Children are at the forefront of Cries From Syria, a harrowing new documentary helmed by Oscar nominee Evgeny Afineevsky (Winter on Fire). The film chronicles the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011 following the arrest and torture of several teenage boys for graffitiing an anti-government message on a wall in the city of Daraa. Their arrests sparked protests against the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad—ones that grew louder with the death of Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old boy who was snatched up by government agents during a protest in Daraa, only to have his mutilated body shipped back to his family less than month later. Hamza’s corpse was covered in bruises and cigarette burns. His penis was missing.
The protests grew into a full-scale rebellion. In order to suppress it, Assad first released al Qaeda prisoners, which helped form ISIS, and then began targeting his own people with chemical weapons. Later, Russia aligned itself with the Assad regime and launched a series of airstrikes against rebel and civilian targets in Syria under the guise of fighting ISIS. So far, an estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict, according to the United Nations, while 4.95 million Syrians have fled the country—33 percent of whom are children 11 and under.
Last year, in his first interview since becoming president, Donald Trump reiterated that the U.S. would join forces with Putin and Assad to take out ISIS. “Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS,” he said. Last week, President Trump issued a new executive order barring immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries, including Syria.
In an exclusive video provided to The Daily Beast, Bana Alabed delivers a tearful message to President Trump. Bana, a 7-year-old Syrian girl whose Twitter account became famous for documenting the atrocities in her native Aleppo, is seen staring into the camera.
“Donald Trump, my name is Bana Alabed, and I am 7-years-old from Aleppo, Syria. We are the children of Syria. We are not terrorists. We are like your children,” she pleads. “Please help us to stop the war. The children deserve life.”
Bana escaped Aleppo in December during the mass evacuations, and resettled with her family in Turkey. She is joined there by Kholoud Helmi, an activist and co-founder of the underground Syrian newspaper Enab Baladi, and another voice in Cries From Syria.
“Bana represents the voice of the children of Syria. She was besieged in Aleppo, flushed out of her town, and flushed out of her country,” says Helmi. “Her voice represents the struggle of these kids that were supposed to have a life. She was supposed to go to school and play, like a little girl. She wasn’t supposed to tweet news. But the circumstances forced her to, because she has the luxury of knowing English. Her voice is being heard, but other children do not have that luxury because they do not speak English, and are being killed on a daily basis.”
In addition to Bana and the children of Daraa, two of the most arresting, devastating images of the Syrian civil war featured children: Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian boy who washed up lifeless on a beach in Turkey, and Omran Daqneesh, a 5-year-old Syrian boy who sat ash-covered, bloodied and alone in an ambulance.
“Alan symbolized the death of the younger generation of the Syrian people, because the revolution started with the death of the kids,” says Afineevsky. “Omran symbolized the struggle of survival. And Bana symbolizes hope—hope to go back to their home country, hope of a normal childhood, and hope of a new Syria.”