Syrian Resilience, A Portrait.

I photographed Syrian farmer Mohammed Darwish in late 2009 while on assignment for the Financial Times, this was three years after the worst drought for nine hundred years and two years before the beginning of the current Syrian war.

Mohammed was forced to leave his farm in Hasekeh in the north east of the country after successive crop failures, over the course of the drought hundreds of thousands of other Syrian farmers were forced to migrate south to the cities which were often already overcrowded with refugees from the war in neighboring Iraq.

How much the drought impacted the war is open to debate but there must be little doubt that socio economic factors must have contributed, the war has touched every segment of Syrian society but the poorest needless to say suffer most, millions of refugees in the camps of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are from the most vulnerable communities.

Mohammed was determined to continue working the harsh Syrian steppe and resist migrating to the city, we found him tending a flock of sheep on a narrow strip of land currently under Syrian government control but sandwiched between the deluded forces of the Islamic State to the east and west.

Needless to say I have no idea how or where Mohammed is now, like so many Syrians I met and photographed over the years, I do though smile when I remember him asking if I was going to take a thousand pictures and when we asked if he had anything waiting for him back in Hasakeh he replied only an old mattress, but you can’t eat a mattress he said and drew heavily on his cigarette.

My fingers were freezing as I fired off the thousandth frame but I wanted to capture the resilience etched in Mohammed’s face.


I lived the first two and half years of the current Syrian crisis, read more from my  Damascus Diaries here: Damascus The Beginning of the End




97 thoughts on “Syrian Resilience, A Portrait.

  1. A beautiful capture ~ the spirit of Syria, a very rare look into resilience and the beauty of human nature. Enjoyed your writing too, a perfect match you the backstory of this portrait.

  2. Thanks you John, it reminded me of those lovely trips we used to make in spring from Baghdad to that land between the two rivers south of Mosul. I can picture the lovely flowers as in monet’s poppies. My Grand Father used to meet his team of shepherds who cared for his sheep. They used to follow the rain between Syria and Iraq. He had a large Bedouin tent, smoked Hubble-bubble and wear a hand made coat made from sheep skin. At dawn you hear the lambs calling heir mums after the Bedouin milk them. We had a breakfast of a lovely fresh yogurt with a choice honey and date syrup.

    1. Thank you so much for this beautiful comment, sorry I didn’t reply earlier.
      That part of Iraq and near by Syria is lovely, I have been.
      I spent many beautiful days with Syrian Bedouin, the Labneh was the best I have ever tasted and cheese. Those sheep skin coats were so heavy, I was given one to wear one cold night, I could hardly stand, always meant to buy one in Souk Hamadiyya but didn’t quite get around to it.
      I really hope to return soon to Iraq.
      Take care

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    1. Thank you Anna
      Yes so sad, not many good neighbors it may seem although despite everything I often touched by the compassion of those who make an effort to understand, help and inspire as much as the absolute resilience of those caught uninvited in the turmoil.
      Thank you again.

    1. Thank you Mozer for dropping by nd taking the time to read and comment.
      You clearly are no stranger to troubled times yourself.I hope I can shed more light on this part of the world and its problems-for the most part misunderstood.
      Its a long time now since I had the good fortune to visit your city and look forward to the time I can return.

      1. I hope to see you here in Jerusalem and I’m sure you’ll have plenty of good shots and the way you do it you’ll have many amazing stories to tell.

  6. Its breathtaking!! It touches your heart … Like his response to what he left behind in Syria?? I remember leaving behind my toys/coffee mugs/teddy bears … And there are times when I wish I could go back to them. Sadly, the situation has changed beyond salvage and the world has gone beyond help. Lovely work though

  7. There is something about that perfect capture–the image that makes it worth taking a thousand frames to capture the soul in a moment of time. How lucky we are that digital photography allows for a thousand and one ways to snap that moment. (The only downside being, the editing of a thousand shots could take an additional lifetime.)

  8. Yes we mourned for them for a day or two and yes our hearts clenched when we heard of the brutalities but then after some time elapsed we became desensitized. We go on perfroming our mindane tasks; we forget that while our lives are nothing less than picture perfect there are others who plead for a single morsel of food, who would sell their souls to the devil on exchange for the safety of their children. We need more posts like these to keep reminding us of the suffering and to keep us motivated to fight for those who are in dire need of help

  9. The picture captures the struggles of a war torn country. Nice article. We tend to watch the news and bitch about the clusterfuck that’s happening in the middle east. Your photo and article shatters the way the rest of the world see the region.

  10. Pingback: Syrian Resilience, A Portrait. by Michelle W. – Welcome to my online library! Your one-stop source for information and entertainment!

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