For True North Photo Journal

Memories Undone: Victims of Syria's War On Nov. 2015, 9-year-old Basil Al Riyabi was struck by a landmine that cost him both his legs, his left hand and left eye.

      “I didn’t know it was a mine, so I started playing with it and it exploded. 
      All my friends died” said Basil, as he sat on his bed at a rehabilitation 
      centre in Amman, Jordan."

When I first saw Basil, he was running across the hallway on his amputated legs, talking and playing with his adult friends. He was shy and was hesitant to speak with me. It took me few visits before Basil felt comfortable telling his story. He sat on his bed with his shorts and striped T-shirt next to his friend, Ibrahim, 13, whose leg was damaged after the bunker he was hiding in was struck by a rocket. Soon after, he fled Syria for Jordan.

What's so surprising is how much these two young children knew about weapons: Basil could distinguish different types of rockets, bullets and the materials necessary to make barrel bombs. He even knew which ones are Russian made and which ones are not. When he made a mistake, Ibrahim would correct him. I’ve never heard of a barrel bomb before the Syrian civil war. I’m not even sure when it was manufactured. But the idea of compressing explosives, fuel, irregular shaped steel fragments, shrapnel, chemicals and oil into a cylinder and then dropping it from a plane on heavily populated areas just seemed so unimaginable. Civilians have a mere 10 seconds to run or hide. But when you don’t know where it’s coming from, you just have to sit and wait and hope that you don’t die.

For me, It was truly a moment of shock when I realized to what extent weaponry is designed by manufacturing companies to kill and destroy in the most inhumane and horrific ways. Governments and arms companies make billions of dollars every year out of warfare to sell their inventions to both sides of the conflict to make as much money as possible. I’m left wondering how those individuals, who are creating these incredibly destructive weapons, can sleep at night.

In the end, what we are left with are collective and individual stories of death, destruction, murder and irreversible damage, with no government, corporation or individual that is made accountable for these tragedies.

Memories Undone is a collection of stories from the children and adults I met at the rehabilitation centre, recollecting the moment they were hit— and the weapon that struck them.

Link to story

Mohammad Fahd

Age 20

Weapon Land Mine

Purpose An explosive device hidden or concealed under or on the ground and it's designed to destroy or disable. A landmine is detonated automatically by way of pressure when a person or object steps on it or drives over it.

“I was on my way to the bakery to buy bread with my father and sister when I stepped on a land mine. My father and sister were killed instantly. I was 18.”

Mahammad paid an equivalent of $20,000 to be smuggled with his mother out of Syria to Jordan. He passed through 13 checkpoints while injured.

“ I want to go anywhere. Europe, Canada.

I need to get out of here because one day 

I would like to have a family. ”

Ibrahim Sarhan

Age 13

Weapon BM-30 Smerch

Purpose The BM-30 Smerch is a heavy multiple rocket launcher and one of the deadliest artillery rocket system. A full salvo of a single launcher covers an area of up to 67 hectares. Sometimes the Smerch is even referred to as a weapon of mass destruction, as its rockets with cluster anti-personnel submunitions destroy every living creature.

"The first time I saw a rocket I was 7 and I was watching TV. It was really scary. The day I was hit we were under siege. I was with my family, my sister, my three brothers, my mother and father and all my uncles in an underground bunker. I heard the first rocket, then the second and the third. After the sixth one I heard a whistling sound and then I was unconscious. When I woke up, My father told me that my mother, sisters and two of my brothers and my uncles are all dead.

I was 9."

“ It was the worst day of my life.

The most I cried is when I lost

my father at the Syrian Jordanian border. ”

As Ibrahim and his father were making their way to Jordan for medical assistance, they got separated, only to be reunited days later at the border. Ibrahim refused to enter Jordan without his father. He was taken care of by a border military personnel until his father arrived at the border.

Ibrahim and his father were amongst the 25000 Syrian refugees who were resulted in Canada in 2015. 

Basil AL Riyabi

Age 9

Weapon Land Mine

Purpose An explosive device hidden or concealed under or on the ground and it's designed to destroy or disable. A landmine is detonated automatically by way of pressure when a person or object steps on it or drives over it. 

“I was playing with my friends outside our house. I didn’t know it was a mine, so I started playing with it and it exploded. All my friends died. I felt I was flying from the explosion and suddenly I didn’t see anything. It went completely black. When I woke up in the hospital and I looked I couldn’t see my legs. It was the most ugliest moment of my life. I felt suddenly my heart stopped from the shock.”

Basil's mother was not able to travel with him to Jordan for treatment because she had to stay with his younger siblings back in Syria.

“ All I want is to see my mom.

I may die before I’m 10 years old. ”

Ala’a Al Shar’a

Age 15

Weapon Mortar Shell

Purpose An indirect fire weapon, a mortar is used to fire the explosive shell at low velocities and short ranges. They are often used by insurgents to terrorize civilians and are launched indiscriminately. Mortar shells killed 17 children and injured approximately 50 people in an attack on an educational complex in Damascus April 29, 2014, according to Human Rights Watch.

“I was sitting with my uncle at home, when a mortar shell exploded next to our house. My brother was hit in the leg. My Uncle was hit in the head, chest and legs. Thankfully they didn’t die. I got shrapnels in my face. My father is a doctor. Everybody knew that my father was treating injured people so they used to come to our house first before going to field hospitals. We ahd a mosque next to our house and my father and my sister used to make food for people in the mosque. He used to tell us to go so we don’t see injured and dead people. My mom passed away when a missile hit the mosque we were hiding in after our house was destroyed.”

Ala’a and her family were under siege for three years before fleeing their hometown of Tall Sh-hab. They walked for days to reach Lebanon going through land mine areas, and another three days to reach Jordan.

“ When I saw my uncle come through

our font door after three years.

I cried. I cried a lot. ”

Sulaiman Mohammad

Age 26

Weapon Sniper Rifle

Purpose As well as being trained to kill with one shot, snipers are also trained to shoot for the central nervous system to paralyze instantly. The rifle is a high powered precision rifle that is used to destroy humans at an extended ranges with aimed fire, and with as few ammunition as possible.

“I was fighting with the Free Syrian Army for four years when I was shot. I saw one of my men fall from a hit, so I decided to help him out. I asked one of the five guys with us to cover me. So I ran and I put him on my shoulders. As I was running I was shot with a sniper in my neck. We both fell to the ground. The bullet went straight into my spinal chord. I was lying unable to move for an hour before I was rescued.”

Sulaiman was a sports teacher in the army before he defected a year after the war erupted. 

“ I lost three of my brothers to the war. 

I saw children killed, people shot, and women raped. 

In one day I saw 200 people die. ”

Umm Saleh

Age 40

Weapon Katyusha Rocket Launcher

Purpose Russian meant to able to deliver a large blow of rockets all at once.

“I was sitting in my house, I heard a loud noise and a rocket went straight through our house into the bathroom. I was thrown out of my chair and all I could hear are screams. Then I was unconscious. When I woke up I heard my 13 year old daughter screaming and my husband crying. Our neighbors and relatives were in our house because they thought it was safe. I was bleeding so much blood, glass everywhere, and dead people. we couldn’t leave the house to get help, it was very dangerous. My husband lost 5 sisters and suffered from shrapnels in his stomach. I suffered full paralysis. The doctors told me my spinal chord was cut.”

Umm Saleh’s husband is diabetic and was not able to travel with her to Jordan. He is in Syria with her three children with many ailments due to lack of access to insulin. 

“ All I want is to see my children

again and I can’t.”

Salam Al Jundi

Age 14

Weapon Barrel Bomb

Purpose A cylindrical container or an oil barrel filled with high-powered explosives, fuel and irregular shaped steel fragments, shrapnel, and sometimes chemicals or oil, and then dropped from a helicopter or airplane.

It's often known as Improvised Explosive Device (IED), mainly because of the massive amount of explosives in them. Their inaccuracy and indiscriminate use in populated civilian areas is devastating. Civilians have 40 seconds to run or hide before it hits the ground. But without knowing where it's going to land, all they can do is sit and wait. Barrel bombs are categorized as weapons of terror and illegal under international laws. In the first three months of 2015, Barrel bombs killed at least 3, 124 civilians according to Al Jazeera news.

“I was walking with my brother and cousin to buy food when we were hit by a barrel bomb. There was no time to run or hide. A nearby car exploded and landed on my brother. He survived but suffered a broken pelvis and shrapnels to the head and body. My cousin was hit by shrapnels that caused her intestines to drop out of her body and died instantly. I was 11.”

“ I didn’t feel it when I dropped to the

ground. The last thing I remember

i was standing on my two feet.”

Haitham Yousef

Age 23

Weapon Kalashnikov

Purpose A semi-automatic and automatic assault rifle based on the original design of Mikhail Kalashnikov. It’s a dominant weapon amongst armies and individuals due to the simplicity of it's design.

“I used to be an accounting student at university and I decided to join the Free Syrian Army when I got out of prison the second time. I was imprisoned in 2013 and 2014. A month after I joined, I was shot in the neck. The bullet went through my spinal chord and out of my chest creating a hole in my lung. I suffered paralysis from the neck down. I started getting better with physiotherapy, but because I was in bed for a long time, I started developing blisters on my legs. And then I got gangrene. I tried to save my legs for eight months but the doctors warned me that the virus could spread to the blood. So I had to amputate.”

“ I was constantly beaten up. They just

wanted to humiliate and break me

because I’m a young man. They didn’t

know all that beating created anger.

I was no longer afraid to die. ”

Mohammad Maleeha

Age 29

Weapon R.I.P Bullet

Purpose This Radically Invasive Projectile (RIP) bullet is designed to explode inside the body ravaging tissues in all directions. 

"I was hit by a sniper in the spine with 2 bullets. The first one damaged my spinal chord. The second exploded in my intestines damaging everything inside and causing all my insides to explode out of my body. Before joining FSA I was imprisoned and tortured for a whole year. So I decided to fight after that. I used to work in construction before prison."

“  If I don’t fight for my honor, my

family and my neighbours,

What good is my life. ”

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