Umit's Feed
Apr 27, 2012
via Photographers' Blog

Dreams of their Syrian homes

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By Umit Bektas

Only a half hour’s walk from the hundreds of tents lined up in the camp would take them to the banks of the Orontes River, the natural boundary between Turkey and Syria. When they cross the river they would be back in the land where they were born and grew up, among the people speaking the same language – their homeland. From the border it is only a short journey to their town or village and their own homes. Yes, the distance is short but what keeps children away from their homes is not always distance. Sometimes it is politics and the conflicts born of politics. And it is precisely this strife that forces the children to live a life in tents in bleak territory. There are reasons behind all conflicts, they have their antagonists, those in the right and those in the wrong, the strong and the weak. Who is right and who is wrong may change according to everyone’s way of thinking but there can be no doubt that the most innocent and the most vulnerable victims of all conflicts are the children.

A small number of the millions of displaced children who have fled fighting around the world are the Syrian children who have found refuge at the Boynuyogun refugee camp in Turkey’s southern Antakya province. Hundreds of them now live with their families in the identical tents pitched in the camp. The Turkish administrators of the camp provide food, clothing, shelter and medical care for the refugees. An important part of life which these children miss now that they are away from home is of course their schools. Because no one can predict how long they will have to stay in this camp, Arabic-speaking Turkish teachers have been assigned to conduct classes for them. These teachers have grouped the children into age groups and teach them in tents, turned into makeshift classrooms.

Mar 27, 2012

Secularist Turks protest “dynamite” education bill

ANKARA (Reuters) – Thousands of Turkish opposition supporters demonstrated in the capital Ankara on Tuesday against a government attempt to railroad a new education bill through parliament which secular parties say is designed to promote Islamic schooling.

The government wants to overturn a 1997 law imposed with the backing of the military which extended compulsory education from five to eight years, but also stopped under-15s attending religious “imam hatip” schools.

Jan 11, 2012
via Photographers' Blog

The essence of war

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By Umit Bektas

As the medical staff rushed to prepare the seriously wounded soldier for immediate surgery, I stood in one corner of the emergency room wondering how publishable the pictures I would take of this bloody and violent scene would be and what would be the benefit of it, if they were indeed published.

No photo of the soldier who lay there covered in blood and unconscious would ever be sufficient to express his agonizing pain. There was no way I could ever sum up the earlier life of this solider, the life which would never be the same again. I could never explain why this happened to him. I could never relay in a single frame what really happened to him and what purpose his injuries would serve. For some time I watched the medical staff working frantically around the soldier, making superhuman efforts to keep him alive. Their efforts would probably save a life. What would mine accomplish? What would I have achieved if in the middle of this bloody scene I succeeded in taking a photo appropriate to be printed in newspapers and people thousands of miles away would bring into their homes to look at. What photo or photos would ever help the soldier to regain his limbs which would likely be severed very soon. I happened to catch a glimpse of the soldier’s boots lying on the floor. As the soldier was wheeled into surgery after emergency first aid, and the commotion in the room died down, I approached the bloodied boots and snapped them.

Dec 20, 2011
via Photographers' Blog

Are you ready for your embed?

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By Umit Bektas

When I was informed of the date from which I was to be embedded with a U.S. military unit in Afghanistan, I luckily had enough time to prepare. I felt I had to plan everything before I left so I drew up a “to do” list. A major item on the list was the packing of my bags.

I knew I should carefully plan what I was to take. I knew I should travel light but at the same time have everything I would need on hand. Given the nature of the assignment and the conditions in Afghanistan, it would probably be impossible to secure anything I may have left behind. Fearing that my own list may be lacking some essentials, I contacted Kabul-based Ahmad Masood and other Reuters photographers who had been embedded before me. Masood, most likely the recipient of many such queries before, promptly sent back a comprehensive document he had prepared with a list of what I needed to take with me as well as other useful information. Along with other details from colleagues, I then knew exactly what I needed to take with me.

Dec 13, 2011
via Photographers' Blog

Nothing and no one between us

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By Umit Bektas

At 13:41pm on Sunday, October 23 an earthquake measuring 7.2 magnitude hit the eastern Turkish province of Van. Minutes after the quake struck, first reports heralded large numbers of collapsed buildings with many people trapped under the debris. The first available flight to Van was on Monday so I decided to fly to Erzurum instead and from there take a four-hour drive to Van. When I arrived at Ercis, the town which had taken the brunt of the quake, it was just past midnight.

It was difficult in the dark to form a clear picture of the disaster and decide what to look for. I began to walk around the town. I photographed rescue workers making efforts to pluck people from under the rubble, but I could not spend more than a few minutes at each spot as I still had to get an overall picture. I had decided to look around for 45 minutes at the most before starting to transmit my first pictures. That was my plan until I came upon that one collapsed building.