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Credit: YASIN AKGUL / Freelance photographer

Majid Dirani

He filmed his own death. On 19 February 2016 the young reporter Majd Dirani found himself directly in the line of fire of the Syrian tank that was attacking the rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Darayya, a suburb of Damascus, during a skirmish. “The tank’s been hit”, someone heard Dirani say. On the video you can then see how the barrel of the tank’s gun is turned in his direction and fires at the house in which Dirani sought protection, as reported by his colleague Sultan al-Shami to the New York-based international Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Al-Shami also said that his group were able to hide the body of their colleague until the tank had gone. In doing so, they found the video he had recorded shortly before his death on the memory card of his camera. Majjd Dirani was just 21 years old. The two young Syrians had founded the Darayya Media Center five years before with the aim of documenting the rebellion against the regime of the dictator Bashar al-Assad and its crimes.

Dirani had taken part in the peaceful demonstrations against the regime right at the beginning of the Syrian uprising in 2011.

Back then, he started to document the events with his camera and disseminate them on social media. After founding the media group, he quickly made a name for himself with his photos and videos from Darayya, an area into which no foreign media representatives would go as it was too dangerous. At the same time, he began studying for a degree as a computer engineer at the University of Damascus, which unfortunately he was forced to give up because of the civil war. 

When the regime began firing heavily on Darayya in the autumn of 2015, Majjd Dirani sent images to the state-run Turkish news agency Anadolu, which took him on as a freelancer in December of the same year. “We called him ‘our eyes in Darayya’”, said the Syrian correspondent for the agency, Mohammed Misto, describing him as “an example of morals, courage and honour”.

Time and again the undaunted young reporter documented the air attacks by the Assad regime on Darayya with thousands of barrel bombs, which reduced 80 per cent of the town to rubble and ash. He also sent shots of the brutal street battles and the suffering of the people trapped in the locality. His photos of anti-war graffiti on the rubble of the destroyed city became famous, and he published hundreds of videos on his Facebook account, including of a barrel bomb attack that seriously damaged his hearing.

Known by his colleagues as “the heart of iron”, he was instrumental in showing the world the tragedy of Darayya.

The town of Darayya, southwest of Damascus, was one of the first focal points of the uprising against Assad and was occupied by the Syrian army in 2012. In August 2012 regime troops entered the town, carrying out one of the most dreadful massacres of the civil war, leaving 320 dead. In 2015 and 2016 the town saw a particularly high number of barrel bombs; the exact number of victims is unknown. According to information from Arab media, by January 2016 around 90 per cent of the once 100,000 inhabitants had fled. At that time the street battles were also increasing as the Syrian army drew their net ever tighter around the town. When they were no longer able to receive relief supplies, the FSA fighters surrendered on 25 August 2016 and left Darayya once they had been assured safe conduct. 

The brutal battles, the hunger, suffering and death in Darayya were all documented by Majjd Dirani and his colleagues right to the end in spite of the risk to their lives. There was barely any power; cameras had to be smuggled into the occupied city and videos and photos smuggled out again. The media centre was targeted with bombs, several members of staff were arrested and tortured by regime troops and two other colleagues were killed while working. Following the death of Majjd Dirani, his colleagues published a photo of him on their website, showing his lifeless body in a white shroud with his beloved camera.

 

written by Frank Nordhausen; journalist

  • Majid Dirani

    On 19th February 2016, Majid Dirani was killed by a shell from a Syrian military tank when he was filming the bombing of Darayya. Darayya is a suburb of Damascus in Syria, in which Dirani was co-founder of the local media centre. He and his colleagues reported about the Syrian uprising in 2011. Since 2015, he also worked as a freelancer for the Turkish news agency Anadolu. His older brother Majeed had already been killed in 2013 fighting to break the siege of Darayya.