We have all seen the shocking images from Syria; the destroyed towns, dead bodies in the streets, thousands of refugees on the road or penned together in makeshift refugee camps. Alfoz Tanjour undertakes the significant task of documenting what occurs on a day to day basis, beyond the tragedy of war, in the private spaces of a population that, for the last fifty years, suffered under the oppression of Assad’s regime. He explores what happens to those who have left the country, with no prospect of ever returning. The experiences of four characters, most of them now refugees in different parts of Europe, who faced the horror which remains with them still, are the focus of A Memory in Khaki.
The documentary presented as a European premiere in the prestigious Karlovy Vary Film Festival reflects the inner reality of generations of Syrians, who like most of their countrymen, felt like strangers in their own land. Those who managed to escape left feeling as though they had lost their cultural identity and emotional security forever.
Filmmaker Alfoz Tanjour (b. 1975, Salameih, Syria) offers four very personal perspectives and languages, sometimes occasionally poetic, as in the case of the writer Ibrahim Samuel who tries to describe the unbearable. For all of them, khaki is not just a color, but a symbol of dictatorial oppression in every stage of their daily life. It’s the color of the soldiers’ uniforms, but also of the scholars who were forced to wear not only khaki jackets and trousers, but also shirts and socks in this same color. It’s the most visible sign of life in a completely controlled society, where fear is the overwhelming force. It is the color of a society that forbids continuity and dictates orders that can never be questioned. The image of big brother Assad is present everywhere.
Fifty years of repression has created a society of barbarity in which human behavior has been abandoned in favor of corruption and sadism. How many generations will be necessary to overcome this unstated and unlimited cruelty? For the moment, it’s too early to ask this question.
Amathel is one of the women resisting this forced submission, refusing an arranged marriage, another form of the ongoing violence. Rejecting this deeply-rooted custom is such an impossible act that she was forced to leave her home immediately never to return. At first she hid in the nearby capital of Damascus then left the country altogether. She was forced to constantly change her name, and kept doing so even when she reached Finland, her country of refuge. She knows that Syrian forces will not be stopped at the border.
The lucid witnesses recall events in a historical perspective, remembering how in the 1970’s the regime succeeded in transforming the revolution of the people into a war against religion and terrorism (see also: https://www.moderntimes.review/four-steps-reality-regression-one-victim-syrians). The fight against the Muslim Brotherhood was only the first step, before general terror spread to virtually every part of the country. The militant propaganda extended to include different factions of the population, until it reached everyone, communists, nationalists and even members of the party who risked having their own thoughts. This terror was produced by those who had never won a real fight or war, except for launching several attacks on their Arab neighbors.
People were often imprisoned without trial. Families were left with no possibility to provide a defense and were forbidden contact with their jailed loved ones for years. In cases when a prisoner was released, they returned as a shadow of their former selves, empty, with no will and no mind, their intelligence destroyed and physically unrecognizable. Others just disappeared forever.
With the decline of the Soviet Union, Syria began to lose its political legitimacy. The formerly predominant Baathist ideology of the 1980’s was not applicable since Syria did not partake in the idea of a united Arab world. From this time on, sectarianism was used as a political strategy. Tensions between minority groups were fabricated, insecurity and the fear of “others” were spread. The artificial creation of an Islamic fundamentalist movement was carried out. Maximum pain was inflicted on Moslem prisoners and the tortured then were released. They were even provided access to small arms. Some areas and regions of the country were given over to them, where they could move freely and grow.
For Khaled, who now lives in France, it is evident that the official international community has shown more than a passing interest in stopping the intensity of the Arab Spring in Syria. They will not tolerate a successful revolution in Syria for fear of the repercussions it would have in their own counties. Here the established systems were confronted not by an uncontrolled uprising, the people directly attacking the establishment and not dictated by politics based on national and international powers. It was in the common interest to not let this continue.
Shadi, one of the refugees, has been tortured three times but still believes in non-violent resistance. His hope is unbroken: the Syrian regime never can re-establish itself as it was before. People have tasted freedom and will not yield ever again, regardless of the price they may have to pay.
Beyond the “big history”, director Tanjour introduces us to four fascinating characters. Each of them has found their own way to handle their inner pain. Their personal experiences transform the frightening background into moments bursting with strength and grace, such as the meeting between Amathel and her mother, a woman who has never known freedom in her life. Amathel advises her mother: In life, never walk a path and then turn back.