My goal was to put it (the Syrian crisis) in perspective and to translate everything that happens — reconstruct the history and to help the people to understand the Syrian refugee puzzle and to express it through their voices.
For me, it was important that they tell the story.”
— Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky on his riveting documentary “Cries From Syria”
Having read some of the many reviews and articles about the documentary “Cries From Syria,” I watched its broadcast on HBO last night with much anticipation.
It made me hear the cries of suffering Syrians with a sense of intimacy, empathy and discomfort.
The film had me in the first five minutes, with its fast-moving, concise, educational overview of the history of Syria from biblical times until now.
I was mightily impressed by how enlightening this short history lesson was: simple enough that a seventh-grader would perk up and pay attention and want to learn more.
Cut now to that now famous image of Alan Kurdi, the boy who washed ashore on a Turkish after a boat carrying Syrian refugees sank and a reminder of his story and an overview of the desperation of Syrians fleeing their country’s evil leader.
Then we get up-close and personal stories after more stories of the horrors that have been inflicted on Syrians and resistors to the cruel regime of Syria’s leader, Bashar Al-Assad.
Assad, by the way, is a British-trained physician with that calm, refined demeanor of his. Maybe the world would pay more attention to him and his war crimes if he were out in front of the TV cameras every day with a Hitleresque mustache and military uniform screaming and shouting, like so many high-profile mass killers do.
This is a British-educated doctor who deliberately bombed water sources that cut off water for 5.5 million people in and around Syria’s capital Damascus.
The documentary gives us portraits of brave and inspiring resistors who stood up to Assad and his blood-thirsty soldiers, like one young man who was a sort of Gandhi who led peaceful protests. These protesters confronted Assad’s killers face-to-face, offering them bottles of water and flowers and shouting: “We are your Syrian brothers! Why do you want to kill us? We are brothers!”
These peacemaking brothers were eventually tortured and killed. (And for the record, a lot of Assad’s former soldiers have joined the armed rebellion against him.)
The film is hard to watch, unflinching as it is in sharing footage of atrocities that make you wonder how in God’s name people can be so cruel. My bedtime prayers were informed by it.
But the film’s power lies in it’s in-your-face approach–the wakeup call that a Western world without much real knowledge of Syria and the refugee crisis needs to see.
Here’s an excerpt of what Foreign Policy Journal says about the doc, including that which the film left out.
Or better yet read the whole piece here for more background and education on “the Syrian puzzle”:
The final part of the film tells the story of Syrians fleeing the nightmare, being shot at by Turkish soldiers, having to sell everything to pay smugglers to help them get across borders, by land or sea. We again see the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi washed up on the shore.
By December 2016, an estimated 600,000 people had died in the war; 7 million Syrians became internally displaced; 4.8 million fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq; more than 1 million fled to Europe; and more than 13 million were in need of humanitarian assistance to survive.
Crisis from Syria is an important film. It tells a story that needs telling and emphasizing: the plight of the civilian population of Syria. In explaining how outside powers have intervened in ways that have only increased the suffering of civilians, however, the film is woefully silent about one: the government of the United States.
While the film propagates the official myth that the Obama administration didn’t get involved in Syria until the chemical weapon attack in Ghouta in 2013, the truth is the US had been intervening in Syria since at least early 2012, with the CIA funneling arms supplied by its regional partners Saudi Arabia and Qatar to rebel forces.
(Also left out is the story of how the US and Russia actually came to cooperate on ridding Syria of its chemical weapons: Obama had declared his intention to start bombing the country and his Secretary of State, John Kerry, ad-libbed a reply to a reporter’s question in which he said the Assad regime could avoid that outcome by disarming; Russian President Vladimir Putin then called on Assad to so disarm, and Assad accepted the deal, cutting the legs out from under the US’s pretext for military intervention.)…
The US role in the Syrian tragedy is also an important story that needs telling, and it’s unfortunate that the western mainstream media have instead chosen to push a propaganda narrative in which the crisis is blamed on an absence of US intervention in Syria.
Cries from Syria, whether intentionally or not, similarly whitewashes the US’s role. While this does not detract from the importance of the story it tells about the plight of the civilian population, it does limit its value for assessing what should be done to help them in their plight.
This is a question the film leaves open. It does not advocate any political—or military—solution. That is not its purpose. Its goal, rather, in Afineevsky’s words, is to show viewers the plight of Syrian civilians “from the inside out, through the eyes of those trapped in-between—many of them children—and experience their suffering, bravery, struggle, survival and hope.”
At this the film certainly succeeds. It’s at times hard to watch. You might be tempted to look away.