Anti-government protestors hold a poster depicting US President Barack Obama (L) and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration to call for international action against the Damascus regime on September 6, 2013 in Kafranbel
Anti-government protestors hold a poster depicting US President Barack Obama (L) and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration to call for international action against the Damascus regime on September 6, 2013 in Kafranbel © Raed Faris - AFP/File
Anti-government protestors hold a poster depicting US President Barack Obama (L) and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration to call for international action against the Damascus regime on September 6, 2013 in Kafranbel
AFP
Last updated: March 17, 2014

Syrians mark uprising anniversary with arts festival

Anti-regime activists in the Syrian town of Kafranbel on Sunday marked the third anniversary of the uprising with an arts festival that included open-air cinema screenings and exhibitions.

The rebel-held town in the northwestern province of Idlib has become famous for the humourous slogans and banners written in English and Arabic its activists use in weekly protests, the pictures of which have been widely circulated online.

The festival, which started Saturday on the third anniversary of the beginning of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, was launched under the slogan "the revolution that faced the military dictatorship is now also facing religious extremism."

Kafranbel was attacked by fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a hardline jihadist group at war with both the regime and rival rebels, earlier this year.

"Since we are denied freedom... we must celebrate the dream of freedom," a statement from the festival's organisers said.

Commemorations started with an exhibition by Heba al-Ansari, an artist from the town, about the lives of children affected by the war.

The organisers said it was the "first display in public inside the liberated areas in Syria."

As part of the festival, activists launched a campaign called "Freedom is a necessity," in which they encouraged participants to write verses from the Koran that counsel against violence on walls around the town.

Amer Matar, director of the festival, told AFP that they had tried to address the issue because religious "extremism caused great losses to the revolution, and like the regime, it is an enemy of freedom and the construction of a democratic state."

Matar has long campaigned against both Assad's regime and ISIL, which kidnapped his brother Mohammed Nour last year and has yet to release him.

As part of the Kafranbel commemorations, which continue until Tuesday, there will also be a "street cinema" in the town, with documentaries about Syria to be screened at three open-air locations.

Organisers will also be running a new event this year, the "festival for mobile phone films", which is aimed at encouraging Syrians to record their experiences.

Syria's revolt began with peaceful protests but escalated into an armed conflict after the regime launched a brutal crackdown on dissent. The fighting has killed some 146,000 people and displaced millions.

Matar acknowledged the risk of holding public events in a town that still comes under shelling, but said the festival was an important "demonstration from Syrians to the world that the revolution is still a revolution".

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