What are we to make of a conflict that has lasted for well over a dozen years? A dispute whose origins may lie in ethnic tensions (Arab vs. African tribes) but could also be traced to land disputes or even to something as basic as access to water. A situation that has, at various times, been called a civil war and at others, an independence movement, or most upsettingly, a genocide.

A conflict that has lasted so long that media attention has come and gone and come and gone again. A war that has elicited headlines like “Darfur’s Agony Goes On” (2005), “Crunchtime for Darfur” (2006), “Darfur: A Glimmer of Hope on Horizon” (2007), “The Killing Continues in Darfur’s Forgotten War” (2013) and then “Bashir’s re-election condemns Darfur to more suffering” (2015).

A situation so protracted, in fact, that on the Wikipedia page dedicated to the ”International response to the War in Darfur,” there are no more entries to the timeline after 2010, as if the world had finally run out of ways to respond. But, of course, the conflict itself has not gone away. In fact, over the recent months, it has become worse than ever. Fresh bombing campaigns, hundreds of thousands of newly displaced people, soldiers ” raping with impunity.”

Beyond the horrors themselves, we may find ourselves upset at our own ignorance of this situation. Why haven’t we heard more about this? It would be tempting to blame the media for this silence. But as the intrepid and dedicated photojournalist Adriane Ohanesian told us over the phone recently, this frustration is misplaced. In her words:

“I am the media. I am interested in Darfur and striving to report from Darfur for the reason that no one else is doing it. But no one else is doing it not because of some fault of the media—but because of the government. A government that has denied access to the UN, to any NGOs, to the media itself, and are thus keeping their own story (and their own crimes) out of the news. It’s a black hole of information and that’s largely because the government itself has cut off all form of communication.”

Ohanesian has worked on and off in Sudan since 2010. Despite shooting projects in other parts of the world, she has continually been drawn back to covering this country because of the time she has spent there, where she has encountered “some of the most fantastic people I’ve ever met…[but unfortunately] a people who have a government that’s tearing their country apart.”

So, when Ohanesian decided she wanted to go learn more about what was happening in Darfur—to see for herself what no one was covering—she began asking the usual suspects for help with access: the UN, human rights groups, NGOs. But nobody could provide much in the way of information. Again, not from disinterest but because of the sheer impossibility of access.

Undaunted, Ohanesian sought other means of entry. In total, from the time she conceived of the project to when she was actually able to get into the country was almost three years. Three years of emails and phone calls and paperwork and bureaucratic visits. And of course, lots and lots of planning.

But finally, about one year ago, she and a fellow journalist, Klaas van Dijken, were granted access to a small portion of the country’s rebel-held areas, embedding herself with the Sudan Liberation Army, led by Abdul Wahid (the SLA-AW), a group that distinguishes itself by actually holding its own territory in the country. A territory that now consists of a small cluster of mountains, in the heart of Darfur, where the rebellion was originally founded.

Having been there and made it out, Ohanesian is grateful to have accomplished so much. Besides getting out some tiny slivers of information to the press, and thus the public, she was especially pleased to have been able to supply key images, videos and pieces of evidence to important decision-makers who work closely in the area. From aiding ongoing investigations by the International Criminal Court or helping Humans Rights Watch with a report on a previously undocumented mass rape, it is these kinds of focused impacts which make Ohanesian feel her work matters and can make a difference.

—Alexander Strecker


Editors’ Note: We first discovered Ohanesian’s work when she was named a LensCulture Emerging Talent in 2014. She was then a finalist in our Visual Storytelling Awards 2015. And most recently, she was named a winner in the 2016 World Press Photo Awards. Congratulations to Ohanesian for receiving much deserved recognition for her incredible dedication and hard work!