Adriane Ohanesian managed to travel last year, 2015, to the rebel-controlled Jebel Marra area of Darfur, Sudan. It was one of the only, if not the only, time a foreign journalist has accessed these parts of the war zone.
January, 2016, one of the photos Ohanesian shot on her trip received international attention: The image, The Forgotten Mountains of Sudan, shows a 7-year-old boy who was burned by a bomb. It won the second prize singles in the prestigious World Press Photo’s contemporary issues category.
The award, Ohanesian said, is part of a promise she made to the people she met in Darfur.
The New York-born photographer, who has worked in Africa since 2010, took time to talk with Nuba Reports about accessing Darfur and what she saw inside.
ADRIANE OHANESIAN’S “TENACIOUS DEDICATION” TO TELLING THE STORY OF SUDAN WAS RECOGNIZED BY THE JUDGES
Sudan is a country at the center of several ongoing conflicts — both internally and beyond its borders. In the country’s Western region, Darfur, at least 300,000 people are said to have been killed after the government cracked down on an insurgency more than 13 years ago.
For the past six years, the New York-born, Nairobi-based photographer Adriane Ohanesian has held a place in her heart for the troubled nation — and now her “tenacious dedication” to the story has earned her the 2016 Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award, a prize launched by the International Women’s Media Foundation in memory of the Associated Press photographer murdered in Afghanistan in April 2014. “[Ohanesian’s] perceptive, compassionate eye offers an extraordinarily personal glimpse into places the global community may not otherwise see,” the judges said as they awarded her a $20,000 cash prize to support her ongoing work.
That compassion is purposeful, the photographer says.
“On a personal level I feel a certain amount of responsibility because the people of Darfur have allowed me into their lives and kept me safe in their violent homeland,” Ohanesian says. “I promised the people that I met that I would do everything within my power as a photographer to reveal what is continuing to happen in the isolated communities throughout Sudan. I cannot make people care, but I can show them why I think that they should.”
The photographers Lynsey Addario and Paula Bronstein received honorable mentions.
THE WORLD’S UNEXPLAINED SILENCE OVER HUMAN TRAGEDY IN THE NUBA MOUNTAINS OF SUDAN
In many places of conflict – including Syria, Iraq, the Gaza Strip, and the Republic of South Sudan – great attention is being focused on the needs of the refugees and internally displaced persons. But that is not the case in the Nuba Mountains.
Innocent civilians who have nothing to do with the rebels or the war continue to be victims of the ever-increasing aerial attacks on the Nuba Mountains.
While at Mother of Mercy, with the only surgeon, American Tom Catena in the Nuba Mountains, there were people whose limbs had been amputated due to injuries from shrapnel, the result of bombs being dropped by Russian-made Antonov bombers and Sochki 24 fighter jets.
Neither the international community nor individual nations, including the US, have done anything about the war.
What is even more devastating is that al Bashir’s government has purposely blocked international humanitarian aid from reaching Nuba civilians.
Many have starved to death. Even more are suffering from constant hunger and malnutrition.
Since June 2011 a war has raged between the Government of Sudan, headed by Omar al Bashir, and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army-North, commanded by Abdel Aziz Adam al-Hillu. They are demanding self-determination and power-sharing for the Nuba people.
THE ROOTS OF JIHAD IN THE NUBA MOUNTAINS
The Nuba Mountains sit on the border with South Sudan, the world’s newest state.
Nuba rebels joined forces with the south in its fight against Khartoum in the Second Sudanese Civil War. This was after 1983 when the warring sides began encroaching on the Nuba Mountains which lie in South Kordofan near the border of what is now South Sudan.
They were to pay dearly for this decision. The Nuba people suffered tremendously as the Sudanese government carried out a scorched earth policy. Villages and farms were bombed, forcing people up into the mountains where they had little to no food. Mass starvation ensued.
The Nuba’s hopes were raised when the war ended with the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement Sudan. Their expectation was that the concessions granted to the south would also apply to them. This did not happen.
The Nuba reacted with fury as well as fear. Having fought against Khartoum, they assumed that the Sudanese government would in one way or another retaliate against them.
Their fears were compounded by al Bashir’s announcement after the peace accord that he planned to implement sharia law across Sudan. Many Nuba, comprised of Muslims, Christians and animists, wanted no part of sharia law.
In early June 2011 war broke out between the Nuba and Khartoum and has continued unabated.
Most people outside of the South Kordofan region are unaware of the conflict. Khartoum has banned journalists and humanitarian aid organisations from entering the area. Journalists who have written about the tragedy have done so after crossing illegally into Sudan.
The conflict is described by some as another case of the Arab north fighting the African blacks of the south, or a conflict based on race and ethnicity.
But most experts view it as a political conflict between the Nuba who want self-determination and power-sharing, and the al Bashir regime which is hostile to these demands.
THE FORGOTTEN MOUNTAINS : DARFUR, SUDAN
In the mountains of Darfur, Sudan women and children hide in caves to escape ground attacks and aerial bombardment by their own government’s forces. President Omar al Bashir continues to wage a war against the rebel groups and civilians of Darfur. As many as three million people have been displaced, and nearly half a million lives have been lost in the conflict. In the last year, over 600,000 people have fled their homes, due mainly to the violent government offensives. The international community has declared genocide in Darfur as the government’s brutal campaign quietly enters its twelfth year.
There were a couple of hundred people living in that one cave, but the caves seemed to go on forever. Thousands of people are hiding in caves to escape from bombings, or they had fled their villages after they had been attacked or destroyed in the fighting.
Women and children who have been displaced by the fighting, or who are seeking shelter from the continued bombing, stand outside of a cave where they live in Central Darfur, Sudan, March 2, 2015.
“There were so many rape victims, both women and girls—too many to count – we didn’t have time to speak to them all. Most of them had been gang-raped by government forces or allied militias, known as Janjaweed. The women and girls that we talked to had been in government-controlled towns and then had fled to the mountains,” said Adriane Ohanesian
“When we were there the situation was somewhat quiet in terms fighting and government bombing. We were up in the mountains with the rebels looking down onto government-controlled areas. We were in areas where you could see that there had been fighting in mountains; the grass was burnt, and there was severe destruction to villages from burning and bombing. There were often shells and shrapnel scattered throughout the villages. We were in areas where the government had come up into the mountains and attacked the villages, so there were bodies strewn around the mountain. We did see Antonov planes circling overhead, which often bomb the mountains.
There was a point when we were actually on top of a mountain looking through binoculars across a valley at government tents and soldiers. We were quite close to government areas, luckily without being threatened by fighting or caught,” told by Adriane Ohanesian
How has the photo been received publicly since you received the World Press Photo Award?
“It means a lot to me to see the attention brought back to this story, that’s why I went to Darfur in the first place. That’s the point of this work—to get people to recognize that this is still going on and that even this last month has been absolute hell for the people in Darfur.
It was important to me, not just the photograph itself, that single frame, but the recognition of the fact that we were able to get to these areas of Darfur. That means a lot because it was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Media is often blamed for not getting stories out but I want to stress that it’s not the lack of media interest in this topic. The government of Sudan intentionally makes it nearly impossible to report on Darfur,” Adriane Ohanesian replied.
THE NUBA, SOUTH SUDAN: THE FORGOTTEN CONFLICTS IN PRISONERS OF GEOGRAPHY
Dr. Tom Catena married a woman from the community in which he has been working for the last eight years
Nuba Mountains : May 16, 2016
Tom Catena is a surgeon from the United States who practices at the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel, South Kordofan State, in spite of restrictions on humanitarian aid in the area imposed by the Sudanese government.
Catena and his Sudanese bride Nasma were wed on 6 May in accordance with all of the traditional customs including payment of a dowry of several cows and a ceremony attended by the villagers.