This child did not die but he’s become a tocsin for the tens of thousands who have and will continue to do so.
Five-year-old Omran Daqneesh sits in the seat of a volunteer ambulance, covered in a paste of gray ash, soot, and his own blood, his left eye nearly swollen shut. He stares listlessly at the camera as if unaware that he has just been pulled alive from the rubble of a building that was hit by a Syrian or Russian airstrike.
The video and photograph of Daqneesh’s narrow survival have gone viral, to use a rather obscene neologism of our hyper-mediated age, and even given way to a variety of memes, all meant to shame the United Nations, Barack Obama, and Vladimir Putin, much as Aylan Kurdi, the toddler who washed up a corpse on the shores of Antalya last year, was meant to shame them.
As one Syrian journalist wrote today, “Obama has said most of his gray hair came from his Syria meetings. Let’s hope Omran’s gray hair doesn’t add to the problem.”
Mustafa al-Sarout, a videographer for the Aleppo Media Center, an activist group which has been documenting the Syrian conflict since its earliest stages, filmed Daqneesh, then his three siblings, ages 1, 6, and 11. “I’ve seen so many children rescued out of the rubble, but this child, with his innocence, he had no clue what was going on,” al-Sarout told the Guardian today. “He put his hand on his face and saw blood. He didn’t know even what happened to him.”
Omran’s mother and father were also saved by local residents and the White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defense Forces, a local team of medical volunteers who have just been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Minutes after Daqneesh’s rescue the building he was in collapsed entirely, according to Raslan, who was interviewed by the Associated Press.
This is in the center of rebel-held territory in Aleppo, just southeast of its famous citadel and west of the Assad’s regime’s air base at the Aleppo International Airport; in other words, nowhere near the front lines of fighting.
The so-called Islamic State is not present here, nor is this area populated with large numbers of anti-Assad insurgents.
According to the AP, the bomb or bombs fell on Daqneesh’s house at 7:20 p.m., exactly one minute after sunset on Wednesday, when locals were inside their homes for evening prayers. Since sunrise and sunset are important data points for any pilot who is filing a flight plan, this attack was likely designed to maximize civilian casualties.
Al-Sarout, who filmed Omran for the Aleppo Media Center, notes Daqneesh is only unique for the iconography he now represents. According to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCC), a network of activists who have attempted to record the history of the Syrian crisis since peaceful protests began in March 2011, 83 people were killed across the country on Aug. 17, 21 of them children. According to the LCC, 38 people were killed yesterday in Aleppo alone.
The hospital where the Daqneesh children were all taken, which identifies itself only by code name because so many hospitals have been targeted by Russian and Syrian warplanes—purposefully, according to human-rights monitors—reported that eight people were killed, including five children in additional airstrikes in the Karm al-Qaterji neighborhood of Aleppo.
News anchors have teared up at the sight of a small child, battered like a rag doll, sitting in an oddly pristine orange chair.
Opposition and human-rights activists and journalists have done the customary handwringing of grief and frustration, coincidentally on the same day the Amnesty International has released a report about Assad’s torture-dungeons and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof lamented that a tweet about his dead dog got more sympathetic responses than his column about the death of nearly 500,000 in the Levant.
Like The Falling Soldier or the Burning Monk, this could become the face of the Syrian war. In the end, though, this image is unlikely do much to ameliorate the suffering of Aleppo, as world powers continue to wrangle in Switzerland over nonexistent “cease-fires” and shambolic “aid corridors.”