Photographer Cengiz Yar has been covering the conflict in Iraq since 2015. Originally from Chicago, Cengiz documented the lead up to the battle at Mosul for several news agencies, magazines and newspapers four years ago. “I was advancing and embedding with Iraqi troops and covering the humanitarian crisis as well,” explains Cengiz on his journalistic venture covering Iraqi forces attempting to rid Mosul of Isis.“Whatever was expected regarding what Isis had done with IEDs and mines in the area came to fruition and if anything, the damage was even worse than expected.”
The photographer witnessed the devastating horrors of war: Isis had planted thousands of IEDs, mines and bombs around Mosul and the moment a civilian stepped into the area, the device was triggered with catastrophic consequences. “It was absolutely horrible, I don’t know any other way to describe it,” Cengiz tells It’s Nice That, “that kind of bloodshed lasted for the entire nine months of the battle.”
Towards the end of the ruinous battle and as more and more land was taken back from the control of Isis, Cengiz was approached by the organisation UNMAS, tasked with clearing de-mining the city of Mosul for the safety of its inhabitants. The photographer partnered with the clearance organisation, capturing the de-mining effort and the brave individuals dedicated to the necessary work. He met and interviewed local de-mining crews, many of whom lived under Isis and from the cities they were tasked with clearing.
Whenever he met another member of the squad, the first question Cengiz posed was: “Why are you doing this?” The extremely risky work could claim lives and Isis had buried thousands of IEDs in the fields, roads and schools around the city. Despite this, however, most people would answer something along the lines of: “I need to clear up my city and no one else is going to do this, I need to take a part in it.” Even though their city had been ravaged by war and conflict, the deminers possessed a great sense of pride and accomplishment in cleaning up the city for the rest of the people; which Cengiz captures in his striking photography.
Cengiz documented multiple aspect of the clearance including the physical act of demining but also the people affected by IEDs, as seen through the portrait of Hussein and his mother Hiba. “Hussein was ripped apart by an IED when he and his cousin were walking home from school,” says Cengiz. “It happened well after the battle had finished. It could have been a grenade, the shrapnel tore through his leg and went into his stomach. And because of the destruction in the city, he and his mother are living in a veterinary hospital as their home was destroyed.”
In more hopeful depictions, Cengiz also photographed the reconstruction effort that is taking place now that some of the streets are clear. Hospitals, schools, bridges and several other public dominions are slowly taking shape again thanks to organisations like UNMAS and its de-mining efforts. “And then the series kind of moves into the future of Iraq, which is the education system,” adds the photographer. “Kids are able to go back to school, and the hospitals and water facilities are able to restart. So that’s the end of the project which shows what is next after all this work has been completed. What opportunities does this reinvigorate in the local population for the communities to really restart?” Exhibited at Head On festival earlier this year, the exhibition ends with a poignantly optimistic photograph outside a school. A young boy has climbed up the flagpole and attempts to unfurl the Iraqi flag while others look on with heads raised and full of hope.
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