Yemen’s Change Square: Occupy Sana’a

Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
Protestors gather in Change Square in Sana'a on October 1, 2011, near the makeshift prayer wall adorned with portraits of those killed in clashes with security forces.

Change Square, the locus of anti-government protests in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, has become a veritable tent city, home, for more than eight months, to several thousand protestors. And like any city, it caters to the needs of its citizen population: Doctors tend to the wounded at a makeshift hospital, volunteers prepare food, imams call the faithful to prayer, and a few entrepreneurs provide entertainment in the form of pellet-gun rifle ranges for revolutionaries frustrated with the peaceful part of their protest.

But unlike other cities, where the dead are forgotten in far away cemeteries, the martyrs of Change Square are at the center of attention. Photographs of those killed in the clashes flutter from the tent ropes that crisscross the city’s walkways. Portraits are plastered on the walls of the mosque.  Some protesters even wear bandanas printed with pictures of the dead wrapped around their forehead. And in the center of the square is a vast billboard where the protest’s grim toll is laid out in a mosaic of death intermingled with pride.  “We all want to be martyrs,” one young protestor told me. “To have change, we need to sacrifice, and sometimes that means our lives.” His friend agreed. “The only way we will get international attention for our cause is if there is blood on the streets.”

It’s a subtle condemnation of waning interest from the West as the Arab Spring moves into its ninth month. Thousands waving placards demanding the fall of the regime no longer garner the fevered media attention of Tunisia and Egypt. But death does. So in service to their dreams of liberation, some Yemeni revolutionaries aspire to the snipers bullet, or the machine gun spray. Not all of course. “I don’t want to be a martyr,” another protestor told me. “I want to see our dreams of a new Yemen come true.”

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME who has covered the Arab Spring since January. To see his previous work from Libya, click here.

Aryn Baker,
TIME‘s Middle East Bureau Chief, is based in Beirut. Find her on Twitter at @arynebaker. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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