As It Happens

The story behind Aleppo's Man on the Bed

An image of an elderly Syrian man sitting on his bed amid the shattered remnants of a once elegant home has been described as "a symbol of Aleppo's destruction." But photographer Joseph Eid sees it as "a message of hope."
Mohammed Mohiedin Anis, or Abu Omar, 70, smokes his pipe as he sits in his destroyed bedroom listening to music on his vinyl player in Aleppo's formerly rebel-held al-Shaar neighbourhood. (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

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A photograph of an elderly Syrian man sitting on his bed and smoking his pipe amid the shattered remnants of his once elegant home has been described as "haunting," "heartbreaking" and a "symbol of Aleppo's destruction."

But the photographer who took it sees it as "a message of hope."

"I think that people these days, they're fed up with violence, starting with me, a war photographer," AFP's Joseph Eid told As It Happens host Carol Off when asked why the picture is resonating with so many people.

"People want peace. People want a message of hope. They want light. And they want something that touches their sprit."

It may seem an odd way to describe the photo of Mohammed Mohiedin Anis, 70, surrounded by dust and debris in his badly damaged home with big windows overlooking the once-beautiful streets of Aleppo's al-Shaar neighbourhood.

But to understand where Eid is coming from, you have to get to know Anis, the previously wealthy cosmetics maker and antiques collector interviwed by AFP in December 2015. 

During that interview, a dapperly dressed Anis — known to most as Abu Omar — shows off his antique gramophone and dwindling collection of vintage cars, which he cared for daily despite the constant shelling in his then-rebel controlled neighbourhood.

"When one of my cars is shelled, it's like I or one of my relatives has been hit," he said at the time.

To mark the sixth anniversary of Syria's devastating war, the news agency sent Eid and reporter Sammy Ketz to Aleppo to catch up with Anis.

The government now controls al-Shaar after a period of intense fighting. Anis fled for two weeks during the worst of it.

"When I got back and saw what was left of my home, I was in shock," he told AFP.

His cars have mostly been destroyed, stolen or confiscated by the city. His home, once full of priceless antiques, is now full of debris. 

Anis inspecting his 1957 Mercury Montclair outside his home in Aleppo. His vintage car collection is in poor shape after six years of civil war in Syria. (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

His old gramophone, however, remains intact. He spun a record for Eid and reporter Ketz — an old song from the "golden era of the Arabic world" that Eid remembers his own grandfather listening to when he wanted to relax.

"He said, 'OK, listen, I cannot listen to music without smoking this pipe,'" Eid said.

But the pipe, too, was broken. Eid said Anis covered it with a piece of scotch tape before filling it.

"Even his soul is broken," Eid said. "The guy's soul is broken and he's just fighting, fighting and he doesn't want to surrender."

This Dec. 20, 2015, image of Mohammed Mohiedin Anis, shows him spinning a record on his old gramophone — one of the few precious items in his home that hasn't been damaged. (Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty Images)

Eid said Anis has vowed to rebuild his business, repair his cars and fix his home. 

"He is broken morally and emotionally and everything —  but he has the will," Eid said. 

"I think it's a strong message for people and for all the Syrians just not to lose hope and have always the hope that life can go back again, and they just have to grab to that and have faith in their country and the future and fight back to regain their normal life and peace." 

As for Anis, he told AFP:  "I have had a very happy past but things have changed. Now life is hard, but we mustn't lose hope."

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