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Catching a glimpse of everyday life in war-torn Syria through Avo Kaprealian’s lens
We talk to Avo Kaprealian, the documentary filmmaker who shares a compelling account of everyday life in war-torn Aleppo. The city he once called home.
Filmed over two years in Al-Midan, West Aleppo’s predominantly Syrian Armenian neighbourhood, Avo Kaprealian’s documentary, House Without Doors remains open for interpretation but also offers a strong social message. It shows how people live during wartime in an area neglected by mainstream media.
Intentionally using semi-professional cameras and mobile phones to capture the confusing aesthetics of war where light has been replaced by smoke and fire, the Syrian Armenian filmmaker gives people a voice and tells their stories.
When in late 2012 he was about to interview a coffee shop owner whose house had just been demolished, he was arrested for filming, beaten up and spent 22 days in jail. It was in fact the coffee shop owner who, scared, gave him up to the authorities. But Kaprealian never really gave up. Even though he lost most of his files, he kept filming, mainly from the balcony of his house.
He felt the need to keep memories alive, show what catastrophe Syria was heading towards, but also show the life of regular civilians. “Simple people with simple dreams that nobody films because we only tend to look at where the death toll is higher, where the conflict is more intense,” in Kaprealian’s words.
The documentary also touches upon questions of identity, making a link between the demand for the recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915 and the current war in Syria. “If you’re defending a real cause, a human cause, and not just for justice but for it not to happen again, you also need to defend the cause of others,” Kaprealian says after the screening of his documentary organised by the European Armenian Foundation for Justice and Democracy in Brussels.
Syria has played a crucial role during and after the genocide. It is in the heart of the Deir ez-Zor desert that the Turks forced thousands of Armenians into cruel death marches but it is also in cities such as Aleppo that survivors felt welcomed and found a new home.
By starting the film with footage of the weapon industry, Kaprealian wants to show us that we’re all victims of what he calls the “new capitalism”.
“Our enemy is one. Forget about revolution, no revolution has succeeded in the 21st century. Also, it isn’t going to end with revolution because it doesn’t end with dictators,” adds Kaprealian. “Who owns the riches of the world? The ones who build and control the weapons are already telling us to keep our mouths shut”.
Against war and weapons, Kaprealian took to the streets of Syria in 2008, all throughout the war until he fled to Lebanon in 2015, he worked with displaced people using interactive theatre as a healing therapy. He organised group sessions where participants sat in circles and opened up, sharing stories which were then turned into plays. Ultimately, this was a meeting ground for people who wouldn’t have had the chance to meet otherwise.
“In Syria, you can be arrested for hanging out with a group of people, even five people in a room is too much, and the notion of public space remains foreign to the country,” Kaprealian says. Fear and mistrust is what governs relationships. As a result of war, many have also become numb and paranoid. Instead, “when you start expressing yourself in a space you feel comfortable in, you forget about religion and ethnicity. All problems disappear and you start feeling responsible for the other because we all look alike”.
Based between Beirut and Berlin, Kaprealian continues working with refugees while asking himself questions, as is apparent in the documentary, about his identity, our responsibility in war, the fear that governs us and human beings’ reactions in such situations. Ultimately, the stories he shares aren’t just about explosions and deaths, they’re about people. In this very touching account of war, we connect with humanity.
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