Cengiz Yar Jr. – The Young Men of the Free Syrian Army
“The frontlines of the Syrian Civil War trace through alleys and ancient streets in the old city of Aleppo. Defending these lines are young men, many of them teenagers, carrying Ak-47’s and homemade grenades. They have no military training and will not wear body armor for fear of delaying the time appointed for them by Allah. They are kids and recent college graduates who took up arms for their country and, most of all, for revenge. All have lost friends and family to the Assad regime. These young men are warm-hearted and hospitable, but daily burdened and degraded by the fighting. Every fighter had a different story that brought him to Aleppo and this project attempts to convey those stories in the honest, personal, and human way they were first told.”
Muhammed (Nickname: “Doctor”) – 19
Muhammad was a student of computer technology, but had to suspend his studiesbecause of the war. He fights for a Free Syria because he was thrown in prison and tortured after protesting against Assad, and because his house was hit destroyed by a mortar. After Syria returns to peace he hopes to finish his studies and maybe work in the new Syrian Army to rebuild the country. “What the people want will be. Injustice will not stay.”
Abu Abbas Mokmood – 19
With four years remaining in his engineering studies, Abu Abbas joined the Free Syrian Army in the fight against Assad. He fights for the freedom and liberty of Syrian people, who he feels have been too long living under the oppression of Assad’s government. He knows too many people from the cities of Mara and Idlib that have died; some from bullets, others mortars, and others jets. When the war is over he hopes to continue his studies.
Abu Abdula – Age Unknown
Abu is fighting for his family, and for Syrian soil. He thinks Bashar Assad and his government are terrible for the people of Syria and the nation’s future. He is spurred to continue fighting because of how Assad and his forces have killed Syria’s Muslims and defile the mosques they occupy with sexual intercourse and the consumption of alcohol.
Ali – 18
Ali’s twenty-one year old brother was killed early in the war. Ali fights for Jihad because “there is no god but Allah.”
Makmood – 19
Before the war Makmood worked with metal, in construction, and sold cars. He fights in the FSA for the defense of Islam. Recently injured by a mortar landing in his house, and because of this Makmood now has a piece of shrapnel in his torso and his finger is badly infected. He speaks very little English, but wants move to America someday. However, his expectations are tempered by the reality of daily life in Aleppo; on moving to America, Makmood remarked calmly “maybe after the war, I won’t be alive.”
[Name withheld] – 20
Before the war, he worked in a big tech company. He’s fighting against injustice and is on Jihad. After the war he wants to take back the Golan Heights.
Muhammad (Nickname: “Hammer”) – 19
Muhammad fought with regime forces for a mere three months before defecting in August. He says he left because he was treated poorly. He now fights with the Free Syrian Army on Jihad.
Abraham – 20
Abraham still lives in Al Bab and travels to the city for brief periods of times to fight alongside his friends in the Free Syrian Army. He joined the resistance because life was oppressive and unaffordable for people in his city before the war. He is upset that so many Syrians are political prisoners, and wants to topple the regime of Bashar Assad for himself and his family.
Cengiz Yar Jr is a documentary photographer and freelance photojournalist based in Chicago. His photography focuses on human conflicts, both violent and peaceful, and aims to encourage understanding by fostering interest and making the alien familiar. He is a graduate from Saint Louis University’s John Cook School of Business, an Ambassador for the Matador Network, a founding member of the Frontline Freelancer Registry, and RISC certified. He was recently awarded a 2013 NPPA Short Grant for his project on violence in Chicago. You can view more of his work on his site at www.cengizyarjr.com and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.