By Ali-Akbar Jenabzadeh

Doc tells future generations truth of war against terrorism in Syria

February 2, 2021 - 19:22

TEHRAN – Following the outbreak of the war against terrorism in Syria, an all-out effort began by certain media outlets to portray the facts on the war upside down. The criminal and the victim were transposed in the narrative provided by those outlets to justify the illegal engagement of countries like the U.S. and its allies in the war. Since then, numerous Iranian and non-Iranian filmmakers have tried to produce documentaries and movies about the reality of the crisis. One of those documentary filmmakers is Vahid Farahani who has recently completed his film “Why Syria?”. He believes that to properly study the issue, it should be considered from many different angles.  

In an interview with the Tehran Times, Farahani said, “As opposing media organizations appeared to be unshakeable in justifying their illegitimate cause, an insufficient effort was made by the Axis of Resistance to thoroughly explain different aspects of the issue.”

The following is the full text of the interview:

Q. Your documentary, in format and structure, has international standards and high quality. As I heard, you are planning to write a trilogy with the same theme. So, do you want to keep the same format in your future movies?

A. In the first step, we didn’t think of such a model for filmmaking. However, when we witness the feedbacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, we think that we should produce such documentaries in the future.

Q. So when you were making the film, you did not plan for future ones that would be in line with the current production?

A. Yes, that is right.

Q. You did not leave anything unfinished for the future?

A. No, the movies are completely independent. Maybe their stories are totally different from each other.

Q. Ok, since our audience is international and they might not know you, introduce yourself a little. Who is Vahid Farahani? How you got interested in the resistance axis?

A. I began with making clips and documentaries in the field of Islamic awakening ten years ago. I knew working with camera since I was a child. My father, Majid, was working with filmmaker Morteza Avini on his documentary project Ravayat-e Fath (Narration of Victory) on the Iran–Iraq War. My father was the comrade of Martyr Avini. Due to my background in the field of documentary, I was interested in it.

I began my activities in 2009. I intended to make money from my knowledge as a computer engineer to make my films in the future. My first activity was at the international level. I made the documentary “To Bayt-al-Muqaddas” in 2012. I joined an Asian caravan that had begun a tour from India and Pakistan and then arrived in Iran. Then we took a road trip from Turkey to Lebanon and Syria. This was the first I was making a film in the field of Palestine and in support of freedom seekers. They all gathered on the border of Palestine and I made a documentary.

People from different parts of the world, including European countries, Australia, and the U.S., joined the caravan. After completing the documentary, I asked director Nader Talebzadeh to watch it. He liked it and agreed to do the narration for the documentary.

After that, I have made some other films in Iraq. After the Syria crisis and the formation of ISIS, we decided to travel to Syria. Finally, we made a connection with the Badr Brigade in Iraq to travel to the country. we continued working with our comrades there. Firstly, they did not trust us. We held meetings with Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada. Interestingly, they told us that a team from BBC had visited the area a week before to report the resistance group. I asked what was interesting for them? They said that the reporters were amazed to see that the resistance groups hang the picture of Iran’s Leader on their wall.

We made a documentary with the help of soldiers about the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) or Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi. In that time, PMF was gradually forming. We went there to make a documentary about their organization and the formation of the PMF. At that time, there was no film on this issue and resistance. The documentary was entitled “Borderless, Love”. It had great feedbacks in Iran as well as Iraq and then in Lebanon. With such a CV, we were now able to continue our work in this field easily.

After a while, the cultural section of the PMF asked us to make a portrait documentary from a martyred Iraqi leader, and PMF commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. This may be the first and only portrait documentary made about this character. We named it “A Selfie with Abu Mahdi”. He really had an open view toward reporters, letting them ask their questions freely.

We have also traveled to Syria from time to time. The documentary “With Patience, Life” is about the siege of Al-Fu’ah and Kafriya. The year before that, we had produced the documentary “With Death, Life” which was about the siege of Nubl and Al-Zahraa. Another documentary that I made was about immigration and the damage of the war to Syrians entitled “Aleppo, City That It Was".

It was my concern to do a positive media project about the axis of resistance. I witnessed the troubles facing the Iraqi forces as well as Liwa Fatemiyoun, and Liwa Zainebiyoun. On the other side, I saw that many media outlets are getting together against the resistance axis. It was really annoying. The resistance forces were really concerned about the life of the future generations. When you talked with them, they said they are on the battlefield to save future generations. However, due to the lack of strong media, we could not familiarize people with the notion of resistance. 

It was really my concern that, for example, after ten years when the children of martyred combatants go to school and others ask them about their fathers, some documentaries would exist for them to refer to.

Q. Was it your intentional purpose to provide your audience with an economic perspective from the crisis in Syria without mentioning the ideological causes behind it? In fact, did you avoid the ideological prospects of the matter?

A. Yes, it was my personal concern. From a professional view, no media work was done on this side. There is no definitive analysis. No one has provided an analysis about the Western view on Syria, especially when there is a matter of profit. I was searching for a clue. I read Russian media. I want to know what the Russian media tell about the presence of their county in Syria and how they view the issue. One of our flaws was that we only have explained the ideological aspects of the crisis to our people. There is no explanation about national benefits including economic issues. Back then, even strategic and geopolitics aspects were not properly explained.

It was natural if some said that Iran is helping Syria as a friend, in compensation for the helps it received from Syria and the alliance which has formed for decades. The point is, though, cooperation with countries in the region can have many economic benefits too. Although very important, but it’s not just about the alliance or merely helping a friend. It’s not merely an ideological cause neither. There also economic and cultural aspects to the issue. That’s why I started my research on the subject.

When I looked into the crisis in Syria through economic lenses, I found out there are many theories developed by the Western countries that we don’t know of. Our media had nothing remotely close to this approach. During the research phase, I encountered an interview conducted with the former U.S. president Donald Trump after his meeting with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. After pointing out the sanctions against Iran, Trump said, “Iran has been isolated under the pressures of sanctions and has taken its eyes off of the Mediterranean Sea.” Hearing his words motivated me to research more. I found two or three more interviews from Trump where he says the same thing. Then I found another interview with Robert F. Kennedy which was almost about the same object with familiar content. In their point of view, what embarked the crisis in Syria was Bashar al-Assad's refusal of construction of gas transmission pipeline from Qatar to European countries. This was of great importance in Western countries’ view and had an economic nature.

Q. Regarding things you said, who your documentary addresses? Are you unveiling a hidden truth for an Iranian viewer? Do basically consider an international audience for your work?

A. The addressees of my documentary are the people of the countries in the region; Syria, Iraq, Iran, and even the Persian Gulf countries. My goal was to enlighten a wide range of people in these countries, because even inside Syria, media work was weak and this aspect of the crisis was unseen. Like in our own country, we see in the abovementioned countries that opposite media outlets have appeared more powerful. Those who are present in the battlefield, see all the evidence. They can easily realize the truth. But ordinary people who are far away from the field, are not engaged with the truth properly. They cannot see everything and realize the truth thoroughly.

In Iraq and eastern Syria, you can see American military bombers and fighters passing from the sky above your head and attack an area which they are not supposed to attack to. In fact, they do not attack where ISIS is located. For example, when ISIS forces are retreating during a battle and resistance forces are following them, ISIS forces pass a strategic bridge. Then a U.S. fighter plane or drone arrives, targets the bridge and destroys it.

Q. Before the resistance forces can pass the bridge?

A. Yes! In the name of fighting ISIS, U.S. forces destroy a strategic bridge which has a reverse effect on the equation. It has two effects: first, the resistance forces cannot continue their pursuit and second, a very important infrastructure deep in Iraqi soil is damaged severely. This way, after the war, Iraqi people will face serious challenges in daily life because of damages like this. We, by our own eyes, witnessed several incidents similar to this one. For instance, once we witnessed American forces attacked a special battalion of Iraq’s PMF. Later, the U.S. announced that has mistakenly targeted the battalion.

It’s the same story about the American food aids and military equipment. We witnessed a very strange scene in the BG refinery. American food aids and equipment packs were dropped in the area by an aircraft, deep inside the territory controlled by ISIS. It was quite apparent that it was a designed operation to support ISIS forces. But the U.S. later announced it has sent those packs for its own forces and the “wind” has pushed the packs towards ISIS forces in the sky. We included footages from this operation in a documentary named “The Conquest of BG”.

Those who are inside the battlefield, after witnessing things like this, acknowledge the truth about the presence of the U.S. and other outsiders in Syria and develop a sense of hatred and hostility against the opposing front. But this is not a sense you would accept an ordinary civilian to understand. For ordinary people who are not in the field, the truth is covered under layers of lies and misinformation prepared by strong media which provide services for the wrong side of the war. We should explain and describe these issues for those people. I had this concern to portray issues like this for the ordinary audience in a way they would engage with efforts to understand them and realize how the benefits of their future generations are endangered by foreign forces.

So, I believe the audiences of my documentary are the people of countries in the region. At larger levels, I think this documentary can have an international audience too.

Q. Those viewers who are not familiar with incidents of Iraq and Syria might come to the conclusion that your latest work, "Why Syria?", is limiting all the issues which are ongoing in the country down to just a gas transmission pipeline, as if there are no ideological prospects to the crisis. It might seem misleading as it implies that the entire military campaign in Syria by the U.S. and its allies are merely of economic nature. If you were about to explain the reasons of this campaign to an American, would confine to this narrative?

A. At the beginning of the documentary, we see the footage of a group of American troopers dispatching for their mission in another country. We also hear the words of an American general and the families of the troopers. At this point, we understand that the American troopers are being dispatched to the region to reserve and sustain some benefits. As the narrative goes on, we put those “benefits” under a magnifier and focus on two specific subjects: first, the confrontation of the U.S. and China over transit issues and limitation of China’s access to Europe and second, the gas transmission pipeline from Qatar to Europe which created an economic confrontation between the U.S. and Russia and has a geopolitical nature.

Around half of the film is about the encounter of China and the U.S. and the other half is about the encounter of the U.S. and Russia. Both subjects have a long history and political, economic, and strategic issues have formed around them. The documentary views the crisis from the perspective of economics and benefits in order not to avoid from an ideological viewpoint. I wanted to introduce this aspect of the event to the audience as well. I do not analyze the ideological reasons for the presence of the U.S. in the region.

The documentary focuses on the economy and the bullying of the U.S. in West Asia that was rooted in a keyword, which is repeated in American literature several times: “energy sovereignty”. I wanted to explain this keyword in my documentary.

Q. Will you continue your economic view towards issues like this?

A. Yes, I want to focus on Iraq and Afghanistan with this view in my next work. This way, people who face daily problems can find the roots of their problems. For example, the electricity crisis is a serious issue in Iraq. In some southern cities, there is also a water crisis. The wars waged by the U.S. in Iraq, have damaged the infrastructures of the country, and has led to a crisis. In addition, the financial, economical, and banking issues in these countries are very important. The U.S. has banned the oil economy of Iraq and used it as a leverage to put Iraqi officials under pressure.

I’ve planned to focus on such issues. In addition, I want to talk about agreements that the U.S. signs to reconstruct Iraq after the war, which are mostly uncompleted. To name one, we can mention General Electric’s contract for supplying electricity in Iraq. Since 2013, about 10 percent of the contract has completed. Then Iraqi officials signed another contract with Germany's Siemens. However, the U.S. began to impede the contract. The people of Iraq are the main victims of this behavior. There are issues in the field of water crisis as well.

My approach is to explain such issues for further awareness.

Q. There are criticisms against this view. Some believe that if the crisis in Syria is merely an economical issue, why one cannot solve it via diplomatic methods. The economic challenge can be solved with economical diplomacy. Don’t you think such a view minimizes an international crisis?

A. This is a true comment. The most important issue in the Syria crisis is the ideological confrontation. In general, the West aims to launch religious wars between Muslims. However, but the economic narrative is much more inclusive and engages way more audiences. There are more people who relate to the economic challenges of daily living; be it in Syria, Iraq or Iran. In this regard, I felt a duty to produce something which a wider range of audience can intake and digest. Of course, Iranian and non-Iranian viewers each have their own opinion. Is your question about foreign viewers?

Q. My question is about both of them. It seems as if even Iranian viewers may not have enough knowledge about the issue. The crisis in Syria is a wide and vast issue. One of the responsibilities of a documentary filmmaker is to translate the complicated issues into a simple language understandable for a common audience. Despite the numerous documentaries produced on this issue, it is still hard to find one single work which analyses or explains the problem thoroughly.

A. To explain the issue completely, you will need a series of documentaries. It is hard for viewers to follow up all series, unless those who have personal and special concerns. In “Why Syria?” I tried to explain the events of Syria from a specific angle. It wants to answer the questions like why Syria got stuck in a situation like this. Why public parks were transformed into public cemeteries? The documentary, with a simple language and proper length, explains to the viewer that the crisis in Syria can be seen from different perspectives.

Despite all this, what you said is right. For example, we did not bring up a very important issue in this documentary which is the interests of Israel. If a documentary would explain all these issues, the viewer will get bored and will lose the tale at some point.

Q. As the last question, there is a sentence at the beginning of the documentary from Plato. At which part of your documentary the viewer understands the meaning of the sentence?

A. Since 2000, the issue of Qatar’s gas transmission pipeline turned into a challenge. After that, on September 11, 2001 the incidents of trade towers happened in the U.S. which worked as an excuse to justify a full-scale attack on seven countries in West Asia. At the beginning of the documentary, we see a high-ranking official who names these seven countries. He says a story about his visit to Pentagon where he meets Donald Rumsfeld. Then, another U.S. Army general whose names remain unfolded, asks the official to meet him in his office. The mysterious general shows him a letter containing a secret decision by the American government to attack Afghanistan. A while later, the two generals meet again and the unknown official shows another letter which says the U.S. has changed its policy and wants to attack seven countries in five years.
Except for Iran, all the countries which were mentioned in the letter, are either fighting with ISIS or have defeated it after years of war. As time goes on, if we don’t work on these events properly, people will forget what happened. They will forget the truth. That’s why I chose this sentence as a note for those who might forget what really happened in the region.

Photo: Iranian filmmaker Vahid Farahani attends an interview with the Tehran Times.

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