“There is no Hamid the photographer without the revolution. Hopefully there will still be one when the revolution ends.” These are the words of young award-winning Syrian photographer, Hamid Khatib, who joined the uprising in October 2011, after completing obligatory military service. With his camera, he has captured a generation of young people who took to the streets, surprising older generations by asking the impossible.
Children and war
Like many other Syrians, Hamid Khatib, 23, describes himself as “reborn after the uprising” in an interview with Syria Untold.
He started recording videos of demonstrations and filming the repression of protesters by regime forces. He soon switched to photos. His picture “Rebel boy makes weapon” was chosen by Reuters as one of the best news photos of 2013. Since then, he has worked for the agency, capturing moments of destruction, hope, despair, loss and daily life in Syria.
The award-winning photo shows a 10-year-old boy, Issa, carrying a mortar shell in a weapons factory of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo.
“I had wanted to capture the effects of war on children for a while”, he explained. “I thought I would make a series with different children, but when I met Issa and his father I was struck by their story and could not stop focusing on it.”
“Issa works with his father at the weapons factory for 10 hours a day, every day, except Fridays. His story has come to mean a lot to me, on a personal level,” says Khatib.
“The situation in Syria is out of a journalist's control”, he says. “You can only adjust yourself to evolving events on the ground. But I personally prefer portraying daily life in the country, and the side effects of war on people.”
A journey of death and love
Born in Aleppo in 1990, Khatib began covering the uprising around the time it became militarized. After his own military service, he moved to the United Arab Emirates for work, but soon traveled back to Aleppo incognito. “I wanted to show the world what the Syrian regime's state of terror was really like,” he says.
These past years he has not only encountered death and destruction. He has found love too. He fell in love with Nour Kelze, a former elementary school teacher who became a Reuters photographer in 2012 after taking pictures with her cell phone. The two are now married.
Nour and Hamid work hand in hand in Aleppo, and they have been on the brink of death several times.
Nour was recently wounded while photographing the Sheikh Said district. “I was standing on the exact same spot, but she asked me to change places with her to take a few photos”, Hamid explained. “She is very strong and is not afraid of anything. Suddenly, I heard the shelling, and saw smoke coming out from everywhere. I couldn’t think of anything but Nour, 'Where is Nour…?'” He heard her voice calling him, and took her to a field hospital. She was wounded on her left foot and suffered shrapnel wounds to her hands.
“I was standing on that same spot, but she asked me to change places with her, to take a few photos from there”, Hamid explained. “She is very strong and is not afraid of anything. Suddenly, I heard the shelling, and saw smoke coming out from everywhere, and could not think of anything but Nour, 'Where is Nour…?'” He heard her voice calling him, and took her to a field hospital. She was wounded on her left foot and suffered shrapnel wounds to her hands.
On another occasion, Hamid witnessed shelling by the regime during one of the many demonstrations he attended in Bustan al-Qasr, a town well-known for turning wedding celebrations into massive demonstrations for freedom.
Bustan al-Qasr made headlines in international media in January 2013, when dozens of men who had disappeared at regime checkpoints were discovered on the Queiq river, all shot in the head with their hands bound with plastic ties behind their back.
“Most of the people protesting next to me were wounded or killed in that demonstration, but I survived,” Hamid said.
He also once had a brush with death on his first day back in three years to his hometown, Azaz, in northern Aleppo. All his relatives - five whole families- shared a two-storey house. He awoke with the sound of shelling and ran downstairs to see if the women and children had survived. He found them, crying in fear that the men upstairs had been killed.
The missiles kept falling. Around 150 neighbors were killed in Azaz that night, and 40 houses were turned to rubble.
Death has been merciful to Hamid, but not to friends and colleagues such as Molhem Barakat, an 18-year-old photographer who was killed on December 20 while covering a battle for a hospital in Aleppo.
Hamid says he is committed to continuing his work, in order to honor Molhem and all the other martyrs who lost their lives for a better Syria.