Women from Syria: an unfinished story

Film by Osama Jumaa

As the conflict began, a large part of Syrian youths took up arms and joined the war, with men of opposition armed factions fighting government forces with great determination, and some women taking part in battles. We followed a group of armed women fighting government forces on one of the advanced fronts in the old city of Aleppo. We observed the barricades which had been erected in its old streets and the clashes from inside its destroyed historical buildings, which had turned into barriers behind which combatants sought shelter. We documented the armed clashes between female fighters from the Umma Aisha Women’s Brigade and the Syrian government forces at the Citadel of Aleppo, one of the oldest and largest castles in the world, after warplanes had launched multiple raids on the old city. It was also in the old city of Aleppo where Marwa, a former detainee in Syrian prisons, assisted her husband, an engineer trying to build an anti-aircraft missile in their home.

The cycle of violence in Syria continued amid massive destruction and a large number of people injured and killed in aerial bombardments. The dire situation in the country led three Syrian young women to join civil defence teams to undertake rescue work and provide medical assistance to those trapped under the rubble. Hence, young teacher Hasna, law student Eba, and Mayza, become rescuers in the Civil Defence as well as nurses. As Hasna walks among the ruins of her school, the former teacher cannot help longing for her gone-by days spent in the class with her students. From the very start, the war caused a major electricity and fuel crisis in Syria, with many families resorting to firewood for cooking, including Maroush, an elderly lady forced back to burning branches for cooking and heating.

As we travelled to the city of Saraqib in the southeast of Idlib, we met Safa, a lass who sings for the Syrian revolution, while her father writes songs and chants, and accompanies her with the oud musical instrument. We then left for the village of Atma, in the north of the Idlib governorate and at the border with Turkey, and met with the young woman Sana. Sana teaches a group of children of detainees in Syrian prisons to dance, to sing, and to act, and to perform their newly acquired skills despite the limited resources available. Sana and her young team would then tour displacement camps in Syria performing plays, songs, and dances, while also interacting with children, in a country mired in a grinding civil war where children account for a large proportion of civilian casualties.

With the start of the Russian military intervention, attacks and aerial bombing campaigns intensified on opposition-held areas. Air strikes affected hospitals and medical centres, disrupting medical facilities and damaging health structures. When the ‘Doctors Without Borders (MSF)-supported hospital in Ma’rat al-Numan was hit and destroyed as a result of air strikes, the nurse Eba was among the injured. Journalist Osama Jumaa, who had already started following up the work of the three young women in hospital amid the military operations and the intense aerial bombardment, rushed to visit Eba at her home where Hasna and Mayza were with her.

Journalist Medyan Dairieh had known Osama’s family since the beginning of the Syrian revolution. Medyan would stay with them during long periods of time while in Syria to cover the situation there, with Osama’s family always being extremely hospitable and kind to him. From a young age, Osama showed much interest in Medyan’s cameras, and he soon expressed his desire to learn to use them.

Osama trained in Turkey in the fields of journalism and photography as well as in the production of documentaries with IMAGESLIVE. He had also received training on the ground in Syria by Medyan Dairieh, who during his teaching would focus to a great extent on the necessity of independence, impartiality, objectivity, and safety for journalists covering the news. Medyan would also stress the duty of journalists to show all parties involved in the conflict without adopting any particular view.

Unlike many other young Syrians, Osama fully understood and embraced the basic principles of journalism. Moreover, Osama never joined any of the warring factions nor any party or organization during the Syrian conflict, thus always maintaining an objective approach to the conflict, which was reflected in his impartiality and high professionalism as a journalist. Osama resumed the filming Medyan had begun of documenting the stories of Syrian women, their resilience and hopes, as well as their roles in the conflict, travelling to several regions to review their lives at the time when the city of Aleppo was under intense bombardment from air and land.

Tragically, on June 5, 2016, a bright and gentle flower of Syria fell. Osama lost his life after being hit by shrapnel from artillery shells fired by the Syrian government forces in Aleppo’s Al-Mashad neighbourhood. Osama had gone to that district to film the efforts to rescue people trapped under the rubble after an attack with barrel bombs. He was travelling on an ambulance heading to the site of the bombardment, and as soon as he arrived at the scene an artillery shell exploded with Osama being seriously injured. As the ambulance’s driver, Abdulaziz Sarha, tried to save Osama, another shell fell, claiming their lives together.

Osama died in the springtime of life, at the age of twenty. Osama was born in the Syrian town of Aleppo, where his father was a teacher at a high school in the city, with the family soon moving to the village of Taqad, west of Aleppo. A relative insisted in recovering Osama’s body despite the extreme danger of going through the Castello Road, which was subjected to intense artillery fire and air strikes at the time. Osama had completed several reports about the Castello Road only days before his death. Due to the intense shelling by heavy artillery and the rocket attacks, the road had been nicknamed “The Road to Death”. Tragically, it was the body of innocent Osama to go through the road, to finally reach the destination of his village, which he held dear and he had planned to go back to, following his decision to return to his cherished Syria.

Delicate like a jasmine flower, Osama carried the sadness and grief of his family and the suffering of the children of his country whose bodies were torn apart by the deadly planes, and by the lethal weapons and bullets. Osama would stand high-headed, staring at the camera and drawing every moment that tells the stories of war, destruction, devastation, together with the children’s sorrow and his homeland’s wounds. Osama had deep integrity and courage in addition to great humanity and compassion.

Osama left us but we followed him and found that the images he conveyed remain vivid in the hearts, stirring strong emotion in people’s conscience. They also stand as strong evidence of the ugliness of war and murder. The last images recorded by Osama’s broken camera covered his last few moments. Artillery shelling can be clearly heard, while paramedic driver Abdulaziz Sarha pleads over the radio for everyone to take shelter from the artillery bombardment.

Osama had interviewed the women working in the Civil Defence and had met Safa while she was chanting about the recent Russian bombing operations; and before he was killed, he had arranged to meet with the female fighters. Osama would wander in towns filming life-saving operations at the hands of the Civil Defence women. The story suddenly came to a halt because of Osama’s tragic passing; yet Syria’s map of territorial control had also shifted, and a number of female fighters were killed. Maroush sadly passed away and Sana moved after she got married. Marwa left Aleppo for the city of Al-Bab with her husband and children, and contact with the remaining characters of the story was lost

 

Director: Medyan Dairieh

Filming by: Osama Jumaa and Medyan Dairieh

Editors: Zakariya Yahya and Muhammad Ata

Production: IMAGESLIVE-Turkish Branch, where Osama worked