Throughout the week spanning March 18 to 24, The Nation will be posting installments of Abounaddara’s seven-part series, The Syrian Who Wanted the Revolution. Today’s video is the seventh (and last) in the series. You can find links to earlier ones at the bottom of this article. Check back tomorrow to watch a new video.
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Syrian revolt. It’s nearly impossible to fathom the destruction unleashed on this country that, we must admit, no longer exists as a country. Syria is fractured and destroyed, much of it now unrecognizable. Overrun by foreign mercenaries and carved into pieces by militias and the Assad regime, the once-proud nation has become a Disneyland for the world’s most violent criminals, craven politicians, and psychopathic ideologues.
The revolution began differently. In January 2011, a peaceful protest movement, inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian examples, was slowly blooming. It sprouted cautiously at first, spreading over the country and growing more daring over time. When 15 boys were arrested in Dara’a in March for scrawling “the people demand the fall of the regime,” a popular slogan of the Arab uprisings, on walls, the residents of this small southern town near the Jordanian border became enraged. They gathered on March 18 to demand the release of their boys. Instead, Bashar al-Assad’s security forces opened fire, killing at least four protesters. The Syrian spring had sprouted blood.
Five horrific years later, even the United Nations has stopped counting the dead. In August 2014, the UN put the death toll at 191,369. By August 2015, it would only offer an estimate of “over 250,000 dead,” citing a lack of reliable information. This February, another organization, the independent Syrian Center for Policy Research, released a report detailing its survey of the number of people killed, either directly or indirectly, by the war. That total reached 470,000 dead.
If we put this number into context, the situation becomes even more stark. In 2010, life expectancy in Syria was 70.5 years. By 2015, it had nosedived to 55.4 years. During these five years, over a million people were injured. And this year, more than 45 percent of the nation’s school-age children will not attend classes, almost certainly producing a lost generation. According to UNICEF, one in three Syrian children—around 3.7 million kids—has been born during these last five years, including 306,000 born as refugees. Over 80 percent of Syria’s total child population—8.4 million children—are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. The only world these children know is one fashioned by war and brutal violence. Almost half the population of 23 million people have fled their homes, with 4.6 million forced to leave the country and 6.6 displaced internally. The catastrophe is inconceivable.
And yet, for five years the world has basically averted its eyes from this grim reality, largely abandoning the Syrian people through tepid international diplomacy. In 2012, Kofi Annan came, and then Kofi Annan left. (He stayed five months.) Multilateral efforts to stop the violence have been disgracefully ineffectual, while multilateral efforts to escalate the violence have succeeded phenomenally. Only in the last few weeks are there glimmers of hope that the violence may lessen.
The uprising has begotten no end of evils and terrors, and yet the only attention the rest of the world pays is either to the war’s grotesque spectacles of violence in the form of the war porn of ISIS and others or, more lately, to the images and reality of a world-historical refugee crisis. Even then, attention was paid only when these ragged figures began knocking on the doors of Europe or washing up lifeless on its shores. Left to wallow in tyranny and torture or desperately escape their misery and abjection, Syrians have become the damned of this world. The wretched of the earth.
Enter Abounaddara, the anonymous Syrian film collective that, despite all odds, has been releasing a new film every Friday chronicling the many sides of the Syrian war. If the world’s reaction has been to turn away, Abounaddara forces us to look, not at the pornography of war but at the human consequences of violence. Engaging in self-labeled “emergency cinema,” Abounaddara—the name translates to “the man with the glasses,” which is to say the man who, through his lenses, can see clearly—has produced a seven-part series, titled “The Syrian Who Wanted the Revolution,” timed for release with the five-year anniversary of the war. The Nation is proud to showcase the series over the course of this week.
Throughout the series, we hear the testimony of a secular protester who joined the revolution in Aleppo in March 2011 but was arrested by the regime in June of that year. He spent more than three years as a prisoner in Saidnaya Prison, the regime’s worst and most notorious prison, until he was freed in July 2014 after having been given up for nearly dead from tuberculosis. In the series, we learn about how the initial protests were organized, what kind of conditions dissidents endure, the torture the regime freely engages in, how hospitals become sites not of life but of death, how the dissidents sat out the rise of the militias, and much more. The information, and the humanity with which it is delivered, is invaluable.
Like many of Abounaddara’s videos, “The Syrian Who Wanted the Revolution” ends abruptly. Its focus is on one person’s experience rather than on a full human or national story. These videos are almost by definition fragmentary, difficult, unresolved, and disrupting, but so is Syria’s revolution. This series, like all of Abounaddara’s videos, does not seek to explain the politics of Syria to viewers or to argue for a tidy political solution to the butchery Syrians (but not us) are constantly menaced by. It is precisely this open-endedness that makes the work bracing, relevant, honest, and incomplete, which I mean here as a positive value. “It is not the office of art to spotlight alternatives,” the German Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno writes, “but to resist by its form alone the course of the world, which permanently puts a pistol to men’s heads.” There is perhaps no better description of the work of Abounaddara.
Check back to watch a new video in this seven-part series each day this week.