Award-winning photo shows a 5-year-old Syrian child, born without arms and legs, smiling with his father who lost a leg during the war in Syria | PHOTO: Sipa press office /ANSA
Award-winning photo shows a 5-year-old Syrian child, born without arms and legs, smiling with his father who lost a leg during the war in Syria | PHOTO: Sipa press office /ANSA

A five-year-old Syrian boy who was born without limbs is portrayed smiling at his father, who has lost a leg, in a photo that is a symbol of the tragic conflict in Syria. The picture of the refugee father and son, shot by Turkish photographer Mehmet Aslan, has won the Siena International Photo Awards (SIPA) 2021.

The tragedy of war and a smile that cancels its horror in an instant. Munzir al-Nazzal, a father who lost his leg in the Syrian conflict, holds his son Mustafa, born without limbs, in a picture by Turkish photographer Mehmet Aslan which has won the 'photo of the year' prize at the Siena International Photo Awards 2021.

The pair smile as they look at one another, the picture of happiness despite the decade-long drama around them --the spiral of violence and blood that appears endless. The photo has been published by newspapers around the world, including the Washington Post on October 23.

"We wanted to bring attention to this [situation]," said Aslan, who hopes the photo will help the child's quest for prosthetics.

A drama within the drama

The five-year-old's family fled Syria three years ago. They are now living in southern Turkey near the Syrian border, like hundreds of thousands of other refugees. Mustafa was born without limbs, a "consequence of the medicines his mother took during her pregnancy after she inhaled gas" during fighting in the region of Idlib, the family said.

Her son needs permanent treatment and special electronic prosthetic limbs. "I swear, I visited every hospital, every village" in Turkey "but I haven't obtained anything", said his father Munzir, who worries more about his son's happiness than his own missing limb.

"The picture has reached the world", the boy's mother, Zeinab, was quoted as saying by the Washington Post. "We've tried for years to get our voices heard by anyone who would listen, to help with his treatment. We'd give anything to give him a better life."

While his parents talked to reporters in a store that is now their home, Mustafa smiles as he rolls on the carpet until his sister picks him up and places him on a couch. "He has great strength", the photographer Aslan said.

UNICEF says photo should raise awareness

"It is painful to be forced once again to comment on a photo of a tragedy that is not over -- the war in Syria", stressed Andrea Iacomini, the spokesman of UNICEF Italia.

"That picture is touring the world, we only hope we won't have to deal with yet another instance of intermittent indignation. Like the dramatic [picture] of Aylan [Kurdi], we hope this photo will awaken the conscience of world leaders," he said, referring to the Syrian child who drowned in a shipwreck and was later found on a Turkish beach.

Iacomini went on to say that "the drama within the drama are children with serious disabilities who represent the weakest in conflicts. Yet that image is also an ode to life, a smile in spite of the pain" that affects the existence of those people and of millions of others.

Meanwhile in Syria weapons continue to kill, wound and mutilate.Since 2011, when an uprising against the regime of Bashar al Assad began in Daraa, over 350,000 deaths have been registered by the UN and 13 million have been displaced by the violence, including over 6 million abroad.


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