Image of Russian envoy’s killer wins World Press Photo Award
THE HAGUE - Agence France-Presse
Brandishing a gun, his face contorted with rage, the shocking image of an off-duty Turkish police officer assassinating the Russian envoy to Ankara on Feb. 13 won the prestigious World Press Photo Award.
Judges praised the courage and bravery of Burhan Özbilici, a photographer for The Associated Press, who stood his ground as 22-year-old police officer Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş pumped nine bullets into Ambassador Andrey Karlov at the opening of an art exhibition in Ankara on Dec. 19, 2016.
Altıntaş shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) and “Don’t forget Aleppo” as he opened fire, vowing that those responsible for events in Syria would be held accountable.
“From the moment I heard the shots I knew this was a historic moment, very serious,” Özbilici told AFP. “I knew I had to do my job. As a journalist, I couldn’t just run away to save my skin.”
The vivid photo was to go viral around the world, and has been viewed some 18 million times.
The judges from the World Press Photo Foundation in Amsterdam acknowledged they had had a tough job to choose the 2017 winner from more than 80,400 images submitted by 5,034 photographers from 125 countries.
“It was a very, very difficult decision, but in the end we felt that the picture of the year was an explosive image that really spoke to the hatred of our times,” said jury member Mary Calvert.
Özbilici, who covered the July 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey and has carried out missions in Syria, Libya and Egypt, said he always tried to be ready for difficult tests, “to have the courage to confront a world which has been made rotten by the dishonest and corrupt, in order to try to do some good.”
He said he was sorry for the death of the envoy, whom he described as a “natural, kind, sincere man” whose death was a direct consequence of the “Syrian catastrophe.”
“This photo marked an important moment in the history of Turkey, especially in its relations with Russia,” said Özbilici, who has worked for AP since 1989.
Jury members agreed his photo captured an important moment in time.
“Right now I see the world marching towards the edge of an abyss,” said jury member Joao Silva, referring to Altıntaş as a man who had “clearly reached a breaking point.”
“This image to me talks” of everything that is happening across the world. “It is the face of hatred."