Aleppo man: The story behind the viral photograph symbolising six years of Syrian civil war

Photo of Mohammed Mohiedin Anis listening to music in his destroyed bedroom touches a chord around the world on eve of sixth anniversary of Syria’s civil war 

Wednesday 15 March 2017 11:09
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“Whenever I feel any kind of despair or surrender to [life’s] problems I will always recall this image,” AFP photographer Joseph Eid said
“Whenever I feel any kind of despair or surrender to [life’s] problems I will always recall this image,” AFP photographer Joseph Eid said

Weak spring sunlight enters Mohammed Mohiedin Anis’s Aleppo bedroom through windows missing their glass and broken shutters. Amid the rubble and dust, he sits on the edge of his bed, pipe in hand and legs crossed, listening to a record player.

The haunting portrait taken by AFP photographer Joseph Eid is as perfectly composed as a painting. It has commanded attention around the world since its publication on March 9 for encapsulating not just the destruction of Syria’s brutal civil war, but the Syrian people’s determination to soldier on despite their circumstances.

Mr Anis - also known as Abu Omar - was first interviewed in a moving story filed by AFP in early 2016, when he was living in a rebel-controlled neighbourhood of the city. Before the war he had been an enthusiastic collector of vintage cars. At one point he had 30 to his name, but as the conflict progressed and territory swapped hands between the government and rebels his collection was decimated.

Shocking images show Aleppo before and after the conflict

In December Aleppo fell completely back under government control after four and a half years of bitter fighting. AFP’s Beirut Bureau Chief Sammy Ketz and photographer Joseph Eid recently travelled to the city to document how residents such as 70-year-old Mr Anis were coping in the husk of what was once known as ‘the Jewel of Syria.’

After being directed to his home by locals, the two journalists found that one third of his prized cars have been stolen or destroyed in the recent fighting.

While Mr Anis showed them around his ruined home, he mentioned that his vinyl record player - which doesn’t need the patchy electricity supply to operate - was one of the things that brought him joy each day.

Settling in by lighting his pipe, he played traditional songs by one of his favourite Syrian singers, Mohamed Dia al-Din.

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“He is so attached to his past and to the things that he always cherished and loved, and without them he will lose his identity,” Eid told Time. “That’s why he insists on staying and getting back his life again.”

While the Syrian civil war is on the brink of entering its seventh year, it is far from over.

It is images such as these remind the wider world of the conditions Syrians still face, Eid says. “This picture touches the soul of the human being,” he said.

“Whenever I feel or will feel any kind of despair or surrender to [life’s] problems and obstacles I will always [recall] the image of Abu Omar smoking his pipe while sitting on his rubble covered broken bed and listening to his favourite music."

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