1,000 Words: The photographer of a murder

The story here is obviously the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey. And you can read all about that here.

But let’s honor the work of Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici, who stood up, armed only with a camera, to do his job in the face of a man with a gun who was shouting “Don’t forget Aleppo” after he shot Andrei Karlov.

It’s a stunning display of courage in the interest of journalism.

“I think I was born as a journalist/humanitarian,” he writes on his LinkedIn profile.

The same must be said of the photographer of the following picture, not yet named by Getty Images, who captured the area where Ozbilici must have been positioned, although he does not seem to be clearly visible.

[Update: Ozbilici has written an essay for the AP ]

It took me a few seconds to realize what had happened: A man had died in front of me; a life had disappeared before my eyes.

I moved back and to the left, while the gunman — later identified as police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas — gestured with his gun at people cowering on the right side of the room.

At first, I couldn’t figure out what had motivated the shooter. I thought he might be a Chechen militant. But people later said he was shouting about the Syrian city of Aleppo.

So he was probably angry about Russian bombardments of Aleppo that were aimed at driving out anti-government rebels. Many civilians have been killed in the fighting.

He also shouted “Allahu akbar,” but I couldn’t understand the rest of what he said in Arabic.

The gunman was agitated. He walked around the ambassador’s body, smashing some of the photos hanging on the wall.

I was, of course, fearful and knew of the danger if the gunman turned toward me. But I advanced a little and photographed the man as he hectored his desperate, captive audience.

This is what I was thinking: “I’m here. Even if I get hit and injured, or killed, I’m a journalist. I have to do my work. I could run away without making any photos. … But I wouldn’t have a proper answer if people later ask me: ‘Why didn’t you take pictures?'”

I even thought about friends and colleagues who have died while taking photographs in conflict zones over the years.

  • Robert Moffitt
  • monica (kitten)

    Is this the 21st century’s version of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria?

    • That’s EXACTLY what I was thinking when I first heard about it.

      • Robert Moffitt

        I don’t think so. The circumstances in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 were very different than what happened today. We’ve lost 5 US ambassadors to murderers, not one caused a war.

        • Robert Moffitt

          Unfortunately, this sort of risk comes with the job for all diplomats working around the globe. It’s a crazy and dangerous world out there.

        • chris

          Somehow I don’t think the Duma is going to hold multiple investigations and hearings into Sergey Lavrov’s failures in allowing this to happen.

        • Jeff

          As I understand it, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand (not the Scottish rock band) led to the Austrian-Hungarians and Germans trying to take of advantage of Serbia which set off a domino effect of alliances. Turkey is in NATO, but I don’t see who the Russians have on their side anymore. But then there’s the nukes and who knows with Putin.

          • Robert Moffitt

            Russia is fine with picking on smaller neighbors and meddling in failed states like Syria, but Turkey would be a formidable foe, with or without NATO.

          • They’ll take it out on Aleppo.

          • Jerry

            Is there anything left in Aleppo to take out anymore?

          • Jerry

            I don’t know, what country recently elected someone who downplayed NATO and maybe owes part of his election to Russian interference?

      • Jerry

        It’s not like Russia has spent the last 300 years trying gain unfettered access to the Mediterranean, and this would provide a good reason to go to war with the country who controls that access.

        • Tim

          Not really, since Turkey themselves do not appear to be behind it. Erdogan and Putin have been on good terms lately.

          • Jerry

            Like Turkey shooting down a Russian warplane a few months ago?

          • Tim

            That was over a year ago, not a few months ago. A lot has changed since then (such as the attempted coup against Erdogan, which Russia supposedly tipped him off about). The situation in that region is very fluid, to say the least.

          • RBHolb

            Historically, that kind of technicality has not mattered.

          • Tim

            So what does Russia gain by starting a war with Turkey right now? Especially when it means the loss of their support in Syria, to say nothing of all the other effects?

            I’m sorry, but I just don’t see the chain of causality that others seem to in this thread.

          • RBHolb

            Russia has little, if anything, to gain. It seems the Kremlin recognizes this–the response to the assassination has been appropriately measured.

            It does not mean that the historic Russian designs on the Bosporous have gone away.

        • DavidG

          Are you sure Putin really wants to launch WWIII by attacking a NATO member?

          Even if Trump were to withdraw the US from NATO, I have doubts about Russia’s military capacity to go against Europe.

          • Jerry

            It’s not what I think is going to happen, just what I could see happening. Europe is more fractured now than it has been since the end of the Cold War, and Turkey outlier to the rest of Europe. Turkey also has the problem that most of its neighbors have a contentious history with it.

            But this is all hopefully just hypothetical. So far, Russia, and more specifically its ambassador, is the victim and Turkey is not the perpetrator.

      • crystals
      • Mike Worcester

        You and me both.

    • That was the first thing I thought of as well.

      100 years doesn’t change much…

    • Veronica

      I had the exact same thought too. Yikes. That’s a good number of us.

    • chlost

      Interesting opinion of the use of such an incident as an excuse for a war, when one is otherwise on an leader’s agenda, vs. “causing” a war.

  • Sara

    I saw this photo on the MPR homepage and it literally took my breath away. This is the most intimate I have ever been with murder. And I am struck by the realization, after the fact, that I hope to never come this close again. I am blown away by the photographer’s ability to document when I think about how hard it is to look at the still photo.

    • jon

      Murders ain’t so bad… it’s angry people (regardless of what they’ve done in their past) that you need to stay away from.

      I’ve had multiple dealing with people convicted of murder, and most of them were pretty indistinguishable from any one else in the world when I was chatting with them (which was always after they got out of prison).

      But an angry person who has never killed before can lash out just as easily as one who has killed before.

      There are so many angry people out there, and so many more working to ensure we are all enraged… Angry people, avoid them.

  • chlost

    These photos are unbelievably intimate. In the midst of chaos and murder, a photo which captures the assailant, the victim and the surroundings, including a pair of eyeglasses (which presumably had been perched on the nose of the victim just moments before) on the floor. For some reason, to me, those glasses are one of the most piercing items in the photo.

    • I thought exactly the same thing. It brings a humanity to the scene.

    • Mike Worcester

      I did not even notice that until you noted it. Wow!

  • Zachary

    I’m reminded of the picture from the Vietnam war, of the one military commander (or politician) putting a gun to the head of a deposed military commander (or politician) just before he shoots. I don’t really want to go look it up right now, but I think we all know of the one. The grimace in his face is chilling.
    One of the thoughts that I had of these, is taken out of context, these could be stills from a movie. Sigh.

  • Will

    A brave reporter did their job, thank you.

  • Gary F

    I’m currently reading “The Fall of the Ottomans” by Eugene Rogan. So far a good read on what is now Turkey.


    • Robert Moffitt

      You should also read (if you haven’t already) “Dreadnaught” by Robert K. Massie. Talks about the arms race just before WW 1. A good companion read with the more famous “Guns of August” by Tuchman.

      • Jerry

        “Dreadnaught” is really good. He takes a topic that could be really dry and makes it interesting. The follow up, “Castles Of Steel”, is even better.

      • Gary F

        I’ll put it on my list. It sounds good.

        One thing that I got out of the book I’m reading is the Germans in WW1 stirred up a jihad with the Muslims of north Africa to have them rebel against the French and British and not fight for their occupied homelands.

    • RBHolb

      On that note, I would recommend “After Tamerlane” by John Darwin. It is an excellent survey of the inevitable downfall of all empires.

  • Matt

    The glasses don’t get me. The last photo, showing the scene, from Getty Images, gets me. Shows the whole scene, target in the foreground, assassin with both hands on his pistol – looking, shouting (?) at those scattering. The ambassador is laid out, played, confirming what you would think a person would look like who had been shot. That is the photo that gets me.