Syria War Photo Exhibit at UN Draws Opposition's Protest


UNITED NATIONS  — The U.N. representative of the opposition Syrian National Coalition demanded Wednesday that the United Nations take down a new photo exhibit sponsored by the Syrian government, saying Syria is using it to "whitewash the regime's war crimes."

The "My Homeland" exhibit opens Thursday with photographs of a ruined Aleppo, including captions that mention defending against "terror groups." Syrian authorities refer to those trying to topple President Bashar Assad as terrorists.

The photos are already on display at the United Nations headquarters.

The U.N. secretary-general's spokesman had no immediate comment on the letter from Najib Ghadbian asking the U.N. to "correct this grave mistake." A spokeswoman for Ghadbian, Katie Guzzi, said they had not had an official response from the U.N.

Ghadbian said the photos paint Syria's government as victim, not aggressor.

The fighting in Syria that began with protests against Assad in 2011 has killed more than 200,000 people and forced millions to flee. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has accused both the Syrian government forces and opposition forces of targeting civilians, though former U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay last year said atrocities by the Syrian government "far outweigh" crimes by opposition fighters.

Ghadbian called the photographer behind the new exhibit, Hagop Vanesian, a propagandist, saying that he at times has been embedded with Syrian forces in Aleppo.

In a phone call, Vanesian told The Associated Press his work is "humanitarian" and said he's not a politician.

"I just photograph the suffering of the people," he said. He added that Western countries have listed some of the groups fighting inside Syria as terrorists.

Vanesian, who was born in Aleppo and has been a volunteer photographer with the aid group Syrian Arab Red Crescent, said he left the divided northern city eight months ago. Last summer, he posted photos of Facebook of him shaking hands with Syria's ambassador to the U.N., as well as black-and-white portraits of the ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari.

"The war in Syria changed my life but not my principals," Vanesian's Twitter profile says.

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