Syria’s Body Count: Meet the Exile Tracking the Death Toll
For the past 20 months, a barrage of footage from Syria’s catastrophic civil war has blasted out from activists inside the country, day after day, hour after hour, shot on mobile phones and uploaded to YouTube, unedited, unfiltered and intensely violent. Designed more to push hesitant world leaders into action than as an exercise in journalism, most of the pictures show dead or severely injured civilians and fighters, and are so gruesome that they are virtually unwatchable.
Unwatchable, that is, unless your job is to count the dead.
For nearly two years, much of that grim work has been taking place in a highly improbable spot, some 2,000 miles away from the front lines: The spare bedroom of a house in Coventry, in the British Midlands, a town which is better known for its soaring cathedral than soaring casualty figures. There, a man who calls himself Rami Abdelrahman, the pseudonym of Osama Suleiman, a Syrian émigré to Britain who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, has been holed up in front of his computer monitor, telephones buzzing on his desk, focused on one daunting (some might say impossible) task: Tallying up the corpses. After watching countless hours of videos, including of dead bodies, aerial bombing, bleeding children, screaming mothers, and pummeled cities, since March 2011, Suleiman says he has come to one conclusion: “If we continue like that we will destroy all of Syria. You will see a new Somalia in Syria,” he says in a phone interview with TIME.