The image that has taken the Internet by storm in the last 24 hours is one that embodies the Syrian Civil War in its entirety. It is the image of a young boy, seated in an ambulance, looking out at the world with eyes that have already seen too much.
In the haunting photo, the boy — Omran Daqneesh — has just been rescued after a Russian airstrike targeted the neighborhood of al Qaterchi in Aleppo on Wednesday.
Aleppo, once a thriving city, has been exposed to horrific violence and killings in the war.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and as reported by CNN, more than 18,000 civilians have been killed in what was once Syria’s largest city. 4,557 of these civilians were children under the age of 18.
The video of Omran’s rescue, which has now made its rounds on social media, was posted by the Aleppo Media Center (AMC), and shows a civil defense worker removing Omran from the rubble and placing him inside the ambulance, where he sits, alone and silent in a state of paralyzing shock.
It is difficult to surmise Omran’s age. He is covered in dust and one side of his face is bloodied, his left eye almost swollen shut. He can’t be more than four or five years old, and yet the expression on his face is not one befitting a child. He is stoic, and still. He is calm even in the wake of the nightmare that he has been forced to endure, and in his eyes there is resignation.
What world is this where a child can fall asleep in his bed at night, only to wake up to find that his house has crumbled to ashes? Where is the justice in having your mother’s voice become lost in the aftermath of an echoing explosion?
It’s heartbreaking to see such a passive gaze on a child. It’s heartbreaking, and painful, knowing that Omran has still not had the opportunity to be afraid, to react to this new reality that has been thrust upon him. He is dazed and entrapped in a state of shock, too stunned to even shed a tear.
Omran’s image has been one of few that has caught our attention, but I can’t help but wonder: How many? How many Syrian children are pulled from the remnants of their homes each day, clutching onto their rescuers in distress?
How many children have miraculously survived, only to find themselves suddenly without families, alone in a world where the skies are now forever dark? How many children are buried under rubble and overlooked because, like Omran, they are silent, and too shaken to cry?
Omran’s image is one that will stay with us now, ingrained in our mind’s eye whenever we think of Syria. But his rescue — while upsetting — is still somehow a happy instance for Aleppo, a city that has lost far too many of her children.
Omran is a reminder that, while it may not surface, hope is still alive somewhere in Aleppo — perhaps submerged deep down in the earth and silent, waiting for its own salvation.