As Syria’s war rages on claiming thousands of lives and displacing many more, Syria’s artists and celebrities have found themselves caught on either side of the conflict.
While it is inevitable that artists, like other citizens, react and interact with the events around them, their position on both sides of the frontline have been targeted severely and deliberately.
In addition to the case of cartoonist Ali Ferzat who was brutally assaulted and had his hands broken for critically drawing President Assad and senior regime officials, those publicly siding with the regime have also been subject to fierce attacks and in the case of actor Mohammad Rafeh, who featured in the acclaimed TV series Bab al-Hara , murdered.
Last week, Raghda, a Syrian actress and staunch Assad supporter was violently attacked in Cairo as she recited a poem amid conflicting reports that Syrian rebels have kidnapped her nonagenarian father and forced him to disown her while donning a scarf and hat in the colours of the first Syrian flag, which the rebels have adopted. The parents of pianist Malek Jandali were also brutally attacked allegedly by regime forces in response to his support of the uprising.
Meanwhile, the poet Adonis who has denounced the government’s heavy-handed response and called on Assad to cede power to what initially began as peaceful protests, was also the subject of sectarian-fuelled online death threats for his criticism of the rebels’ transgressions and his position against regional and international intervention.
On the other side of the spectrum, famous Syrian singer Asala has been outspoken in her support of the ‘revolutionaries’ to whom she dedicated her rendition of Umm Kalthoum’s Thowar Thowar (Revolutionaries, Revolutionaries) at a restaurant opening in Qatar earlier this year. Asala, an honorary citizen of Bahrain, however, does not lend her support to the Bahraini uprising as she claims not to have understood the uprising and its demands.
The Gulf’s ‘concern’ for Syria and its people also appeared in the case of Lebanese star presenter George Kordahi who shot to fame as the host of the Arabic version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire on Dubai-based MBC. After expressing his support for Assad, plans for his new programme, an adaptation of the US format You Deserve it was ironically pulled out of “respect for the feelings of the Syrian people.”
Meanwhile, the war has brought more international attention to the work of Syria’s visual artists. Those who have left Syria and settled in neighbouring Beirut or European capitals have managed to channel the nihilistic storm engulfing their nation into stunning art works.
Tammam Azzam’s “Syrian Museum” , which digitally-merged classical art pieces with images of destruction from Syria, was distributed widely, and others artists’ works have been exhibited in galleries in regional and international cities. While Facebook and YouTube abound with spiteful pages attacking artists and leaders on both sides as well as graphic images of death and destruction, the virtual gallery Syria Art-Syrian artists posts engrossing artwork sans the sectarian rhetoric.
The devastation of conflict rolls on regardless with artists of course amongst the thousands of citizen victims, such as Yassin Bakoush, a famous comedian hit by a stray rocket last month.
Bakoush’s co-star Duraid Lahham, who has been prevented by some Lebanese from filming in North Lebanon due to his pro-Assad stance, posed the following question in one of his previous works, “For what should we sacrifice? What is worse than the homeland without human being living in it?” That question has never been more pertinent.