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Photo showing assassination of Russian ambassador to Turkey wins World Press Photo Contest

February 13, 18:08 UTC+3 THE HAGUE
The picture features Mevlut Mert Altintas, a 22-year-old off-duty police officer, several seconds after he had shot at the Russian diplomat at an arts exhibition in Ankara
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© AP Photo/Peter Dejong

THE HAGUE, February 13. /TASS/. An image taken by Turkish photographer Burhan Ozbilici at the moment of assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov has won the annual World Press Photo Contest.

The winners were announced by the World Press Photo Foundation in Amsterdam on Monday.

The picture features Mevlut Mert Altintas, a 22-year-old off-duty police officer, several seconds after he had shot at the Russian diplomat at an arts exhibition in Ankara. He is standing by the Russian ambassador lying deadly wounded on the floor. He is shouting something, with a gun in his hand.

Just doing his job

"It was a very difficult moment," Ozbilici said at the ceremony. "But my first feeling was: I’m a journalist, I’m representing independent journalism, not only my company. So I have to stand, I have to do my job. Maybe I would be killed, I would be injured, but I would leave behind me some good documentary."

"Running away was not the solution for me. I had a responsibility to represent journalism. So I had to stand there. Of course, I was scared: the gunman just killed an innocent man and I wasn’t sure if he would kill more people," he said.

The photographer said the fatal incident had changed his life dramatically. "Psychologically I did not have any damage, but I had been very sad," he said, adding that he had been shocked to see "a good man being killed in front of my eyes."

Each image deserves commendation

Announcing the winner, Stuart Franklin, the chairman of the jury, stressed that the Burhan Ozbilici behaved as "an incredibly courageous man, who did his job heroically." "Actually, by chance he went to a press conference that turned into this tragedy. It’s not an easy thing, you know, you imagine yourself in Burhan’s situation: to be able to stand there. You don’t know what’s going on, putting your life on the line, standing firm with your composure intact."

In this situation, the Turkish photographer did not lose his courage and did "not just this photograph, but a series of photographs," with each of the images deserving commendation. "That’s really impressive," Franklin stressed.

Hatred of our times

"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 May Calvert, a member of the jury. "Every time it came on the screen you almost had to move back because it’s such an explosive image and we really felt that it epitomizes the definition of what the World Press Photo of the Year is and means."

"Right now I see the world marching towards the edge of an abyss. This is a man who has clearly reached a breaking point and his statement is to assassinate someone who he really blames, a country that he blames, for what is going on elsewhere in the region. I feel that what is happening in Europe, what is happening in America, what is happening in the Far East, Middle East, Syria, and this image to me talks of it. It is the face of hatred," said another jury member, Joao Silva.

Background

Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was gunned down on December 19, 2016, while delivering a speech at a photo exhibition in Ankara. According to Turkey’s authorities, the attacker, an off-duty police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas, was immediately neutralized by security forces. The Russian Foreign Ministry officially declared the ambassador’s murder a terrorist attack. The Russian Investigative Committee opened a criminal case labeling Karlov’s assassination an act of international terrorism. Andrei Karlov was posthumously awarded the title of the Hero of Russia.

Set up in 1955, the World Press Photo Foundation sees is mission in promoting the work of visual journalists. The annual contest is now reputed as one of the most prestigious events in photojournalism. This year’s contest drew the some 80,000 images taken by more than 5,000 photographers from 125 world countries. The jury of internationally recognized professionals in the area of photojournalism awarded prized in eight categories to 45 photographers from 25 countries, including four Russian nationals.

An exhibition of prize-winning images is visited by more than four million people in 45 cities around the world.

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