His Name Was Aylan


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I do not want to see the photo again. You know the photo I am referring to. I do not need to describe it but I will. The small boy,  just a toddler, mimicking the repose of sleep, dead on the beach.  In the strange mediascape of our time it has been ‘liked’, it has been ‘shared’ and it has been reinvented into a thousand sentimental meme.  However, whether it be on Twitter or Facebook, in this instance, I believe it is time that social media followed the lead of main stream media and stopped using the pictures. The picture has done its work. To continue to use of this picture, no matter how noble the intent, can no longer be regarded as anything more than gratuitous.

Already the photo is being compared with other images. I have heard it compared with the one of the naked Vietnamese girl running from napalm and the picture of the starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture. I am familiar with both of the other images but today I realised with some disgust that in the case of the other images I do not know the names of the subjects featured and I know nothing of their back story. The images have become more famous and more revered than the facts and the stories they were supposed to bring to our notice.

The child on the beach is Aylan Kurdi. His brother was Galip, his mother Rehan and his father who survived is Abdullah. But even now that his name and circumstances are broadly known, media are still referring to him as ‘the body’, the ‘dead child’ and of course  the ‘tragic image’. They may in each report use his name, Aylan, once, but then they revert to referencing the image.

His short life is already being relegated to the background as the media, social media and the general public choose to frame his story.   I wonder what the effects of this are for his family. I wonder how neglecting to name Aylan, and immortalising his image will impacts on those grieving his loss. One of the most banal clichés we offer to the bereaved is that they should try and remember the happy times.  But if every memory of the person reminds you of the space caused by their loss, I think it may take a lifetime before you can remember the happiness and joy without it causing extreme pain. If the most prominent memory of that person becomes a single frame, which has circulated around the world becoming the defining  symbol of our inhumanity, I wonder how  that must impact on the process of grieving. How much longer will it be before you dare to allow yourself to remember the joy?

I know little of Aylan’s life before. I know he had a brother, a mother and a father and that he lost his life as his family attempted to flee a country being destroyed by war. They were trying to reach Canada. His mother and older brother died alongside him. His father has returned to Syria to bury them. That is not all we know.

No matter where you are living, or what language you speak, we all know that Aylan was a child who was loved and cherished. We know that when Aylan was a baby he would screw up his face and poke out his tongue as though he had tasted something he disliked. We know that when his father looked down at him, and held out his finger Aylan would grasp it in his tiny hand. We know that he cried when he was hungry and that his mother would feed him and soothe him making gentle noises. We know that sometimes when he laughed he gurgled, and that when he laughed his parents were so filled with love that their hearts actually hurt with the immense pressure and responsibility of that love.

So let us not continue to circulate the image. The image has done its work; it is indelibly etched in our minds and for every person who saw it and had a reaction, let it be a call to action.  Let us not immortalise an image, instead let us honour his life by demanding a response not just from our government but from each other.  Now is the time for the petty political point scoring to cease and all parties to agree that by whatever mechanisms required we respond.  Today John Key will announce that we are bringing extra refugees in above our 750 quota. We will be bringing in refugees from Syria. However we cant let our government forget, and what we ourselves can’ t loose sight of is that between New Zealand and Syria is Manus Island.

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The need to double the quota of refugees for 2016 is a move that is long overdue. If we can find money for flags and shady sheep deals why can’t we honour Aylan by increasing the quota to 1500? It is still such an inadequate response to the 50 million people that are in need but at least here, in our country, we can ensure that the legacy of Aylans life is not just an image.

His name was Aylan Kurdi.  

Let his legacy be a new life to all the children we will welcome here  whose names we don’t yet know, but whose names we can learn.


  1. Actually, his name was Aylan Shenu. Kurdi is a somewhat racist name given to all kurds processed by the Turkish government. Imagine if asian immigrants to NZ had been given the surname; Jap, or Chink, and forced to use them on all official documents.

    the Kurdi family had been forced to move several times during the Syrian conflict and left the country in 2012. He said the correct family name was Shenu, but that Kurdi had been used in Turkey because of their ethnic background.


  2. We took in 700 Polish refugees after WW2.

    We could do the same easily, today. We are a far richer country now with more resorces.

    Instead, we are spending $26 million on a…. flag.

    It is the world’s shame that Aylan Shenu perished so needlessly.

      • Unsurprising, Ben.

        Poland is currently governed by a coalition of right-wing parties; ‘Civic Platform’ and ‘Law and Justice’.

        What is it about right-wingers and their inability to feel compassion for others?

      • Ben, let’s try compassion insatead of your xenophobia and racism. You can cite all the selective history you want but in the final analysis you’re just digging a very deep hole for yourself.

        Don’t forget that your ancestors were migrants at some point in their lives.

  3. And yet there are those in this country and elsewhere that will say it is their own fault and we owe them nothing. I wonder how these people would feel if it was their own little boy in Aylan’s place? I just simply cannot imagine how I would feel. Whatever grumbles I have about New Zealand, I can still appreciate how we live in a society free from the kind of fear and bloodshed that these poor people live their lives through. We should help them to try and achieve a least a little of the peaceful existence that we ourselves enjoy.

  4. It’s shameful that it too the photo of little Aylan to motivate the world to do something.

    Our own response has been shabby and Key’s belated announcement is only marginally better,

    NewZealand was built on migration and welcoming refugees to our shores. Even the first English settlers were refugees from a class-ridden, ossified society that condemned them to a life of hopelessness.

    Thank god for New Zealanders’ collective compassion. There seems to be hope for our country yet, no thanks to John Key.

    • Thank god for New Zealanders’ collective compassion. There seems to be hope for our country yet, no thanks to John Key. – See more at: https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2015/09/08/his-name-was-aylan/#sthash.9LAypK2R.dpuf

      But none for the 200,000 (approx) of us living on various types of benefits.

      In my simple case, one that will not keep me alive for much longer.

      I empathise with these refugees, they will also die without the help of “some” Government, I just wish MY Government would do the same for me.

      But you see, I already live here, and have done for well over 60 years. There’s not an ounce of compassion from New Zealanders for me and those like me…………

      Get over yourselves and look to your own backyard every now and again, it’s not pretty, it’s full of weeds !!!

  5. Hi Pasupial,

    I read that article and yet was unsure as to the quality of the information. I only saw it the single report and as all other media continued to use the name Kurdi I chose to continue with that.

    I apologise if that is in any way incorrect or disrespectful and if I can establish from an other source that his family name is Shenu will ask Martyn to amend the blog.

  6. Welcome to the “new media”, joining the “old MSM”, photos are used very selectively, they have so in the past, and continue to be so these days, where many use social media but still also use the MSM for information.

    Yes, I was feeling disturbed seeing the picture of that little boy Aylan being picked up dead from the water on the beach near Bodrum, Turkey. I was having very mixed feelings, and thought, is this appropriate for the news to show it on TV at 6 pm, so that other kids can see this while their parents watch the news?

    It has certainly had an effect, and made many otherwise “too busy” people stop, think and reconsider, what is happening in the Middle East and now is affecting Europe, as it has already other countries closer to Syria and Iraq.

    I agree, that picture should not be used to make a point anymore, it has done it’s “job”, if you may call it that. It sent a message out to the world, for people to consult their conscience.

    Hence many turned out in Austria, Germany and even some in Hungary, to assist and “welcome” the refugees.

    But like with many other pictures, it has only shown us a glimpse of horror, only a tiny snap shot of what is happening, there is much more behind it all, and that is what is again going to be largely ignored.

    Fact is there are up to 60 million displaced people all over the world at present, and what we witness in Europe at present, is just the tip of the iceberg. It is only coming to our attention, because comparatively wealthy Europe is for the first time since WW2 facing a mass refugee movement, and this time the largely well to do middle class there, they can see the affected turn up at their borders, their train stations, their door-step. It was easy to ignore the crisis in Syria and Iraq as long as the millions of refugees were hidden in camps in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and a few other spots.

    Few bothered taking note, as these people had no faces, no coverage, few media persons or photographers went there to report, while people complained about the price of groceries or chattered about the newest app that was available for their smart phone, or what is happening in the entertainment world.

    Also is NZ far away from the real zones of crisis, so as Europe opened its eyes, so have NZers, finally.

    But what we witness is again just part of the global crisis, that reaches much farther. We have the middle class from a destroyed country like Syria, some from Iraq or Afghanistan escape to Europe, yes that is what most of them are, they are not the poorest and in many cases perhaps not the worst affected. These people have had some savings or other help, to pay for trains, buses, for traffickers, to get them into Europe, and they are assertive enough to demand transport to a destination of CHOICE, Germany.

    The UN is not that happy about this, as they do not like people jumping the queues, as there are many millions in Africa, in for instance South Sudan, where people wait in camps, who escaped from places like Erytrea. Others are in camps in Pakistan, in Iran and many other countries, and most there have NO means to get anywhere.

    So while we are all jumping up and expecting the government to act, perhaps consider also, that the focus on Syria and refugees from there may be justified, of course, but there are many others that may be just as deserving of being helped, as refugees in other places, less visible.

    I fear once the thousands in Europe have somehow been accommodated, and are being “processed”, and once winter sets in there, and the flow becomes a trickle due to bad weather, the cameras will not show us more about the refugees there, as little as they show us the horrors happening elsewhere.

    Again we focus on “middle class” sufferers, yes, although they suffer severely, these refugees in Europe are not the worst off that are refugees.

  7. We have no moral choice but to open our borders to more refugees. However, we are not doing a very good job of integrating refugees who are already here for all our good intentions.
    Newcomers need the chance to engage in useful work and to experience an accepting welcoming host community far more than they need language and the chance to associate with other from their own community. All that will be achieved far more effectively when the recipients are already to some measure participating in the new community. Trauma therapy, language tuition and to spend several weeks in effective ghettoization, which I understand are what are provided in the Mangere Centre for the best of motives, are likely to actually make it harder to integrate.
    If we can learn to provide a more effective reception service, we will be able to absorb both these and many more refugees to our mutual benefit, rather than harbouring damaged, frustrated and unproductive citizen for evermore.

  8. We should be treating the cause and not just the symptoms. We should increase our military contribution to the fight against ISIS. Those who oppose military action but support increased refugee quotas are two-faced.

    Compassion and resolve against evil.

    • I think if you look back a few years, David, you’ll find that it was military action that de-stabilised the Middle East in the first place.Trying to put out a fire by hosing it with more petrol has only one consequence.

      • Yes it was, like ww1 was the ultimate cause of ww2. But does it mean we let evil reign. And we shouldn’t have been involved in ww2 because it was a result of ww1.
        Evil wins when good people do nothing.

        • You’ll find the causes of WW1 and WW2 as complex as anything in the Middle East.

          Military action soon after the assassination of Archduke Ferdnand achieved nothing except the slaughter of millions and the destruction of towns and cities.

          That was the prelude for the rise of fanaticism in Germany and WW2.

          WW2, in turn, resulted in the extension of Soviet influence; the rise of the US military/industrial complex, and 43 years of Cold War.

          Not exactly a stirling example with which to try to prove your point, David.

          • I see. We should have let Hitler win… according to your world view.
            Cold war is better than a hot war and the the after wffects of ww2 had led to the emancipation of colonized peoples. Independence and self- determination. Ask Singapore if they still want to be a colony.

            You seem to prefer a world run by nazi germany and imperial japan. Facism is the better alternative?

            • Hitler did win we just call the nazis USA now.
              Operation paperclip, same turd with a new polish.
              Had the allies failed in there conquest Israhell would not exist the middle east would not be the war ground its become. All these conflicts are work of USA cia, Israel mossad and UK mi6 plus others you know the club.
              Mass migration of refuges is not a simptom but the goal part of a plan to end the individual soveriegnty of nations. they know how to play on the heart strings of suckers and the ignorant.
              ask why the media push these stories and not the ones of children blown to bits by western govt drone strikes, of which we are party too.

    • ‘We should increase our military contribution to the fight against ISIS. Those who oppose military action but support increased refugee quotas are two-faced. ‘

      That doesn’t address the refugee crisis. It may give you a bit of a guung-ho masty, but not very helpful in the long run.

  9. “I know he had a brother, a mother and a father and that he lost his life as his family attempted to flee a country being destroyed by war. ”

    Other reports are that they had been settled in Turkey and that the father was trying to get to Germany for dental care?

    I’m not sure all is what it’s painted out to be.

  10. I would rather we bring in Syrian refugees than all these Asian P Dealers who are peddling P to our young people.

    Young maori gang members are trading crayfish and paua, for P to supply the Asian Restaurants, is this good business for NZ, I think not?

        • Fact. Before precursors were sourced in China we just found other ways of producing amphetamines here, in NZ.

          We will have drugs in NZ with or without migration & what the hell is this got to do with refugees?

          • Check the import statistics from Police Seizures the majority of methamphetamine imports illicit are coming in from Asian Countries, Bolger was warned by British Government Officials that we would have problems with the Triads and Asian Gangs (ie drug trafficking), and it has proved to be true. We do not know the history and backgrounds of the majority of these Asians we are importing into NZ. As long as they have got money $’s John Key and his cronies will let them in. It doesn’t matter how they got the money.

            All these Asian Imports are not good for NZ, it’s similar to the Poms that came here and helped themselves to Maori Land via dodgy land deals and a crooked Settlor Government. Fact!

  11. The UN are again showing the world how toothless and useless they are!

    They are all a bunch of professional bludgers!

    Everyone including Russia and China need to get involved and deal to ISIS otherwise the disease will spread like herpes, syphillis or ebola.

  12. What the anti immigration and right wing parties don’t point out is that most refugees and economic migrants that are processed are not necessarily allowed to stay. In fact most will likely be deported either within a few months or years. But without the hysteria over immigration the right wing parties couldn’t get re-elected, so they are milking it right now.

  13. His Name Was Aylan….

    and his Dad was a people smuggler.


    “A woman on the same boat as Alan Kurdi says the boy’s father is a people smuggler who begged her not to dob him in.

    Zainab Abbas said Abdullah Kurdi had lied to the world after the image of his dead three-year-old son on a Turkish beach sparked a global outpouring of support for Syrian refugees.

    “Yes, it was Abdullah Kurdi driving the boat,” Ms Abbas told Network Ten through her cousin Lara Tahseen on Friday.”

    • Hmmmmm… some things about that story don’t quite ring true…

      “He said, ‘Please don’t dob me in.’ That was in the water.”


      That is Kiwi/Aussie slang. Why would an Iraqi refugee be using it?

      And if Aylan’s dad was “in the water” – asking someone not to “dob” him in would be the last thing on many people’s mind.

      As for the name “Abdullah Kurdi” – that in itself is incorrect. Their actual surname is Shenu. Kurdi is some sort of designation used by Turkish authorities. (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/03/father-drowned-boy-aylan-kurdi-return-syria#sthash.AJeZLqnC.dpuf – hat-tip Pasupial)

      Why would an Iraqi use a Turkish designation?

      So what might be the motivation of Ms Abbas to fabricate such a story?

      The answer lies in this part of the SBS story;

      Ms Abbas is now in Iraq and her family has called on the federal government to include them in the 12,000 refugees Australia has pledged to take in.

      Desperate people often resort to desperate measures to survive, Andrew. Something you – sitting in your warm, comfortable home, free from attacks by chemical weapons, barrel bombs, and fanatical militants – might pause to think about.

      Andrew, in your rush to judgement and naked glee to demonise that family (and other refugees), you may have over-looked a simple possibility; that it’s bullshit.

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