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Sweeter than sugar, heavier than salt

No Place For Tears
Regissør: Reyan Tuvi

The Syrian war is also well felt in the Kurdish areas.

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

Kurdish militias are among the most important groups fighting for IS. Examples include both Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and Women's Protection Units (YPJ). Having become key contributors in the fight against IS in Syria where they are supported by the US, they are once again under attack from Turkey today. It is a schizophrenic situation with different and dual agendas.

Refugees in border countries. The fresh documentary No Place for Tears sheds light on the war in Syria from a Kurdish perspective. Behind this film stands Turkish director Reyan Tuvi (Love Will Change the Earth, 2014; Offside, 2010). She follows a selection of refugees from Ayn al-Arab, the Kurdish city that was besieged by IS for four months during the fall of 2014 and spring 2015. Ayn al-Arab is located just a few kilometers south of the border with Turkey. The refugees went from here to the Turkish border town of Maheser, where many of them have relatives. In Maheser, the Kurdish refugees receive shelter from their new village residents, who on their own protect the village from all unwanted visitors. In the distance, the newcomers are staring in binoculars at the imaginary line we call a land border, witnessing the destruction of their beloved city and its remaining inhabitants. They hope that the songs they sing in support of the homeland will be heard in Ayn al-Arab. What you hear from them are mostly grenade strikes, jets and exploding bombs. Columns of smoke are constantly rising.

In an observant style, director Tuvi follows the villagers as they celebrate their culture, keep their stories alive and help other Kurds, while keeping up with the news of Ayn al-Arab. Among the new inhabitants we find the charismatic young Botan, who crossed the border and its barbed-wire barriers all alone – and considers himself an adult, even though he is really just a boy. He and others share their stories with the villagers and each other.

Kurdish militias are among the most important groups fighting for IS.

Visual narrative. The filmmaker gives little or no explicit explanations in the film, but allows the story to unfold as the film progresses. She focuses largely on a carefully constructed, strictly visual narrative, and lets the images speak for themselves. This narrative is not only about the current struggle for the city of Ayn al-Arab, but also about the ongoing struggle for unity and independence for the Kurdish people. Borders usually serve to keep nations separate; here the boundaries help to divide an entire people. Scenes from the resistance game are played to raise morale. It is a celebration of the common struggle.

Tuvi travels on to a Kurdish refugee camp. Here, the former warrior Ape Nemir tells about his resistance struggle, while a woman tells about her relief work behind the front lines. She praises Ayn al-Arab excessively in propaganda-like terms ("Our children wake up and ask if Ayn al-Arab… Ayn al-Arab's soil is sweeter than sugar, heavier than salt.") Which makes it difficult to really get a grip on their personal perspectives and emotions. Since all the people are introduced without names or other information, it takes a while to understand the added value of what appear to be fairly general images of the refugees. Yet, as the film progresses, its few, selected main characters slowly take on more color and become perfect individuals.

The school day starts with an introduction on how to survive in a post-war landscape.

Reconstruction. Basically, we are, apparently, simply considering everyday life in an otherwise uneventful community in rural Turkey. But slowly, IS is driven out of Ayn al-Arab, and the city is liberated by forces from the aforementioned YPG and YPJ. In Maheser this is celebrated as a great victory; IS's retreat opens to return to the city, which is now in ruins. Although the roads appear to be cleared of brick blocks and other debris (indicating that it may have been some time since IS withdrew and the exile people return), there are grenades and cartridges everywhere. As people meet known and share more stories and experiences over an indispensable cup of tea, they also begin to rebuild their own lives and thus the city itself. The school day now starts with an introduction on how to survive in a post-war landscape. When residents return, they revitalize Ayn al-Arab itself and make it a symbol of survival.

But even though Ayn al-Arab is liberated from IS, the fight continues outside the city and beyond the conflict in Syria. With political tensions in abundance between Turks, Kurds, Americans, Europeans, Syrians and IS, the Kurds will draw the shortest straw whatever solution to this conflict. It does not help with weak political ties which, at best, depending on the circumstances, must be said to be quite flexible. Or, as journalists Martin Chulov and Fazel Hawramy of The Guardian recently claimed: "Here, in the most complicated corner of the war in Syria, the situation seems to be getting worse." The Kurds are trying to claim their place in the history of the fight against IS – but, given their larger agenda and interests that conflict with other powers, it remains an open question whether they will ever succeed.

Sanders is a critic, living in Rotterdam.

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