A Message of Unity Between Syria’s Muslims and Christians

Banner in Kafranbel, November 1, 2013 - By Raed Fares

The little town of Kafranbel (map) is located in the heart of rebel-held territory in northern Syria. Due to Kafranbel’s strategic location, it was destined to become one of the most important locations in the conflict. However, Kafranbel isn’t famous across the world because of its strategic location, any great battle that was fought there, or any massacre that has occurred. It is famous because of its artwork.

Each Friday since Marck of 2011, the Syrian people take to the streets to protest. In Kafranbel, however, the protests are in a league of their own. For each week, the people of Kafranbel unveil banners and posters, in English, that comment on the past week’s news stories. Often satirical and witty, always laced with a melancholy-yet-defiant hope, a large part of the story of the Syrian crisis can be told through their posters. 

Many often ask what the people of Syria think, but each week, the people of Kafranbel tell us. See banners from other weeks in our Voices of Kafranbel section.

The people of Kafranbel have always been very consistent in their message — Syria is for Syrians, ALL Syrians, of every religion and sect. When sectarian tensions and internal divisions have rocked the country, Kafranbel’s message has consistently been one of unity, respect, and healing.

Though it didn’t get a lot of attention from the media, this week a Wahabi cleric, Omar Gharba (or Raghba), filmed himself destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary (in Christian tradition, the mother of Jesus) in Yaaqoubiya (map), an area controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS, also known as Al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria).

 

This action is clearly unacceptable for many in the opposition, especially in Kafranbel. The moderates in the Syrian opposition have long reached out to Christians in Syria. The former president of the National Coalition, George Sabra, is a Christian. Some of the largest protests ever held in Syria were joint protests between Christians and Muslims in Hama in June and July of 2011. In fact, the protests were growing so large that the unity between Christians, Muslims, and other minorities became too great a threat to Assad. The regime finally opened fire with automatic weapons, killing more than 70 people on June 4th at a rally that was designed to call for peace and unity. Soon after, when the protesters still would not leave the streets, Assad forces killed another 11 in what may have been the point of no return in the crisis.

While there are many headlines this week in Syria, the people of Kafranbel, led by their artist Raed Fares, have decided to focus on once again calling for respect for Christians, and all beliefs. Their protest theme also further illustrates the deep and growing divide between Syria’s moderates and its extremists.

2013 1101 virgin mary

 

Not all their banners are in English. Kafranbel always has banners in Arabic as well:

 

 

A reference to the continuing starvation in many Damascus suburbs — note that the vulture harkens back to Kevin Carter’s famous photograph from Sudan, referenced two weeks ago in one of Raed Fares’ banners.

Every week there are nation-wide protest themes. This week, the theme was, roughly translated, “The Blockade/Siege is a Genocide that Continues.” The “siege” is a reference to regime checkpoints, artillery shelling, and airstrikes that have effectively shut off some areas of Syria to the outside. Widespread starvation, and the spread of disease, is a serious threat, and the starvation crisis is spreading both inside and outside of the affected areas. Protesters in Damascus referenced this today, and also protested against the international community’s focus on the Geneva II convention. In the the opinion of many Syrians, the people of Syria have been ignored by the international community which is more interested in political maneuvering and chemical weapons, and the people may starve as a result.

 

2013 1101 kafranbel suburbs

 

Kafranbel’s posters often reference western cultural or news events, and holidays. Happy Halloween, from Kafranbel:

2013 1101 kafranbel halloween

 

For more posters, see the Facebook page of the artist, Raed Fares.

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