“ISIS seized Raqqa in a minute”

“Fade to Black” video of “Maajooneh” released online 2 weeks ago and shared over and over. We talked to Farah and Amer from “Maajooneh” about their lives under the pressure of Asad regime and ISIS, their journey to Istanbul and plans for future.

In the video titled as “Fade to Black”, a young woman full of hope lies under a sunny sky and all of sudden, black sheets starts to surround her and then covers her body. This video shared on social media and published on news websites over and over. This video is the work of 3 Syrian people who live in Istanbul and call themselves “Maajooneh” (play dough). 

The group consists of Ammar Khattab, Farah Presley and Amer and we meet with Farah and Amer in Taksim. Amer doesn’t want to reveal his surname, since his family lives in a region under the rule of Asad regime. Both Farah and Amer are artists who were born in Damascus, attended protests against Asad and had to escape when the war erupted. Farah went to Beirut first, then to Antep. Amer went to Raqqa and lived there before ISIS seized the city.

A wall of flesh

Farah tells why she left Damascus 3 years ago: “I couldn’t stand to live there anymore. There was nothing. I was taken into custody 2 times. They kept me for 10 days, because I passed by a check point near Asad’s residence at night. We are lucky that they hadn’t shot me, because they have the right to shoot you if you walk there. There were anti-regime songs on my computer and it was enough for them to keep me for 10 days.”

According to the news they received from their families there, everything is even worse now. “Every day, 25-30 howitzers hit the city center. A school was hit the other day, for instance.” Amer’s cousin was a taxi driver and he was killed by a howitzer hitting his car last week. They say that there are gangs on the streets who work for the regime and they exact money from the people. “It is a state of chaos,” says Amer. “I want to bring my family here, but it is not easy. Our house in Damascus is the only thing we have. The minute they leave house, people would plunder it. Now, they started to recruit 17-years-old people and they use them as a wall of flesh in front of the experienced soldiers. I have a 17-year-old brother; I have to bring him here.”

Capoeira in Raqqa

Raqqa was a trading point and third biggest city of the country until ISIS made it its capital in 2014. First, Asad regime left the city, then the Free Syrian Army. Clashes started between the organizations like Al-Nusra and ISIS and in 2014, ISIS seized Raqqa. During those times, Amer was living in Raqqa. He was teaching capoeira to children. “Before ISIS came, the daily life in Raqqa was still normal, though the war was still going on. One day, opposition groups came and seized the city. It was the first city that got rid of Asad regime and it was dreamed that it will set an example. Of course, that didn’t happen, because ISIS came with all its nonsense.” During the intense clashes between ISIS and opposition groups that lasted 10 days, Amer, who was living outside the city center, continued to teach capoeira. However, after ISIS seized the city completely, he realized that he cannot live there anymore. “They knew that I am interested in capoeira. They were asking who is this guy who teaches Christian songs to children.” In the end, he headed to Beirut, then to Antep and finally to Istanbul.

They made their “stop-motion” movie in their houses in Istanbul. “It is a very short movie, because ISIS seized Raqqa like in a minute,” says Amer. They are working on their next movie which is about a child who invented “super tissue” with a machine. “At the end of the movie, we understand that this child sells tissue on the streets and this machine is his dream. We want to show that these children have also dreams and have a right to lead a normal life.”

We begin to talk about children on the streets, Syrians who have to live on the streets and Turkish people’s attitude toward the Syrian refugees. Farah mocks with the prejudice against Syrians that they come across everywhere they go: “When we tell them we are Syrian, they say that we don’t look like Syrian. I mean, how does a Syrian look like? Am I supposed to have three eyes? People expect the worst from you.”

Reactions to their video are generally positive, though some ISIS members in Turkey insulted them and pointed them as target. Now, they are thinking about their next movie and the life they want to build in Istanbul. For now, they don’t consider going to Europe, because they know that there is a long waiting list. “Most of the people who go to Europe are the ones who lost everything. We are not like that yet. We are still free.”

What will happen in the future? What will happen to Syria? For Amer and Farah, who are both against the regime, the future is not very bright. “Everything becomes more difficult day by day. All the countries fight in Syria and we no longer know why they are fighting. Money and weapons are being sent from everywhere. When someone wants to end this war, it will be ended, but no one wants it to end.”


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Gözde Kazaz