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A documentary film about the Iraqi Assyrians returning to their home towns after the destruction left by the ISIL invasion of Mosul in 2014.
This is the story about one of the oldest nations in the world, commonly known as Assyrians. Ancient Assyrian empire stretched over different regions under its many rulers, but in modern times one can find main Assyrian communities in South-East Turkey, North-Western Iraq and North-Eastern Syria.
Mr. Thabat’s family joined thousands of others fleeing their homes, settling as refugees in Ainkawa, Erbil’s predominantly Assyrian suburb. Mr. Thabat is one of the most renowned Iraqi artists. His son Nenos is determined to follow in his father’s footsteps. After the liberation of Bakhdeda in 2016 Mr. Thabat and Nenos visited their town and found it to be almost completely ruined. Their house was partly destroyed as well, but the family is nevertheless hoping to return home soon. Apart from rebuilding their house Mr. Thabat and Nenos intent to rebuilt all the statues and other art pieces destroyed in the recent years.
Mr. Thabat and Nenos are still refugees in Ankawa. Mr. Thabat is teaching art at a high school set up at one of the refugee camps and has an art programme Portrait at a local station Ishtar TV. His most dedicated student is his son Nenos, determined to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Erik Valenčič, director
As a journalist I have been covering Middle East wars since 2003 I have been in and out of Iraq numerous times. I have witnessed how it disintegrated, how its cultural wealth has been destroyed and how its peoples dispersed throughout the region and the world. I learned early on that war is not primarily loud explosions and bullets whistling their deadly tunes. In essence war s emptiness. It is the emptiness that engulfs devastated or abandoned towns and lands, it is the silence of the mass graves, that very last testament of the people who are no more alive.
One of Iraq’s peoples that suffered this fate the most is the Assyrian community (also referred to as Syriac, Chaldean or simply Christian community). In the year 2003 there were 1.5 million Assyrians living in Iraq. Today only about 250.000 remain. Throughout these 14 years they have suffered at the hands of death squads, criminal gangs, terrorists and finally Islamic state, which destroyed much of their historical and cultural heritage, so that the vast majority of Assyrians, peace-loving people, decided to flee in desperation as they see no end to war and terror.
I first reported on their situation in 2006 when a lot of them were fleeing from central Iraq to the north after a series of bombings. In the following years I witnessed their situation worsening, culminating in 2014 with the Islamic state’s takeover of Mosul and Nineveh province. People often asked me why the international community does not help them, why the world abandoned them. I soon became frustrated asking myself the same question.
In 2015 I decided to make a documentary about them as I could no longer tolerate the deafening silence of the international community. Assyrians have been the guardians of civilization for eight thousands years. With their disappearance Middle East is losing one of its founding identities and the world a part of its humanity.
What was an idea of a single person evolved into a project supported by a team. In a documentary film we want to focus on Assyrians who decided to stay in Iraq despite all odds and rebuild their historical, cultural and religious heritage that has been destroyed. With the film we thus also aim to show the power of human creation over destruction, the very victory of life over death. It is a story about Assyrians, sure. But it is also a story about being human.
Erik Valenčič, director
Miha Mohorič, director of photography
Miha Černec, producer