On September 2nd, 2015, Nilufer Demir captured an image that would change the world. The image was of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, lying in the sand on the shores of Greece. At the time, the civil war in Syria had been raging on for four years, forcing thousands to flee. Like many other families, Alan’s family made the decision to escape – this meant crossing dangerous, uncharted route over the sea to Greece. Alan, his brother Ghalib, and their mother Rihanna lost their lives when the boat they were on capsized. Only Alan’s father, Abdullah Kurdi survived.
The photo of Alan went viral, capturing hearts all across the world. Many artists redrew the photo, some placing angel’s wings on Alan and others drawing in a blanket and pillow. The revisions made in an attempt to turn an tragic event into something more hopeful.
Alan became a symbol for Syrian refugees and the children who had lost their lives trying to reach safety. Many countries pledged to provide aid and open their borders to refugees. The photo was a turning point in how the world reacted and perceived the civil war in Syria and Syrian refugees. To the world, this image represented the plight of individuals who are displaced by war and the desperation that drove Syrians to take life-threatening risks to get to safety.
To Abdullah Kurdi, the photo represented the day he lost his entire family. The grief that follows Abdullah every time Alan’s photo is displayed cannot be put into words. No one can truly understand the insurmountable pain that Abdullah feels except other Syrian parent’s themselves. Abdullah recalls that night stating, “I was holding my wife’s hand, but my children slipped through my hands. One by one, they died.” Through his grief, Abdullah has pledged his life to helping and serving refugees and even opened up a charity in remembrance of Alan.
Remembrance of Alan in the past few years has taken the form of photos, videos, social media, and most notably, poetry. Mohamed Hassan’s poem captures the grief and loss of losing Alan while advocating for the lives lost as a result of the civil war.
On September 2, 2021 — and every other day — it is important to remember Alan and the impact he made, and continues to have on so many lives. While Alan Kurdi is the symbol of Syrian refugees, we cannot forget what he truly represents: a boy, a son, a child that lost his life in the search for a new one.
I want to remember Alan as he would have been. This year Alan would have turned 9 years old. He would have a party with all his friends and family. The room would be filled with balloons and the sound of children’s laughter. He would be outside playing soccer, or climbing trees, or being reckless only as young boys can be. The time would come for him to cut his cake, and he would make a wish.
“Indeed we belong to Allah and indeed to Him we will return.” — Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:156