Looking ahead but longing for home
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Looking ahead but longing for home

Bassel Tawil says he would go back to Syria tomorrow if he could. (Photo/Sanne Wass)
Orient Net - Yasser Ashkar
Date: 2015-11-25 11:36
For most people photos are links to treasured memories of things that have gone before. But for some they are also links to memories of painful things that are best kept hidden deep inside, at least for now.
Bassel Tawil, from the city of Homs, originally studied network engineering in Syria. After graduating in 2009 he found work as a graphic designer. But when the revolution began in March of 2011, Bassel joined a multitude of his peers in taking up cameras to document the brutal crimes being committed against the Syrian people by the Assad regime.
Tawil created the Facebook page “Lens of a Young Homsi,” which features photos by amateur and professional Syrian photojournalists of the daily life in Homs. The page has over 100,000 likes but has no recent posts since the Russians began assisting the regime in dropping bombs on civilians in Syria.
But in the beginning Tawil’s work led him to full-time employment as a freelance photographer for the AFP and Reuters news agencies and his pictures were published in media all over the world. But unlike many other Syrian activists, especially in the early days of the revolution, Tawil made the mistake of using his own name professionally which quickly made him a target of the Assad regime. Tawil says he began to receive regular threats from the regime while his fellow journalists began leaving the country one by one as the danger increased for them by the day. But Tawil says he received threats from other sources as well, old school mates and friends who supported the Assad regime.
Although he managed to evade being captured during the siege on Homs, the regime reneged on its promise to let him pass freely and detained him during the peaceful evacuation of rebel forces in 2014. He was interrogated for ten long days and tortured in an effort to obtain information about his fellow journalists, When he was released and told to return within a week, Tawil knew it was finally time to leave his beloved homeland. With the help of a smuggler he was able to escape from Syria and with further help from Reporters without Borders ended up in France where he was granted asylum. He knows he was one of the lucky ones and wonders at the fate of his fellow journalists who remained in Homs.
Tawil also worries about his family members in Syria who continue to be threatened by the regime in his absence. He says that being far away from the horrors of Syria has not eliminated the fear, the worries or the pain. He harbors no regrets about the time he spent as a photojournalist in Homs, but says that despite being far away from the life he captured with his camera, it’s still hard for him to look at the photos he took.
“I’m still afraid to look at the photos I took in Syria, because each of them has a story and it takes me back to what happened. I am afraid of the memories,” he says. The photos remind him of his past and everything he has now left far behind as well as the murders, destruction and starvation that were a part of everyday life during the siege on Homs. But it’s not just the photos that bring back unwelcome memories. Tawil was in Paris on the day of the recent terrorist attacks and the flood of emotions they evoked have inspired him to actively support the people of Paris since it happened. 
“In Syria, you experience the terrorism of ISIS, Assad and Hezbollah every day, and therefore most Syrian citizens, activists and journalists stand in solidarity with the French people against terrorism. They are feeling it more than any other people,” he says.
“This happens every day in Syria,” says the young photojournalist who also lost his two best friends and his younger brother to a bomb blast in Homs. Every day since the Paris attacks he has joined public gatherings to show his condolences.
But 27 year-old Bassel Tawil says that more than anything he just wants to go home. “France is of course very different from Syria,” he says. “I can go freely on the streets; I can take my camera. There is freedom and democracy. But I will always have a relationship with my home country. Like most Syrians, I would go back to Syria tomorrow if I could.”
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