War rocking the Middle East, but love must go on

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
An Iraqi Kurdish couple attaches a love lock to a fence during a Valentine’s Day event in Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. AFP

“Love, we have no aim but to be defeated in your wars,” wrote the Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish. Despite the armed conflicts devastating the Middle East, occasionally love comes out victorious.

From the battlefields of Syria to the ruined cities of Yemen, journalists bear witness to violence and destruction every day – but sometimes they capture glimmers of hope, beauty and even romance.

To mark Valentine’s Day, AFP has selected some of its most powerful recent images of love.

AFP photographer Safin Hamed recalls accompanying a young couple from Iraq’s Yazidi minority from their tent in a squalid refugee camp to their December wedding at a modest hall in nearby Dohuk city.

“It was a basic party, there wasn’t a meal, just cake,” he said.

“But they really wanted to express their happiness and to dance.”

The young bride and groom were just children when the Islamic State group stormed through their rugged home region of Sinjar in 2014, kidnapping thousands of women and girls as “sex slaves”, killing men en masse and taking boys as soldiers.

But even after six years living on humanitarian aid in a refugee camp, the couple “loved life and wanted to keep going . . . despite everything that had happened to them”, Hamed said.

Guests gathered in bright traditional clothes, and a small band played raucous Kurdish wedding music.

“Even when the music finished, they wanted the band to play on,” Hamed said.

“Despite their suffering, they were looking after themselves, getting their hair done in a salon, wearing nice clothes.”

Weddings in the shadow of war, whether in squalid refugee camps or bombed-out towns, can be defiant celebrations of life and expressions of hope for a better future.

In Yemen’s rebel-held capital of Sanaa, Mohammed Huwais photographed men dancing in the streets to celebrate a marriage in the shadow of a war that has created what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

In Syria’s war-torn northwestern province of Idlib, AFP photojournalist Aaref Watad captured chilling images of a wedding dress in the blown-out facade of a bridal shop, on December 8, last year, the day after a reported Russian airstrike on a market in the village.

And in the country’s northeast, Mustafa Ramadan and Luvin Yusuf had to postpone their wedding as Turkey and its rebel proxies launched an offensive against Kurdish forces they view as “terrorists”.

When they finally married in the city of Qamishli, the wedding hall was filled with Kurdish patriotic songs, clapping, singing and laughing, said AFP photographer Delil Souleiman.

“It was so different from working amid bombardment, displacement and death,” he said.

“It was full of music, colours, happiness and dancing.”