Even though there is little to laugh about in war-torn Aleppo, 14-year-old Qusai Abtini was able to make people smile. The popular comedic child actor starred in a televised sitcom set on the streets of Aleppo, where the crew filmed scenes even as bombs exploded nearby. Tragically, news has just been released that he was killed when his father’s car was hit by a missile last month as they tried to escape the city amid intensified bombing.
According to the BBC, which first reported his tragic death, Abtini played the main character in the sitcom Umm Abdou the Aleppan, which was a weekly show about daily life in a war zone that has been likened to I Love Lucy.
All of the child actors played adult characters and Abtini’s Abu Abdou depicted a hard-handed Syrian husband whose wife Umm Abdou, played by a young girl known as Rasha, was always up to mischief, including trying to form a radical feminist faction, which he was able to talk her out of because of her fear of rodents.
Many of the episodes dealt with normal life, from marital spats to grocery woes, all against the backdrop of power cuts and bombings. In several episodes real bombs can be heard in the background as the child actors brace against the noise.
The show, which ran for 30 episodes on Halab Today TV, which was an opposition television station that was shut down in 2015, has somewhat of a cult following among Syrians who have escaped their homeland.
In an interview with the Associated Press, the show’s director Bashar Sakka described Qusai as a “very talented boy” who he discovered after the young boy’s drama teacher introduced them.
“We were looking for an intelligent boy,” Sakka told the Associated Press in Turkey, where he now resides. “We wanted him to be free with ideas, and without fear of Bashar Assad's regime and its ruthlessness.”
Even before his fame, Abtini was well known among those opposing Assad. According to local media reports, he was often seen leading protests and rallying his friends to stand up to the regime. He even starred in several opposition videos. Qusai’s older brother Assad, who is a fighter in the Free Syrian Army, was quoted by the Daily Telegraph describing his brother as a hero. “He was loved by everyone, he used to lead the revolutionary protests in the streets. He was their poster boy,” the older brother said. “But he was my little brother. Every time I see kids in the street now I cry thinking of him. It feels like my heart will stop beating.”
According to the Associated Press, Abtini’s father, who was wheelchair bound after he was wounded when a missile struck their home, attended the boy’s funeral holding up a poster accusing the Assad regime of killing his son: “Qusai, Abu Abdu the Aleppan. You are a little hero. You scared the regime with your giant acts so they killed you.”