Out of the Ashes: The Unheard Cries From Syria

Jonny Gamet | April 4, 2017

Screams of terror pierce the darkness as innocent men, women and children run for their lives ahead of the impending destruction. Bloodied remains of victims killed by aerial bombs fill the screen. Children gasp for breath as they fight to survive the havoc wreaked on their small bodies by chemical weapons attacks. Mothers scream in horror as they cradle the lifeless bodies of their children. Bullets whiz by incessantly as the bombs roar. This is everyday life in Syria.

Although they may look like it, these aren’t scenes from a Hollywood production. There are no subplots, special effects or high-profile celebrity actors. Instead, Cries from Syria is a brutal reminder of the real-life horror that thousands experience every day in war-torn Syria.

HBO released the documentary on March 13 to give viewers a brief, yet poignant, visual history into the ongoing conflict in Syria and the surrounding regions. Oscar-Nominated Director Evgeny Afineevsky immerses spectators into scenes of the front lines of reality as images compiled from still cameras and cell phone videos show the atrocities that continue to unfold. The film mostly focuses on Aleppo, the city that has suffered the most damage during the conflict. The voices of dozens of men, women and children tell the story of how the Syrian civil war began, and describe the lasting effects and devastation that they have experienced during the past six years.

In 2011, a series of peaceful protests began during a period that has become known as the Arab Spring. Countries around the Middle East and North Africa cried out for peace, and the people of Syria soon followed suit. The country began to divide after authorities arrested several students who had graffitied the words “It’s your turn, Doctor,” on the side of a local school. They were issuing a challenge to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who had been trained as a physician in Europe. Those students were brutally tortured, and some were even murdered.

This mistreatment sparked an outcry from the Syrian people calling for justice, and the public demonstrations that followed fueled even further action from governmental authorities. As the protests continued, the Syrian people brought water and flowers along with them to the demonstrations as a symbol of their desire for peace. But Assad’s regime again responded with brutal force, arresting several protest leaders, torturing them, and returning their mutilated bodies to their families.

As the turmoil continued to escalate, the Syrian army began to split as hundreds defected, disgusted at the horrific crimes committed by Assad’s regime. In 2012, civil war broke out as the Free Syrian Army (the opposition movement) and the Syrian Armed Forces (the Syrian government military) clashed, leaving the citizens of Syria caught in the crossfire.

The fighting continued with each passing day, and thousands upon thousands perished in a battle of territorial regimes. With both sides weakened, a new force arose and rained down terror on the region. The Islamic State capitalized on the destabilized region and brutally murdered innocent civilians to incite fear and to force men and children into joining the militant group. These horrific crimes are shown in HBO’s documentary as beheadings, beatings and torture begin to reign in Syria.

In 2015, the Russians sided with Assad’s regime as it continued to bombard its own people, even using a series of chemical weapon attacks to mercilessly poison men, women and children. Thousands are still caught between the impending reality of ISIS and the treacherous and daunting task of fleeing the country. Cries from Syria shows the incredible risks faced by Syrian refugees desiring to leave: starvation, danger from gunfire and bombs, and even extortion. During the six-plus years of crippling civil war, more than 7 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes. The combat rages on as all sides point fingers at each another. Peace seems to be out of reach, and the bombing and fighting continue with thousands of innocent civilians still trapped in the crossfires.

Throughout human history, many regimes have arisen to terrorize the innocent. Although humanity is marred by the inexplicable hate shown toward specific people, history also speaks of those who rose against the oppression.

Now, in the 21st century, yet another evil regime has reared its head, and is seeking to inflict its reign of terror upon the Syrian people. As philosopher George Santayana once remarked, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

It is estimated that nearly 500,000 civilian men, women and children have died since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. With each passing day, the cries of the innocent grow dimmer as even more are killed. While regimes push for political power and control and militant groups seek to spread terror and hate, the Syrian people long for peace. It has been their driving motivation since the beginning of the Arab Spring. They desire only to live with the basic human right of freedom.

The screams of terror from the innocent continue to rise from the rubble in Syria. The question is, will the rest of the world hear and respond?


Cries From Syria premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. It runs for 111 minutes and includes an original song by Cher titled “Prayers For This World.” The film contains content and images that some may find disturbing and should not be viewed by children under the age of 14 without adult supervision.