HOUSE WITHOUT DOORS is a metaphor to describe thousands of millions of people undergoing through ages deprivations, dislocations, annihilation, death of their identity just like the Armenians. Did you shoot House without Doors for them? And how would you describe yourself? I mean you feel Armenian firstly?
The question of identity in itself is very complicated. For me, to be an Armenian is something different to express or describe… I am an Armenian.. and this is not about race or nation, this is not even about identity. This is a deep feeling and also a decision and a choice. But, I’m not an Armenian “firstly”. I can be an Italian with Antonioni for instance. I can be a German when I’m reading Heidegger or Goethe. I am an Arab in so many details in my life, this is also a feeling, to feel the traditions of a group of people. I am in deep relationship with the Arabic language, I am from Aleppo, my whole base was built there, my education is from Damascus, etc. From this point of view, the identity is a frame which can embrace an amazing combination of different colors. But, finally, there is the soul. It’s from different place. It is, for me, the human common, the soul, that can feel, can be happy and sad, can be weak and strong, can be oppressed and oppressor, etc. So, maybe this film is about the soul, about the feelings.
When I decided to keep the camera in the “West Aleppo”, it was more sad for me the idea that when you are fighting for the truth and for freedom, and struggling for the oppressed poor simple people, you can take a fix position and don’t see the other side. But, in the same time, this same side doesn’t see and doesn’t want to see what’s happening in the other side, that is “East Aleppo”, despite of the fact of the smoke that’s rising clearly in front of their eyes. We, usually, become responsible for what we see. But when you see two things, one in front of you and one in the other side, the paradox begins to work. You have to work hard to see and feel the whole situation. I can add that there is memory everywhere. But so many things pushed me to use the lens to catch the memory of my neighborhood which also has a story, “al-Midan” area: it used to be a place for Armenians displaced people for a century, they built their schools, churches, theaters, clubs, here. And then it began to change its identity, to be destroyed, and so many refugees and displaced people from the Aleppo countryside came to al-Midan and found their new homes there, when, in the same time the Armenians who lived here for hundred years, and been citizens of Syria, and been a part of this land had to flee and leave the country. I think that this particular memory of this particular neighborhood has something to share, to show, to add.
Your feature makes a striking connection between the Armenians genocide, through footages and flashbacks, and the suffering Syrian people have been going through. How did you come upon the idea? Have you been influenced by your family somehow?
I grew up in an Armenian environment, listening to the “live” stories of the sons and the grandsons of the Armenian Genocide survivors. My father also told me, several times, the tragic history of his grandmother who found her little brother, who had been lost in the genocide period, after 5 years searching and sacrificing and so many other stories. I remember when I first saw a very thick book with lot of pictures about the genocide, I was like seven years old or something, the book was sent from Armenia to our home. I was reading in that book, but mostly “watching” the very violent cruel images in it, like the picture of the heads of beheaded Armenian intellectuals on a bracket with so many Turkish soldiers beside the heads. Maybe it was the first shock and the first trauma in my life, and it was the day, when I took the decision to be faithful and sincere to my ancestors story, to the justice, and to the memory and to do anything to keep this truth alive. But after all that, I was shocked again and again when I saw what happened and happening in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Gaza/Palestine, and so many other countries… and Finally, in my homeland, Syria.
The parallel between the Syrian situation now and the Armenian situation in the period of the genocide was something happening in me, in my mind. It was the feeling that all the things are linked together. To understand or to feel one of them, you have to feel and see the other. So this parallel was not a comparison. Because of course there are big differences between what is happening now in Syria and happened to the Armenians 100 years ago. But there are also similarities, the similarity is in the destiny, is that the “poor” people always pay the price. The similarity is that you have to leave your land, to leave your life, and nobody can help you. The same disability. Somebody is destroying your life and you can only watch the warplanes coming on you (in the new century), or watch the soldiers with their horses and guns (in the past) and finally, the similarity is that the same names which was involved in the period of the Armenian genocide (which was in the same years of the World War One, names like Russia, Turkey, Germany, France and so on) are the same names involved till now, one way or another.
Do you think we could define the Assad‘s regime killings, irrespective of it international law compliance as a genocide as well?
After 100 years still the Armenian Genocide is just a cause or a case on the tables, behind some bottles of wine. Ok, so many countries “defined” what’s happened in 1915 as a genocide… so what? What about us, the Armenian “people”, what about the millions of victims? Is this the justice that we want? After six years, after hundreds of thousands of victims and millions of refugees, Syria is a case for studying and analyzing. Of course what the Syrian government is doing is a crime against humanity and against the basic human rights, this is behind doubts. Not only the killings, but also how they treated the movement itself that began in 2011, how they deal with the people in general since 1980, and of course what they do in the prisons. They can do anything to not loose. But I have to add the name of the other partners who is supporting this regime like the Russian Government and the partners on the other side, like the Turkey. Both these powers are continuing their historical battle, they once divided Armenia: Turkey took a part, and the other side took the land of Armenia now, as a part of the Soviet Union. So, it’s the same Turkey who’s fighting the Kurds and the Armenians in different ways and the same Russia who still controls on so many of the ex-soviet countries. Finally, it is the same USA who “visited” Iraq some years ago with a very good intention in hearth. There is more than “Assad’s regime“, there is in addition another parallel regime, which is not about a person, it is about an idea, a belief. And this belief is above all else… there is, like I said, the Russian warplanes, and Turkish tanks on the Syrian land.
In your feature the main characters are children. You depict them in different daily life and mostly in different personal situations. By their family, at home, playing at war or in refugees camps asking for going to school.
Lost, disoriented faces of Syria’s future. As of now a diaspora, just like it has been for Armenian people. It is painful to talk about the Syrian Diaspora, because there is still a big suffering in Syria, and the war is going on. But in the end, there is a Syrian Diaspora now, like in Germany, there is a very colorful and active Syrian community. I see that the most important thing now is to keep building a very active, stable and flexible Syrian Diaspora outside to keep the contact alive as a community. But in the end, the Diaspora is something linked with a basic land, and with the idea of “return to that land”. I really like the experience of the Armenians outside their land, I really like how they acted, what they did, how did they survive, how they built very safe and developed spaces and how they kept alive. There is a very powerful Armenian Diaspora. Even if we want to talk as a lobby terms, there is a powerful Armenian lobby in both United States and Europe. For me, “the Diaspora” is something mythical, a way of existence, full of sharing and exchanging. Diaspora is a moving concept for me, not fix, like anything else.
May I ask you about your next project as filmmaker?
I am working on a new film, still writing and doing research and tests. I think it is hard for me to summarize it. I deal with the camera as a tool and as a way to get in touch with the philosophy. I mean that cinema for me is never something to tell stories, it is to get in direct touch with life itself, to go deep in the human nature, in the human history, specially the dark sides, the black sides of it.