February 25—May 22, 2014
In 2011-12 Syrian security forces used tanks, gunfire and mass arrests to try to crush anti-government street protests inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. These protests rapidly took on a more formal nature when the opposition began to organize political and military wings for a long uprising against the Baath government headed by President Bashar al-Assad. As 2012 wore on, the standoff escalated into civil war, with defections from the governing elite signaling the steady collapse of central authority. Latest figures estimate the death toll at over 140,000 people, with a third of them being civilians. There are an estimated 6.5 million internally displaced persons within Syria and 2.4 million Syrians refugees displaced to neighboring countries.
Jonathan Alpeyrie was on his third trip to Syria covering an area near Damascus not well known to the general public when, on April 29, 2013, he fell into a trap and was abducted. During his 81 days of captivity, he was, at times, handcuffed to a bed “with five or six soldiers and two Islamists.” In his account told to Le Journal de la Photographie Alpeyrie does not say much about his release since “the French and American governments prefer it that way.”
He was freed, thanks to “a Syrian man close to the regime, a member of parliament and a businessman who was looking for Edouard Elias and Didier François (two French journalists who went missing in Syria on June 7th) who stumbled upon me.” The businessman paid a $450,000 ransom to free Alpeyrie on July 18th. “My kidnapping was about money,” he says. “As soon as they got what they wanted, they let me go.”
Alpeyrie notes the tendency in the West to root for the under dog. The few professional photographs that have come out of Syria’s battle zone show muddy desperate fighters, carrying a mixture of light weapons against entire tank battalions, holding on to a few cities like Idlib. These visuals support the portrayal of this grim affair the way we understand it: a losing battle. Alpeyrie asks if Syria will be more democratic if the rebels win? The examples of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia suggest otherwise. In Tunisia, the conservative Ennhada party won, Egypt is poised to have the Muslim Brotherhood in power, and Libya is already embroiled in ethnic fighting amongst the victors: there is no reason to think it would be different in Syria.