of their brothers, and are like mothers to them. Maybe they were born in the wrong place, at the wrong time!
Q: Considering the difficult situation over there, and now adding to it also the pandemics. How is this situation managed there? I saw in your photos kids who go to school and wear improvised masks. School is still on? Is there someone teaching these kids?
A: Yes, kids do go to school, but only some of them wear masks. Not many can afford to get a mask and change it every 5-6 hours. There are professors/teachers who are still coming to school, but most of them lack information about COVID-19.
Considering the difficult situation over there, hygiene means almost non-existent in the camp, wearing the mask can hardly make a difference. I was amazed by the desire of those kids who go to school, who found shelter there, who for several hours forget where they are…
Q: I would like you to choose 3 photos from all you made and whose story impressed you. Which would be those? We, our readers, remain speechless every time you post something and we do not always understand the story behind the image.
A: Yes, I actually love all my photos, all of them have a story. I will choose those whose story needs more telling.
This is a woman from Deir Ezzor who moved to the town of Amouda. Her husband talked about the luxury, carefree life they used to have in their town before the beginning of the war. He was talking about his house, how it looked before being bombed. While listening, my attention was caught by his wife who drowned in tears for everything that’s happening now; the life of hardships they had to face at this moment. They live in a place where no one should ever live.
This 10-year-old little girl miraculously survived the war. Her town, Deir Ezzor, was bombed and she lost everything. She managed to save only her doll, since it is her favorite doll although broken suffered as she did due to the war. It is just an example, because there are so many kids like her, kids who suffered due to the bombing from Deir Ezzor.
Hearing about these frequent bombings, I asked Ahmad if the town where he goes to faculty is safer. He answered no town is safer in Syria, and Turkey threatens to forcefully invade them, taking away their land, their identity.
Not a few times, me or even Ahmad, stopped because we couldn’t find our words, felt like the lump in the throat turned to tears. Everything is so unfair, so cruel, so “non-human”.
Suleiman is a child who moved from Margoda, who lives with his family in a tent at the Turkish border from Amoda and who has the Down Syndrome. He is 4 and his mother could not benefit from medical assistance to know whether the fetus was a girl or a boy, or that he had health problems. The mother had a huge shock when she gave birth and saw Suleiman.
In the beginning the parents gave up everything they had to do to care for Suleiman, to offer him a life as normal as possible. Two years later, due to this war, they had to move from their village and to return to Amouda to be welcomed by a miserable tent, and live helpless. Now they have been living in this tent for eight months. Suleiman needs assistance, but his parents have no means to provide it.
Q: Do you think the people who are seeing your photos understand the drama you are experiencing? I did notice that you get a lot of appreciation, is this enough for you?
A: There are people who appreciated my photos. Most of them offer moral support and, sometimes, material one for the camp refugees. Others might feel ashamed, might discover the truth and say: “You can’t make the voice of young men to be heard, to reach everyone, especially the ears of those who should.”
I have published the stories of these people since 2017, only on social networks, but this is not enough. Some stories are read by few, although they are important. Maybe their story should be published for a greater audience!
This is what I promised to Ahmad, that I will forward his message to the Romanian audience. Maybe somebody will send the message even further. Maybe someone with more authority will see beyond words, beyond photos and will be able to give him as well as to these refugees a drop of happiness.
Q: I see from your photos the way these people live. What do they do to have food each day?
A: Some of them help collect the plastics, others herd the flock of sheep. There are some who have their own flocks and do that for a living. These children, these people, work all day and get just 1$ a day, when their food alone is more than 4$.
Ahmad confessed to me that from his money, which is not much, many times buys food and toys for these little children left to fate. Every weekend he goes to visit his family, his parents and his little brother, because his other brothers have left for Europe. When I asked him if he will move to another country, he answered he did 2 years of faculty and has 3 more to go.
I didn’t come back to the question, because most of the time it is best to guess the answer from your interlocutor’s words. I can’t imagine how it would be to uproot yourself, how it would be to leave your country, to leave your parents, to leave the places where you were born.
Q: Considering the existence of this refugee camp at Al-Haska-Amouda, did any international organization such as UNICEF or Red Cross try to get in touch with someone over there?
A: I investigate/document the lives of almost one hundred families and see the difficulties they are facing. We have never been contacted by UNICEF or the Red Cross.
Q: Can these people still endure so much? Do you have any strength left?
A: Peace and safety should be restored as soon as possible. We’ve lost enough people and friends. Our rights and liberties were taken away. Our soul was ripped apart and we die every day a thousand times.
When we go to buy bread, we are surprised by an attack, just once. When we go for a gas cylinder for a fantastic amount of money, we die another time. When the power goes off on New Year’s Eve, we die another time. And last, when we see those ripped apart by pain, by war, those who live in poverty and homeless, we die a thousand times.
The story of Ahmad is heartbreaking. I wish we could do more for him and those little children. I started by sending his message through my blog. I also intend to get in touch with some organizations.
Thousands of Syrian mothers cannot sleep as they work in unsanitary places to keep their family alive in these difficult conditions.
A new phenomenon is sweeping the regions of northeastern Syria, wandering in waste. About 15 families wait for the garbage truck to arrive at 10 am to bring some leftovers to fill their hunger and collecting nylon material to sell, they also take clothes that are cut or not suitable for use and burn them instead of using fuel to warm themselves.
Some even take small pieces of fabrics which they cut from wedding dresses to sew their camp. This leads to the spread of cancer diseases significantly and very quickly, how long will we see thousands and thousands die in front of our eyes, how long will we remain with our arms folded and we cannot do anything for this group of people!?
How long will we fight to survive?