Film challenges Syrian stereotypes in Istanbul
'Selam' gives a voice to Syrian artists now living in Turkey

A Turkish director is hoping his short documentary film will destroy prejudices dogging Syria’s expat community in Istanbul.

As the Syrian conflict rages on, 26-year-old filmmaker Bilal Aliriza(R) and Turkish writer Abdulqadir Giynas(L) shot an 18-minute documentary in October 2014 called ‘Selam’ [Greeting], showing Syrian artists who left their war-torn country and moved to Istanbul.

The documentary recently found a wider audience having been published on YouTube in last the few weeks.

Aliriza says the choice of title was important for the project: "‘Selam’ is a very beautiful word which has lot of meanings but the best meaning is ‘peace’,” he tells Anadolu Agency.

It is his first professional documentary and he explains why he started with this topic:

"Here, in Istanbul they [Syrians] established a new world to which no one pays attention... I was really uncomfortable with the bad perception of Syrian people.”

Aliriza interviewed a total of 30 Syrian artists from different backgrounds – such as pro-regime, anti-regime, non-political and radical.

Mohammed Zaza, a Syrian painter and musician, was the twenty-fifth person he interviewed.

"I do not draw tanks, flowers or kids. I draw my inner changes,” Zaza told Aliriza when they first spoke, later becoming close friends during the project. Zaza – a thoughtful young man who would not look out of place in art circles in London or New York – contributes music to the documentary.

Zaza appears in the film having left Syria in 2012 where he had been giving lectures in the Aleppo Academy of Fine Arts.

Before coming to Istanbul he visited several Arab countries but his final decision was to stay in Istanbul. He has been living here for 14 months.

"I never feel myself to be a foreigner here. Istanbul is a very pleasant door or a window which opens to the sky for me. This city touches my soul and inspires me,” Zaza says.

The director and his crew particularly selected Syrian artists who have been living in Istanbul to interview. "No capitals were found in the Middle East like Istanbul which reunites all identities, even enemies, of the Middle East,” says Aliriza.

His other message with the documentary is "to encourage Syrian artists to stay here” and calls on everyone to recreate a new Middle East identity out of political or ideological divisions.

Now painting and recording music freely in Istanbul, Zaza says: "Syria’s state is really strict. Whenever I opened an exhibition, they acted as if I opened a nuclear research center.”

"We had a government but it proved its cruelty and dictatorship with this war,” he adds.

Zaza and Aliriza both agree that the Turkish and Syrian people have many similarities but that war and the media drew a line between the nations because Syrians are depicted in a negative way.

The director thinks that the media can change people’s attitudes, so he hopes the documentary will reach as many Turkish people as possible.

They have received good feedback over the last year. After first screening the documentary, hundreds of people got in contact with Zaza on Facebook within a week. "Since then, only two persons – one Syrian – criticized us for not talking about the war,” says Aliriza.

Other documentaries from Turkey have looked at more war-focused topics: Suriye Zindanlarinda [In the Dungeons of Syria]; Haykiris [Scream] and Savasin Cocuklari [The Children of War] are among other Turkish films about the conflict.

Aliriza wants to shoot more episodes of the documentary and hopes to shoot different film about Istanbul over the next year.

Zaza plans to establish a studio and says that it could also become a research center on social issues.

Last Modified: 2015-08-13 08:53:14
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