Abdulazez Dukhan is not your average 21 year old. In fact, Abdulazez is not your average person. Period. Once Abdulazez got a hold of a camera and pursued photography, he was destined to be an extraordinary visionary, a leader changing the image of Syrians, refugees and others marginalized by the media. He would single-handedly break the walls, tackling notions of “us” versus “them.” This is his story.
In his early teens growing up in Homs, Syria, Abdulazez was a 13 year old living life normally, going out, going to school, meeting friends. Things started, the revolution began. Abdulazez went to the countryside with the family for 3 years, his first experience outside a big city. When you move out of the big city, he says, not a lot is happening but he was having a different experience than most while Syria continued to be a warzone. Abdulazez and his family then went to Turkey for 1 ½ years until deciding to leave in 2016. While in Turkey despite the hardships, the discrimination, the lack of opportunities, Abdulazez wanted to focus on school, to make up for the time he lost. He was even studying Turkish and English. Unfortunately when arriving in Idomeni in Greece, he didn’t have his diploma but was hoping to go to university in Greece. What was to come?
As borders closed, Abdulazez felt like his dreams were being minimized although knowing God willing, things might change. Things were not good in Greece; No one knew what was happening, overall conditions were not good. Tents in the camps were ruined and usually further deteriorated by extreme weather conditions. When he looks back, he recalls people leaving to find hope despite the bad. He knew he had to take action.
After a week, he decided to do something even if he couldn’t change the situation. He wanted to help, translate; He couldn't just sit down so he wanted to learn and use his time for something useful. He also did not want to think about the condition itself and saw a need to meet and help people. It was the ignorance he saw in the media that showed him how powerful knowledge is. He wanted people to see the good in the community he was in, that there was more to the refugee narrative that was not being talked about in public discourse. He wanted to illustrate the right picture, narrate the right story.
“Why should we move? Get help? [People] need something to wake them up; Condition to feel that they can do something themselves.”
If people could see that people in the camps are doing amazing things too, perhaps there could be more trust. Through a discovery of Photoshop, Abdulazez developed a deep passion for capturing humanity and the truth. He also captures the things you may not typically see: Smiles and the beauty in differences among the individuals living in the camp. He was focusing on change.
“If you focus on the positive, you will see people smiling. The way you see things, will be how things will happen.”
In the midst of this, there was a 6 month relocation program for the individuals in the camps to evacuate to old military confinements. But these conditions were unlivable. After being registered with UNHCR in 2017, the family (Abdulazez, his sister, brother, sister-in-law and their two kids) was provided refuge in Belgium. Since then, Abdulazez is continuing to do things to alter the situation. He even wrote a viral letter to Trump issuing the need to understand the wrongdoing behind borders, borders that have kept refugees in isolation emotionally as much as physically.
He is tired of people not understanding, so he has decided to take matters in his own hands. He is studying and creating things to shift the narrative. How? He says in his own words:
“We are human. Everyone is good at something. I am hoping people will get [this] in the end. When people like me graduate and work in companies, people can then see [that] we are in better positions; People will start to see. Do not tell them, Show them but do not push them; If it doesn't fit, it doesn't fit. Show them.”
Abdulazez has come a long way. Remember, he is not your average 21 year old. He is studying computer science with hopes of pursuing artificial intelligence. He is in his first year because he had to retake two years of high school and has two years left to finish. He does graphics for his incredible platform, Through Refugee Eyes. Even though summer planned trips for photography and storytelling are on hold due to COVID-19, he is not giving up. He still goes to social media to advocate for social justice issues near and far when called to.
If there is something he wants people to know about him, it’s challenging the idea that refugees are not “fearless.” No matter where you come from, who you are, many of us are struggling being at peace, but refugees are still seen as different. People who are constantly looking for “the Other” are trying to put their problems on them. Society plays a big role in this. Refugees are dealing with the cards given, refugees are the first to blame because they are seen as “weak,” that they can’t say anything because they have a lot to lose by speaking out. People know they are limited. Abdulazez accepts reality but he will never stop changing things for the better, for the greater good. What does he hope for?
“I really wish situations will get better, one day we can go back to our country. After that, societies we were in will understand what they “missed” to rebuild our country. Was it all for nothing? No!”
Abdulazez, and his story, are far from average. He, alongside other young diaspora leaders, will be the ones rebuilding, creating the world where we see the beauty and dignity in others, and ultimately change the systems that are no longer working for us.. Because ordinary, as you can see from the incredible impact people like Abdulazez are having, does not cut it anymore. We need extraordinary, we need Abdulazez.