On a sunny afternoon in March 2011, four friends met in the Damascus Hamidiah market to march for freedom, for the first time in their lives. Poet Omar Sulaiman and three of his poet friends, Husam Mawsali, Omar Idilbi and Mohammad Dibo, were organizers of the historic March 15 demonstration that emerged from the old town of Damascus, a cradle of civilization that was suddenly facing up to its tyrants. After decades of silence and terror, the protest itself was a dream come true. The friends, joined by hundreds, felt as if they were exploring a different galaxy. Three years later, Sulaiman admits to Syria Untold, “the dream has turned into a nightmare.”
Omar Suleiman fled to Paris in March 2012, after being wanted by the Syrian national security forces. The product of his life in exile and his relationship with his own country is featured in a movie entitled “I Became No One," presented at the Digital Anthropology Festival in Cuba, on March 19-20. Directed by French documentary filmmaker Elvina Attali, the movie combines paintings by Syrian artist Sulaf Abbas and verses by Omar Sulaiman, to dive into the suffocating reality in which the dreams of Syrians are drowning.
“Cinema is a very powerful weapon to build awareness and encourage resistance,” Attali says. In the words of Sulaiman, the film, and the act of writing itself, is his way to communicate with the world. “Not in hope, but in resistance. It helps me resist the daily death.”
“The feeling of estrangement was very deep when I had to escape my country and found myself here,” he adds. “I felt the need to contribute to my country in some way, but all I have is my verses, my poetry. And since I was in a different culture, I thought it would be good to engage in something more experimental. With Elvina, we came up with the idea to turn my verses into a movie.”
The movie, according to the authors, provides a view different from the daily mainstream media depictions, “in which Syria is just a conflict between different armed factions, Al-Qaeda vs. the regime, cities occupied and liberated, all of it presented as if the country was a chess-board. As if Syrians had become just a game of chess. What about resistance, in its daily and diverse forms? What about civilians, and civic work?”
“I would lie if I told you that I still have a dream,” Sulaiman admits. “But I do have a language, a means of expression, which saves me from desolation.” Verses from “I Became No One” elaborate on this sentiment:
Here is a poem that was not written
without ink or paper
only body, air and flame
The poet will write it in the wind
To save his soul from darkness
So that a future vision and joy can be born
Like a bright, distant star.
A star swaying in a glass of wine.