This film shows the situation of civilians during the siege of Nubl and Al-Zahraa in Syria by Daesh Takfiri terrorists and the armed struggle that ultimately led to the liberation of the two towns.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: It's autumn of 2012. War has ravaged the beautiful face of Aleppo. Terrorists have captured parts of the city while military and popular forces counter with resistance. In another part of this large city a group of people pack food, medicine and basic necessities; but not for the people of Aleppo.
This aid will be sent to an area, which has been under the terrorist’s siege for the past year and a half. … to two small towns 20 kilometers north of Aleppo:Nubl and Al-Zahraa
The only way to send aid to Nubl and Al-Zahraa is by flight. Helicopters fly to these two cities several times a week to deliver necessary commodities to the besieged people.
But on this trip, Iranian documentary maker Seyed Ehsan Asgharzadeh will be accompanying the crew.
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Ehsan Asgharzadeh, Documentary Filmmaker: “For more than one year these towns were under a terrorist siege and under severe threat. I asked an Arabic language teacher about the situation. He said we have access to the towns, but the terrorists are trying to take control. It was ripe material for us and triggered the motivation to dig deeper into this story.”
Conversation [Arabic] Two men on Helicopter: “-Do we know where the terrorists are?
-Yes, there… and also there… all around the town.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Ehsan Asgharzadeh, Documentary Filmmaker: “It was a highly dangerous situation. There was no other way to gain access these towns because terrorists are capable of bringing down a helicopter. Any time a chopper was around the threat of being hit was present. In my mind though I thought, there are 70,000 people living in this town and it’s been more than a year in which they’ve been living under siege. What am I about to witness?
As soon as we got above our destination – a school - I saw that a large crowd of people had gathered in the school yard. Women and children constituted a huge number. People looked with hope at our solitary helicopter flying over their town. When we landed inside the school grounds, all of the people came to welcome us. They carried out the medicine boxes with renewed enthusiasm. As we unloaded the supplies I realized what we had brought for these people amounted to near nothing although the boxes looked sufficient when we were loading them.
Upon entering the township it hit me that nobody had a job; it was more than a year that the town was under siege. The residents of the two Shia towns of Nubl and Al-Zahraa used to transit goods. Many had trucks. In the past they went to A’zaz near the Turkish border and brought goods back to Aleppo. Farmers supplied olives from their fields. Farming however and raising livestock were not common sources of provision here and so the siege had put the town’s food needs under extra pressure.”
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Ehsan Asgharzadeh, Documentary Filmmaker: “We visited a house that caught our attention where a family was living. A mother was taking care of her two young children. It was a small house with a muddy yard. It was clear that this house was a paltry one even in times of peace let alone its condition now in times of siege. Neighbors were helping the woman and to assist the children. As we entered, the woman said, “I must cook for my children, is that ok with you?” We said of course, and watched her work.
She had created a furnace with fresh olive wood. Asked if it’s ok to cook with fresh tree branches, she replied, “I have no other choice. My children would die if I don’t use the fresh wood. I do my best everyday to collect firewood and make a fire. That lights up my life. Each day I’m hopeful to have this handful of grains that I receive to feed my children.” They basically had nothing - no potato, no onion, and no vegetables whatsoever.”
INTERVIEW [Arabic] Local Woman in Allepo: “–May God not bless them, May God make the terrorists miserable as they made us miserable and displaced.
-What are you doing? Why are you crushing the grains?
-What do you make with that?
-I bake bread and cook porridge that we eat.
-Are they the government’s aid or have you provided them yourself?
-No, it’s ours. No aid has come in.
-Aid has not come, or you haven’t asked for it?
-We hear of that.
-Neither have we heard nor has anything arrived.
-How many children do you have?
-I have a daughter and a son.
-Is this enough for them?
- We have to survive. We can’t wait and starve to death. No bread, no food. Is it these children’s fault? Look at them. What have they done to deserve this? These children must survive. I hope God deprives them [terrorists] of everything as they did the same to us. They deprived these children of aid, of food, of everything.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Ehsan Asgharzadeh, Documentary Filmmaker: “She had a pounder and a bowl and she milled the grains at a regular pace as she was talking to us. I remember not understanding half of the words she spoke, but her words and deeds left an indelible mark in my head. A handful of grains was all she had, nothing else, nothing to feed her children with.
As night fell and the people went home I began to feel the negative energy and feeling of being under siege conditions, penetrating me. Things went calm all of a sudden. You could see the minimal light inside houses. I came to the balcony. There was moonlight. I was thinking to myself that the people of this town are surrounded by terrorists from all directions and any misstep could lead to their execution. It was a hard night to sleep. We decided to go out at midnight to see who was protecting the town. How is it that these 70,000 people are asleep right now while no attack threatens them?”
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
INTERVIEW [Arabic] Unknown man of Army Forces: “-What’s going on here? Are you here round the clock?
-We have to be here all the time because at any time we could be under attack from villages around us. As you can see, these youth are residents of Nubl. They came to us as volunteers and received military training to protect their dignity and their town; to protect their wives and children. Any one of these guys would love to be in southern Lebanon right now, in Golan Heights to fight against the Israeli enemy. But the Wahabbis, [Turkish President] Erdogan and other oil-dependent Sheikhs in the Persian Gulf Arab states did something that forced us to be here now. We never wanted to be here. Our mission is not here. It’s been six months that people of Nubl have had no jobs because of the siege. That’s why they have come here, to protect their families and relatives.
-Young fighters patrol from inside the moat that surrounds the town, but unfortunately the terrorists on the other side use the locals’ houses for their snipers’ bases. There are a number of snipers holed up in the Mazane Mosque… in front of us in the Mayer village. They frequently target Nubl.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Ehsan Asgharzadeh, Documentary Filmmaker: “We came across a father whose son had been abducted from their olive farm and later executed. His grandson was sitting on his knees, in his lap. It was an emotional moment that left me overwhelmed.
When one of your family members is martyred you hold a funeral; people come to express their condolences to you, and all of that soothes you, a little. But that ritual did not exist here. There was no procession. The people merely found out that the man’s son had been martyred.
A number of these people had olive farms and had to take care of them. This man had no guard and could not ask armed men to help protect him whenever he went to harvest or collect wood etc. He had to go alone.
Protection was necessary. Terrorists have ambushed and accosted people and at best, made a deal with them. Some paid money, but others were beheaded with extreme prejudice and their heads were sent to their families.
The man’s sorrow was unbearable. The bereaved face of the son of the martyr, stood next to his grandfather looking firmly into the camera. In contrast, I saw the old man crying, very manly but delicately and innocently at the same time. I’m sure, had we asked around that every household had a similar story to tell.
Locals convinced us to return to our base promptly. They said a helicopter is coming to pick us back and get us back. We entered the school yard at 8am. Lots of people had gathered behind the school gate to greet us. It was natural consider we were the only interesting thing going on in their otherwise mundane constricted lives.
They wanted to see whether the helicopter would arrive or not and if so, what is it carrying? Who is on board? Is there anything for us? It was understandable. Most of these onlookers were families with many children and women among their number.
The siege, in place for nearly a year and a half, meant extreme pressure for the residents here. For some it was just too much for the women and children especially to remain there. They tried to put some people on board for every return flight, depending on the conditions.”
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Ehsan Asgharzadeh, Documentary Filmmaker: “Neighbors gathered trying to convince people to stay and resist and not to flee. For those who managed to leave, it was just the beginning of more hardship. Where could they go? War was everywhere: in Aleppo, in Damascus. Nowhere is better than your hometown, but they had to leave.
That day the helicopter came for us. The authorities had ordered our return.
I saw disturbing scenes prior to our departure. One man tried to push through his month-old child to board. Another, grappled to force his way over the heads of others clamoring to board. I remember when I approached the helicopter with my camera; people were looking at me spitefully. I felt disgusted with myself. The helicopter attempted three times to pick us up, but could not until 5 in the afternoon.
I glanced over at the looks on peoples’ faces as we stood under the wind created by the helicopters’ wings. It was really hard for me to leave. When the helicopter departed it was sunset. I shot some footage.
I recall falling sick for two days after returning to Aleppo. Getting onboard that helicopter was one of the bitterest moments for me.”
Narration: Seyed Ehsan Asgharzadeh didn’t know he would be the last documentary filmmaker to bid farewell to the two besieged towns. Shortly after his return, the terrorists downed the helicopter he was in with a rocket, thereby jeopardizing the only way to get help to the people of Nubl and Al-Zahraa
In the summer of 2013, a year after Seyed Ehsan’s visit, the city of Aleppo came under terrorist siege. This time, Seyed Ali Fatemi took the camera to record what was happening to the city.
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Ali Fatemi, Documentary Filmmaker: “Hadi Baghbani and I went there together. It was Hadi’s first trip …. and he was very excited... but ultra-careful as well. He was given an EX3 camera that was big and heavy…. Apart from a handy cam, we had the EX3 to film the more important interviews.
The National Defense Force had just been formed. They had an ‘open call’ for volunteers enroll for membership. It was something like the Popular Mobilization Forces. From among the groups one caught my eye more than the others - They were people from Nubl and Al-Zahraa.
These people had been outside the town of Nubl when it was besieged by the terrorists. So they couldn’t get back in to their homes. They had registered as volunteers to take part in the liberation of their hometown. They were from both Nubl and Al-Zahraa and consisted of students, workers, taxi drivers, and water department employees. They were mainly aged between about 17 and 40 or might be 50.
The range of volunteers stretched the gamut of society: from single to married; fathers to youngest sons; from all walks of life, it was a public movement. Anybody who had seen himself capable of fighting had come and enrolled.”
CONVERSATON [Arabic] Armed Forces: “- I wonder if he’s following me.
-Yes, he’s following your movements.
- I see.
-The next step is to move and fire or move and give covering fire. If we told you that there are enemies in the region and you need to move toward them under covering fire, what would you do?
You need 2, 3, 5 or 100 forces. Move and provide cover fire…”
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Ali Fatemi, Documentary Filmmaker: “For the volunteers, their normal lives continued on the side. In fact, they had prioritized fighting as just another period in their lives. They were full of hope.”
CONVERSATON [Arabic] Armed Forces: “-How are you guys?
-Welcome! Come in!
-Tell us where you’re from? When have you arrived? What do you do here?
-We’re here to help our warrior brothers, to help the people. We move in the direction that our president Bashhar Assad, our leader Imam Khomeini, Seyed Hassan Nasrallah and all the honorable nations of the world have opted for.
We walk in the path of loving Prophet Muhammad and his family. This is the way should be on, the path of Imam Husayn (Peace be Upon him).”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Praying voice: “Guardian, A protector, a Leader, a Helper, a Proof and an Eye, until You make him live on earth in obedience ( to you) for long time.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Ali Fatemi, Documentary Filmmaker: “We heard noises, voices, and asked what was going on. They said we are being deployed. They were cheerful, happy, excited as they told themselves, Great! We’re finally being sent on our mission, our real job of launching an operation. They were singing songs of praise; fearless in their mood. They were anxious to go, but no signs of anxiety in them.
They were not fighting to gain land; they did not aim to capture areas for the sake of strategic superiority. They were not trying to drive the enemy out of a region; they were fighting for their city, their hometown where their fathers and mothers were living. Their mission was their life’s purpose and of the most serious nature.
While the guys were getting ready to go I held my camera and went around and shook hands with them one by one, saying goodbye. One of them stopped me and said, “1,400 years ago our leader Imam Hossein was in a position that he had to choose between wretchedness and victory, fighting, martyrdom”. We follow our Imam’s lead. All of a sudden they all began chanting: “Wretchedness is away from us.””
CONVERSATON [Arabic] Armed Forces: “-With the help of God, We will be victorious; we will renew our visits in Nubl.
1400 years ago, they surrounded Imam Husayn and told him, “You must choose between death and Humiliation.”
As our Imam responded, we say, “We’ll never stand humiliation!”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Ali Fatemi, Documentary Filmmaker: “My head tingles when I recall that day. It was a unique experience for me. Many of these men were in fact martyred.”
Narration:The fighters did not know back then that they would wait two and a half years before the liberation of their cities and return of their homeland.
Finally, in the winter of 2015 and after waiting for a long time, Operation Nasr (victory) kicked off and the youth of Nubl and Al-Zahraa set out again to free their towns.
Fighters targeted terrorists in the two towns of Ma’rasta Al-Khan and Mayer to break the siege and open the way to enter Nubl and Al-Zahraa.
Abolfazl Damirchilu and a camera man from Nubl named Jafar Hamdoush have decided to accompany the fighters and film the operation.
TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Abolfazl Damirchilou, Documentary Filmmaker: “The operation in north of Aleppo began in February 2016.
In the past there were other operations launched in that corridor, but all ended in defeat. Naturally, those participating in the current operation were worried about another failure. I saw one of the fighters before we set out and asked them about the situation ahead.
He said there is one barricade and two buildings to control before arriving at Marasta Al-Khan and that’s the limit we can get to. I inquired if that area is the front line. He replied yes. We could see that we’re being targeted from random unspecified locations.
I reminded Ja’far that he should stick to his responsibility and interview the fighters because Ja’far knew their language. I wanted him to ask for some information such as where this place is, who they are, what they’re doing and what’s next.”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Armed Forces:“-We pledge allegiance to Zeinab. God willing, we will enter Nubl and Al-Zahraa victorious
-Leave a message for your family under siege-
-In God we trust and we will return.
-Death fears us.
-We will return, we will get back to Nubl and Al-Zahraa… we will.
-Where are we now?
-In Marasat Al-Khan
-We will get back to Nubl, alive or martyred.
-We return with victory. Triumphantly.
-You have to deal with this Erdogan… with this.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Abolfazl Damirchilou, Documentary Filmmaker: “Before getting to that three-way juncture we couldn’t tell where these Syrian fighters came from - what province, or city in Syria. And we hadn’t asked them yet either. It was there that I found out the fighters, mostly youths, were from Nubl and Al-Zahraa.
A group of young Shias, not trapped inside the besieged town of Nuble, have been trained to fight. They were fresh and happy. Talking and laughing, sometimes singing a theme in Arabic. And all this happened under the enemy’s heavy fire that came from different directions.
The fighters were in high spirits. They talked to their friends on the phone; one was calling his fiancé; and the other was speaking to his sister – all were besieged in Nubl. The fighters told them we’re fighting to come to your aid, we’re in your vicinity, don’t worry.”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Armed Forces: “Hezbollah, we Pledged allegiance to you by our souls and hands.
We protect Imam Khomeini’s path with our blood that belongs to Imam Husayn.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Abolfazl Damirchilou, Documentary Filmmaker: “Terrorists were frequenting a road to the right side of Marasta Al-Khan village. It was their supply line and they used it to take their wounded to hospital. Different vehicles would enter and leave the village.”
TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Armed Forces: “-The terrorists’ vehicles appear from behind that bulwark. Forget about those who flee. Look! They come from that turn. I want you to fire at those who get in.
-Look… You see the smoke?
-They come in from there.
-In God we trust.
-Target the vehicles. Any car that enters must be hit. No vehicle should get in. All vehicles use that road.
- Bon appétit!
-What’s new? Explain where we are now.
-Everything’s fine. Thank God my comrades are in high spirits. They have approached Marast Al-Khan. God willing they will advance.
-Tell us how operation started here. Did it start with your fire?
-Yes. It started with our fire.
-You tell us what happened.
- Let’s see what comes up. Start with yourself.
- In the name of God. Thank God who’s the God of the whole world. We began the operation with heavy fire… And the gunmen started to flee. They couldn’t resist our fire upon God’s order. There was fierce fighting. No one could resist our fire. God helped us and all of our forces pressed ahead, with the aid of Imam Husayn.
-How many vehicles you spotted? Apparently there were many.
- There were many vehicles, they were either escaping or carrying the wounded. Now they may plan to send explosive – laden cars… Because the fire that spews out make s here an inferno for them, God willing.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Abolfazl Damirchilou, Documentary Filmmaker: “There was a two-storey building with a basement where the fighters used to rest and do things such as reloading their guns and preparing ammunition prior to leaving again. Suddenly we realized we’re under fire from the rear with 23mm dual bullets raining down on us. I don’t know how many bullets were fired. All I know is that 4 or 5 fighters sitting in the doorway were hit. But the fighters were determined. Even a worse attack could not have affected their will to prevail. They got prepared very quickly and departed. We followed them out as well.”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Armed Forces: “-Well succeed.
-God willing. To Nubl….
-My family is awaiting ne in Nubl.
-Our families are waiting in Nubl so that we would open the way, God willing.
- We will get to our village today, we’re on our way.
-God willing we’ll have dinner tonight at our own homes.
-God willing, we’ll be home tonight.
- We’re in our villages tonight.
- We‘re coming.
- We’re victorious God willing.
- We‘re victorious God willing.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Abolfazl Damirchilou, Documentary Filmmaker: “The enemy was retreating from Ma’rasta Al-Khan according to the scouts. Following that, ground forces, mostly youth from Nubl and Al-Zahraa, advanced forward in groups.
The enemy could no longer resist given the air and ground operation on Ma’rasta Al-Khan. We could see them fleeing. Their escape from Ma’rasta Al-Khan actually broke the siege on Nubl and Al-Zahraa leading to the liberation of these areas.”
TIME CODE: 35:00_40:04
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Reporter: “We’re now in Nubl and Al-Zahraa… after the Syrian army entered the area. As you can see people are out on the streets waiting for the fighters, waiting to welcome us with brass and songs of happiness. The mothers of the martyrs… the mothers of the hostages, all are waiting …The kids you see, all are waiting. Now we’re in Nubl, it’s March 3, 2016.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Abolfazl Damirchilou, Documentary Filmmaker: “We went down a street leading to a square. We could see a growing number of people. In the distance I saw a huge crowd of people in the al-Zahraa town square, apparently waiting.”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nubl’s people: “I am at your service, Husayn!”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Abolfazl Damirchilou, Documentary Filmmaker: “These people and their feelings of elation felt really strange to me, like once caged birds that had broken free.
I really can’t put into words the situation as it unfolded. It was beyond description. God made it possible for the siege to be broken. It really was God’s favor.”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nubl’s people: “Let the world know we proved victorious with these martyrs…with their blood.
-You are all my children.
- I wish he was here so that the people could carry him into the town like the way they carried you.
Prior to anything, this victory is that of the martyrs, and then it belongs to you fighters, your sacrifices and your resistance.
-I’m at your service, Zaynab!
-I’m at your service, Husayn!
-I’m at your service, Husayn!
-I’m at your service, Ali!
-I’m at your service, Ali!
-I’m at your service, Zahra!
-I’m at your service, Zahra!
We are forces of Heidar, Husayn, Abbas and Zaynab. We’ll never be defeated. I am at your service, Zaynab!”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Abolfazl Damirchilou, Documentary Filmmaker: “Spring arrived and the story of Nubl and Al-Zahraa’s treacherous season came to an end. In future, the account of hard times under siege would be passed on, heart to heart, generation to generation, telling of the epic story of Nubl and Al-Zahraa and final liberation of its people.”