In 2011, the Syrian Civil War began in earnest, creating scenes of mayhem and murder across the country. Millions of people fled in horror, desperate to survive and hoping to start better lives someplace new. Not all of them made it.
During the summer of 2015, Turkish photographer Nilüfer Demir captured an image of a Syrian toddler who'd drowned and washed ashore in Turkey as his family attempted to flee to Europe. The picture of the boy's lifeless body, carefully dressed in a red shirt, blue shorts and sneakers and lying face down on the sandy beach touched people's hearts [source: Walsh].
Eventually, journalists determined that the boy was a 3-year-old named Alan Kurdi, who was flung from a capsized boat bound for Europe. His older brother and his mother also drowned, as did more than 3,600 other refugees who tried to escape to safer European lands in 2015. Demir's photo first appeared in Turkish media and then was shared on social media by Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch and others. It ended up going viral, as well as appearing on the front pages of newspapers globally [source: Bloch].
Boukaert said that many people admonished him for sharing the image. "But I think we should be offended that children are washing up dead on our beaches because of the failure of our politicians to provide safe passage ... rather than by the photo itself," he said to NPR.
The photo led to Germany taking in many more refugees. But as of this writing in 2018, the Syrian bloodshed continues unabated. Like so many of his countrymen, Alan Kurdi's father is bitter, and says the photograph of his son's body has done "nothing" to stop the brutality of the Syrian regime [source: Ensor].