Three Faces of the Syrian Civil War

The iconic faces of the Syrian Civil War.

Every war and major historical event since the invention of the camera has its iconic image that captures what is taking place for history. These are the images that stop us in our tracks and even when we see them years later, we remember what was going on at that time. The Syrian Civil War has been ongoing since 2011 and has had three such images. There are images of bombed-out cities, barrel bombs falling from the sky, parents running for their lives with their children in their arms. But the images that speak specifically to the Syrian Civil War are all images of children. As such, they demonstrate the incredible depravity of this ongoing war and the scale of victimization.

A picture taken on February 20, 2018 shows a Russian-made Syrian army attack helicopter dropping a payload over the rebel-held town of Arbin, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. / AFP PHOTO / Amer ALMOHIBANY (Photo credit should read AMER ALMOHIBANY/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians walk past destroyed buildings in Arbin in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta on February 25, 2018.
New regime air strikes and heavy clashes shook Syria’s rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta despite a UN demand for a ceasefire to end one of the most ferocious assaults of Syria’s civil war. / AFP PHOTO / ABDULMONAM EASSA (Photo credit should read ABDULMONAM EASSA/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT – Smoke billows following a regime air strike on the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, late on February 23, 2018.
Syrian regime air strikes and artillery fire hit the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta for a sixth straight day killing 32 civilians, as the world struggled to reach a deal to stop the carnage. / AFP PHOTO / Ammar SULEIMAN (Photo credit should read AMMAR SULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian man carries an infant rescued from the rubble of buildings following government bombing in the rebel-held town of Hamouria, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on February 19, 2018.
Heavy Syrian bombardment killed 44 civilians in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, as regime forces appeared to prepare for an imminent ground assault. / AFP PHOTO / ABDULMONAM EASSA (Photo credit should read ABDULMONAM EASSA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian opposition fighter from the Failaq al-Rahman brigade walks past damaged buildings on the frontline in the rebel-held enclave of Arbin in the Eastern Ghouta near Damascus on February 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / ABDULMONAM EASSA (Photo credit should read ABDULMONAM EASSA/AFP/Getty Images)

Alan Kurdi – Face of the Syrian Civil War

faces of the syrian civil war
Alan Kurdi’s body washed ashore in 2015 after his family of refugees tried to escape Syria.

In September 2015 a young Kurdish family boarded an inflatable raft on the coast of Turkey. They were aiming for Europe and then to Canada where they had family. They were part of an exodus of millions of refugees fleeing Syria, ISIS, Assad…the list was growing longer. The Kurdi family did not get far. Their raft upended in the Mediterranean Sea. The mother of the family drowned with her two children.


We may never have heard of the Kurdi family. They probably would have been swallowed up as a single statistic of the refugee crisis, except little 3-year-old Alan’s body washed up ashore on the Greek island of Kos. The world was startled by the human cost of the refugee crisis that was somehow being largely ignored up to that point.

Omran Daqneesh – Face of the Syrian Civil War

He was featured in many end of the year videos in 2016. The traumatized expression of Omran Daqneesh, blank, wounded, soaking it all in without responding. We were getting a peek at the young generation who were living through, but not surviving the Syrian Civil War

Omran lived with his family in Aleppo. When the rebels took over Aleppo they stayed in their homes, leading many to believe they were on the side of the resistance. When these images first appeared members of the media sought out Omran’s father to learn their story and their background. He was uncooperative. He did not want his son to become a tool in the media campaigns of either side.

One year later a happy, smiling Omgran Daqneesh was found in a new advertising campaign of the Assad regime. No one knows which side his family is on and our need to know begs the question, why does it matter. This is the story of a father trying to protect his family in the middle of an impossible situation.

Riham al-Abdallah – Face of the Syrian Civil War

Faces of the Syrian Civil War
Riham al-Abdallah tries to rescue her infant sister while their father looks on in horror.

The most recent image of the Syrian Civil War arrived this week. Again, it was a child. Again, it was a victim. This image took shape in the fighting in Idlib Province. The fighting here is growing more intense by the day.

After an airstrike hit the building they live in, five-year-old Riham al-Abdallah and her sister were caught in the collapsing rubble. The photographer who captured this image could not see them at first due to all the dust and debris in the air following the airstrike. The sound of the father screaming as he tried to locate his children alerted the photographer to their location.

As the dust cleared, little Riham could be seen trying to rescue her sister. She is holding the infant sister by her green shirt. The father is out of reach, screaming.

The photographer helped rescue the girls and took them to the nearest hospital. Riham al-Abdallah is reported to have died there. Her infant sister is still in intensive care.

Yesterday Riham al-Abdallah was one of ten civilians, one of three children, killed by airstrikes in Idlib. These are the faces of the Syrian Civil War.

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JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at