Children at war: the faces of Syria's lost generation

The war in Syria has changed so much. The loss of innocence, the phrase so often used to lament the effect of war on the young, has affected the whole country. What was, just two years ago, one of the safest countries in the Middle East is now a war zone. No part of Syria is untouched by violence. As these photographs from Dimitar Dilkoff show, children have been dragged to the front line and the experience of war has escaped few.

It is in these photographs that we see the truth of the Syrian conflict. These are not the terrorists and foreigners of Bashar Al Assad’s fiction. These are the boys and girls of the country, the future men and women of Syria, now begging, fighting, hiding, and surviving, merely for demanding the right to live in freedom.

These are the children of Syria’s war. Boys and girls who cannot go to school, cannot play in the streets safely, cannot live a normal life. These are children who are now breadwinners, whose fathers are dead or vanished, who hear their mothers mourn in the dark hours of the night, children who can no longer remember the voices of their dead friends. It is they who must line up, small elbows jostling, in the filth of refugee camps, edging forward in never-ending lines to bring food and water back to their families, or dodge the snipers and the sadists of Assad's armies to buy bread from the few bakeries the regime has not bombed.

What makes these images so heart-breaking is how old these children look. In their faces is written the pain of the last two years of the revolution, the terrifying reality of children becoming adults, brutalised into maturity, seeing things no adults should see and feeling things no child should know.

These are the faces of a lost generation. The faces of the millions who have fled Syria or fled their homes for safe haven within their former country, boys and girls whose entire childhoods have been swept away by, as the war poet Wilfred Owen wrote, the monstrous anger of the guns.

* Faisal Al Yafai, opinion writer for The National


Photo edit and sequencing by photo editor, James O'Hara