Syria: Lost in the Flood

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Late Syrian filmmaker Omar Amiralay. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Khalil Sweileh

Published Wednesday, January 4, 2012

An inventory of cultural losses is more apt for 2011 rather than searching for cultural accomplishments in Syria. It was an exceptional year that called for a new vocabulary to write with.

The first tragedy was the passing of filmmaker Omar Amiralay on February 5 before the Syrian Spring set in. It’s not mere glorification of the dead to say that the maker of A Flood in Baath Country left behind orphans and disciples after his sudden absence.

He had signed a statement of solidarity with the Egyptian Tahrir Square revolution, then left before he could visually chronicle the awakening of the Syrian street.

In March, Syrian mothers went out in front of the interior ministry building in Martyrs’ Square demanding the release of prisoners detained without trial but the crackdown by security forces foiled their attempt.

Syrian thinker Tayyeb Tizini was also there. When he protested against the violence inflicted on a woman and her daughter, he was beaten and detained.

Since that day, Syria, depicted through shaky images on cell phone cameras, has turned into breaking news on TV screens. Some believe that a new kind of documentary film-making will now emerge in the country breaking with past productions.

A protest at a square outside the Umayyad Mosque announced the rebellion of young intellectuals who borrowed from the spectacle of Tahrir Square, but they were unaware of the fragility of the land they stand on. There was nothing that intellectuals could do but sign consecutive statements against the violence meted out by state.

The “Milk Statement” signed by artists about events in Daraa gained both fame and infamy. It was followed by the Filmmakers Statement to end the violence and the killing. Against this statement a counter campaign and an Internal Filmmakers Statement emerged which questioned the patriotism of the former statement’s signatories.

Art syndicates and official trade unions remained silent except for one weak statement by the Union of Arab Writers.

But the names of Syrian intellectuals would eventually make their way onto detainee lists. Others would face grave threats like activist Reem Fleihan, actors May Skaf, Fadwa Suleiman and the Malas brothers, filmmakers Nidal Hassan and Firas Fayyad and novelist Samar Yazbek who left for Paris.

Kidnapping cartoonist Ali Farzat, assaulting him and trying to crush his fingers and his face awakened the cultural community to an unprecedented tragedy. Farzat had been publishing cartoons in support of the protest movement since the onset of the Syrian uprising.

Novelist Nabil Suleiman did not escape harm or accusations of treason. The poet Adonis penned a letter addressed to Bashar Assad and faced the wrath of both regime loyalists and the opposition.

In the absence of official platforms, Syrian intellectuals turned to the virtual world as an alternative platform for self expression. But when the dust of virtual battles settles, it will reveal a cultural scene devastated by accusations of treason and exclusionary campaigns.

In this highly charged climate, it is difficult to evaluate the Syrian cultural scene. Although official institutions sought to maintain their programs such as the Opera House and the National Theater. The Damascus Film Festival was postponed, art galleries closed their doors to visitors and community cultural festivals were cancelled.

Lost in the hustle were striking novels published this year like The Stone of Beds by Nabil Suleiman, Women of the Imagination by Mamdouh Azzam and Rehearsal by Rosa Yaseen Hassan.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Culture Recap of 2011

Articles: Algeria | Egypt | Iraq | Jordan | Lebanon | Morocco | Palestine | Syria | Tunisia

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