As 2017 draws to a close, we take a look at powerful photos from around the world that tell some of the year’s most important stories.
The toll of Syria’s civil war
The war between Syrian rebels and government forces began in 2011 and has displaced millions and left hundreds of thousands dead. Much of Aleppo — Syria’s centuries-old city known as its economic capital and celebrated for its beauty, history and culture — lay in ruins after years of fighting. After President Bashar Assad’s military recaptured the city in late 2016, residents including 70-year-old Mohammed Mohiedin Anis returned and found homes damaged or destroyed. “He played one of his favorite songs,” AFP photographer Joseph Eid told Time magazine — a recording by Syrian singer Mohamed Dia al-Din. “He is so attached to his past and to the things that he always cherished and loved, and without them he will lose his identity,” Eid said. “That’s why he insists on staying and getting back his life again.”
The agony of a stateless people
In August, Rohingya Muslims began fleeing in large numbers from Myanmar to Bangladesh. By year’s end, more than 600,000 had crossed into Bangladesh, where many now live in temporary camps. A Myanmar army crackdown, which followed an August attack by Rohingya insurgents on Myanmar police posts and an army base, led to the mass departure of people recognized nowhere as citizens. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and has suggested that the Myanmar military may be guilty of genocide against the Muslim minority group.
Starting new lives
More than 2.5 million people applied for asylum in European Union countries in 2015 and 2016. Even as many European nations tightened their borders in 2017, migrants continued to arrive. In the Netherlands, 34,000 migrants applied for asylum between November 2016 and October 2017. For some, empty prisons became temporary homes, part of a government effort to shelter newcomers awaiting word on their status. “If a country has no prisoners to put in jail,” a Syrian refugee in the Netherlands told Associated Press photographer Muhammed Muheisen, “it means this is the safest country that I want to be living in.”
A disputed election
Kenya was thrown into political turmoil with two elections. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s October reelection — with 98 percent of the vote — was rejected by opposition leader Raila Odinga, who boycotted the polls. The October election followed an Aug. 8 vote that Odinga had challenged and the country’s Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional. Election-related violence resulted in dozens of deaths. The court upheld Kenyatta’s October win, and he was inaugurated in November.
Terrorism in Britain
Twenty-two concert-goers, some of them children, were killed in a suicide attack claimed by ISIS following a performance by Ariana Grande at Britain’s Manchester Arena in May. It was not the only terrorist attack the U.K. sustained in 2017: Others targeted a London mosque and an Underground station, and took place on Westminster Bridge and London Bridge.
Catalonia’s independence bid
A showdown between Madrid and Catalonia’s regional government roiled Spain. The central government dismissed Catalonia’s parliament in October, just as the region declared independence. Fearing arrest, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium and for now, remains in exile. By year’s end, pro-independence parties were back in charge in Catalonia, and tensions looked likely to continue. Meanwhile, Catalans remain divided over whether to split from Spain.
The battle for Mosul
In February, Iraqi troops launched an operation to liberate the western part of Mosul, the last area of the city to remain under ISIS control. ISIS had seized the Iraqi city in 2014, and government forces took back east Mosul in January. The west was finally liberated in July. Thousands of civilians were killed in the battle and much now lies in ruins. Some feared that “recapturing Mosul will be the end of one battle but the beginning of another,” observes freelance photographer Tommy Trenchard, who covered the fight to retake the city.
Chinese President Xi Jinping touted “a new era” for China as he opened the 19th national congress of the Communist Party in October. “We are closer than any time in history to realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” he said. The congress helped cement Xi’s own power, unmatched by any Chinese leader in years: It gave him a second term as president, formally enshrined his theories in the constitution and approved a new leadership lineup that omitted any clear successor.
The ‘glowing orb’
As President Trump made his first overseas trip as president in May, the image of him and the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia laying hands on a large glass sphere lit up social media around the world. Speculation about the object — dubbed the “glowing orb” by both the Washington Post and New York Times — ranged from the stuff of science fiction to fables, fantasy and comic book creations. It was, in the end, a world globe. The event at which it was featured was the inauguration of a Saudi center to fight extremism.
An authoritarian era ends
When Zimbabwe’s military turned against President Robert Mugabe and placed him under house arrest in November, it marked the demise of a ruler who had kept a firm grip on power for 37 years. Mugabe, 93, hung on awhile longer; for nearly a week during his house arrest, he ignored calls to step down. When he finally resigned on Nov. 21, many Zimbabweans, including those in his own party, were euphoric. Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has promised economic revival and a “new and unfolding democracy.” Questions remain about the role of Zimbabwe’s military.
North Korea’s tests
North Korea advanced its weapons capability, carrying out nuclear and missile tests throughout the year. In January, Kim Jong Un announced that his country had “entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of intercontinental ballistic missile.” In July, that launch took place. President Trump vowed to respond with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” But the world continues to grapple with the threat of North Korea’s nukes.
Violence continued unabated in Afghanistan, which entered its 37th year of conflict. The U.N. documented more than 8,000 civilian casualties in the first nine months of 2017, many attributable to attacks by the Taliban and Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate.
When ISIS terrorists attacked the Imam Zaman Shiite mosque in Kabul in August, police made frantic efforts to protect a young boy they saw standing alone in the courtyard. “He had been playing while his grandfather was praying inside when the attack happened and he seemed completely confused by the sound of gunshots and police shouting,” Reuters photographer Omar Sobhani later recalled. The child’s grandfather was killed. The boy “was not able to decide whether the policemen who were calling him were really police or [ISIS],” a relative told Afghanistan’s TOLO News. “By Allah’s help, finally policemen rescued him and took him out.”
A collapsed economy, severe food shortages and the jailing of opposition leaders were among the hallmarks of a tumultuous year in Venezuela. President Nicolas Maduro and his socialist government were targets of huge protests. By year’s end, the protests had largely dissipated but the country’s problems had not.
A royal spouse retires and another joins the family
Britain’s Prince Philip announced in May that he would be retiring from public life in August, at age 96. He and Queen Elizabeth celebrated their 70th anniversary on Nov. 20. A week later, a new royal engagement was announced: Prince Harry, 33, and American actress Meghan Markle, 36, declared their intention to marry in 2018.