Unbelievable truth!

This post was written on the morning of 5th of July; the day that the great Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami died! Due to some professional reasons, I have not been able to post my note. Today, after more than three weeks, I am posting it now. I went through my words and find them very emotional, but I do not want to change them or soften the tone or anything, to keep that especially sad moment alive in here. 

I just heard the news: Abbas Kiarostami died!

I cannot believe it! Kiarostami was the honor of the Iranian art, in every aspect! He was different, he had his own style, different from other Iranian artists, very original and profoundly poetic!

Abbas Kiarostami started his work in late 1960s. He made dozens of movies for children and young adults; even in those early years of his professional work, he proved that he was different from other filmmakers of his generation. His movies became part of the childhood of my generation.

During the Iran-Iraq war (1981-1988), when the cinema was trying to stand on its own feet again after the social and cultural revolution, he made a movie called ” Where is the friend’s house?”; through which the world discovered this Iranian talent! He opened the world’s doors to the Iranian art and cinema; when the Iranian art was struggling to define a new identity for itself.

“Where is the friend’s house?” Was the story of a little boy in a village in north of Iran, who takes the schoolbook of his classmate by mistake and travels to a village nearby to return it to him. This movie is definition of a poetic cinema. By first look, the may look like a simple story of a little boy, but the complications hidden behind the simple relationship between the people in this village, makes it different.

In 1987, when this movie was screened in theaters in Iran, it was criticized by some, including a group of known film critics, because it was a statement for life and humanity, and not the war! When a number of young filmmakers believed that it was their mission to sacred the war, Kiarostami made a film which was far far away from the war; in location, in form and in its anti-violence approach towards humanity.

Though his movies were made in the simplest way, they never found their audience among common movie-goers. His movies always walked on the thin line between the fiction and documentary genres; he made his non-actor actors to believe that their dialogues were their own, while Kiarostami with his fantastic talent made them to believe that; but, he was the man behind all!

In the bitter years of war and early years after the war, Kiarostami was the only Iranian artist who made the doors open to Iran’s international presence. Abbas Kiarostami was the only Iranian filmmaker who won the Cannes’s film Festival’s Palm d’Or; for his” Taste of Cherry”, in 1998.

As he became more and more famous in the world, he was more and more criticized in the country; many of his recent movies were only screened outside Iran; there was always something in his movies which were not in line with the rules! He always said that he never compromised with censorship, he jumped over the censorship! He was a real player who never played by the rules!

After four months of sickness, Kiarostami died on the 5th of July 2016 in Paris. He was the one and only; cinema lost a treasure today.

Here, I would like to share a video made by Pat Collins & Fergus Daly in 2003. After Kiarostami was gone, the filmmakers generously shared this video on social media. Enjoy watching it and discover this talented treasure by yourself. 

Do video games make us indifferent to people’s suffering?

I am always wondering why the new generation is getting more and more senseless towards the violence around them! Part of it could be caused by the horrible news that they unavoidably hear every day in the media; “140 people were killed in an explosion in Iraq”, “Five tourists were beheaded by a group”, “tow ambulances, carrying wounded civilians, were attacked”, etc. And unfortunately, the list is unlimited. In addition to the real life awful incidents happening in armed conflicts, especially in the West of Asia, maybe show business, movies, TV shows and video games contribute to this senselessness to violence.
I have never played video games; never been interested in them! However, I have heard and seen some war video games, in which the player gains score by killing people from the opposite camp; the games seem so very real and apparently people enjoy playing them!
Well, in my previous posts, I have referred to the law of war and the fact that in every armed conflict rules have to be respected and civilians should be spared from the attacks. In the virtual scenario of a game, bad behavior is still virtual and unrealistic, and there is no consequence for killing civilians, except spending some more time to re-gain the points that the player has to lose because of killing civilians! Interestingly, some game developers have designed a system that stops the game the moment of shooting a civilian and sends the player back to the beginning of the level; the famous “game over”. Still better than nothing, right?
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as the guardian of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), has been actively reaching out to video game developers to support its efforts to promote respect of IHL, during the past few years. These days, most video game companies do have some kind of mechanisms in place in their games to limit “bad behavior”. Raffaella Diana, an ICRC expert, says that, “The idea of introducing limits to violence by game designers is not a challenge; the main challenge is to how to integrate it in a game without taking the “fun” part of it, while still keeping the scenario realistic”! This statement is based on the reality and research.
What is going on with us, human beings? Do we really enjoy killing others? If yes, do we enjoy it because we know it is just a game? How can we make sure that facing a real situation we would act differently? What is our responsibility as parents towards our children? How can we teach them about brutality of such situations? In the era of technology, how can we protect our children from being imposed to this virtual violence?
I have dozens of such questions in my mind, for none of each I can find a reasonable answer! I am sure that there are many video game fans who disagree with me on this topic! What do you think?

https://i2.wp.com/img2.looper.com/img/gallery/when-video-games-went-too-far/airport-massacre-in-call-of-duty-modern-warfare-2.jpg

“Fake war” – Airport Massacre in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 www.grunge.com

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“Consequence of a real war” – Photographer : KRZYSIEK, Pawel – Copyright : ICRC

 

 

Football is like real life, but in a small field!

Since I remember, I loved watching football! I had no idea what was going on; I could only feel the excitement of an extraordinary game. I remember the first time when I watched a whole match from beginning to the end. Sitting next to my dad, I think I made him crazy by asking him naïve questions about the basic rules of the game: qualification match, Iran-Kuwait 1977. I was only seven!

Years passed and each world cup, Asian cup and Euro cup became part of my memories. In 1980s, during IR-IQ war, my country had to deal with some other important issues; buying the rights to air football matches was quiet a luxury, I guess. Therefore, watching football games, days after the actual event had taken place, became one of my favorite things!

However, through the years, as I grew up, I found something new in this fantastic game, something more than just enthusiasm and excitement. Something more humane!
Political tensions, wars and ethnic complications, all and all fade out during the 90 minutes of excitements. A good example is Iran vs the United States match during the world cup in France in 1998. The two countries were never been at war, but the relationship has been hostile since 1979. However, the players of both sides were utmost respectful towards each other, they exchanged flowers and took group photos before the kick-off. That match was especial, because it had a very humane in it – no matter who won or who lost. There are endless numbers of games in which the two sides of the competition have had long-term complications in their relations, but when the players went to the football court, they left the heavy bag of the sad history behind them to enjoy playing the game and to please the eyes of the millions of people who were watching them.

I am not trying to give a poetic aspect to football, not at all. I know that the aggressive physicality of the match can lead to tension among fans. A vivid example of that happened during the early days of Euro 2016 only ten days ago, where the fans of Russia and England played quite a scene in the streets of Marseille. Football is a tough game, you need to be strong, you need to fight to win and you need to survive. Nevertheless, all of it take place in a battlefield on which rules are dominating. Aggression is allowed, but under supervision and to a certain limit.

One of the things I really love about watching football is after game shots. These scenes are becoming even more interesting grace à fantastic modern technologies and talented directors who hunt “the moments” when the game is over. Some are jumping up and down and celebrating their victory; some others are broken and crying for their defeat. It has a taste of bittersweet; exactly like the real life.

This video is full of moments that I was talking about 😉

 

Thinking loudly!

I had already checked out the screening schedule of TIFF in Toronto and I had to chose between Macbeth and Son of Saul! William Shakespeare or Làszlo Nemes?! Classic war or modern war?! Géza Röhrig or Michael Fassbender?! I had to leave the country; I did not have time to watch both; so, I had to make a decision, and I did!

On a windy, freezing cold Sunday afternoon (yes, my choice of the day was not the best for watching this movie), I went to watch a Hungarian movie that had made a huge success and was praised by film critics all around the world. Son of Saul is the story of a man/prisoner in Auschwitz in 1944, who is forced to burn the corpses of his own people. Struggling to lighten up the heavy moral weight that he carries on his shoulders every day, he tries to save from the fire the body of a boy he takes for his son.

Without extra emphasis on what was going on in the most notorious prisoners’ camp in those days, the director attracts audience’s attention to this lonely broken man, who has lost his family, his son, his life. A man who perhaps is looking for salvation by giving a proper burial to a boy; to a boy who probably has the same history as him; however, shorter. Shooting technique in this movie is a perfect example of synergy between content and form; skills and emotions, art and technique.

The movie has been perfectly appreciated worldwide and has received numbers of awards, including the Oscars for the best foreign language film. Here, I am not going to repeat what has been said about this film; there is nothing new to add. What I want to bring up here is the fact that Son of Saul and hundreds of other movies with similar topics are the exact evidences of what I am going to focus on this blog: civilians were and still are the least protected group in every armed conflict.

Despite all treaties, the customs and laws of war, civilians are still directly attacked by the parties involved in every conflict and they are the one who pays the highest price for a conflict that they have the least responsibility in waging it. It was only in 1949, when protection of civilians in war became part of the international rules to be respected by all parties in armed conflicts. The question is if they do respect the rules today! I doubt if they do!

On my way back, totally touched by the film and with a heavy heart, I was walking in Queen Street in opposite direction to those who were starting their Sunday night with a good meal in a restaurant or going to theatre. I know! I have already mentioned about my bad choice about the day!!walking back home, I was thinking about how far human beings can go in showing violence and brutality to their own kind. In fact, one of the reasons that I’d like to re-watch movies of war genre is to remind myself about this brutality! However, perhaps I am not the one who should be reminded of that!


Before leaving TIFF, I went to the washroom. I could not help myself stop listening to a conversation between two women of not a very young age (they were behind a wall and I only could hear their voices). They were talking about Son of Saul! One said to the other, “Thank god that we were born in this part of the world”.

If you are interested to know more about the idea of making this movie, this link gives you some ideas! Interview with Nemes and Röhrig

“Do Something Good”!

Recently, I had the pleasure to know Martina Bacigalupa through a learning project. We both work in humanitarian field, though in two different contexts. She is working with a NGO based in Burundi; with focus on providing support for children. When I learnt about the project she and her colleagues are running in Burundi, I thought that would be a perfect opportunity for me to introduce her to my readers; because what they are doing is fantastic, respectable, humane while very challenging. Let us learn about her art, her passion and her work.

I would like to thank Martina for her precious support. 

  1. Please tell us about your NGO, GIRINEZA! what was the core idea of establishing this NGO?

In 2011 I was doing an assignment for Sport Sans Frontiers (now Pl@y International) on child labour in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. During that assignment I worked with Fabrice, a Burundian socio-cultural animator, and together we met some of the most vulnerable children of the camp. We would go meet them every day in their brick factory and talk to them. They were earning maybe a dollar per day, maybe a beignet, maybe nothing. One day we met Joseph who was shivering with fever and we took him quickly to the nearest health centre. I remember we didn’t even have a car and were running with Joseph in our arms when an MSF car passed by and gave us a lift. Joseph had malaria and was cured in time. I wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t been there that afternoon.  So I talked to the director of Sport Sans Frontiers and we decided we had to do something for these kids, at least to send them back to school and get them out of that place. So I simply wrote an email to some friends back in Europe saying we needed some help. The answer was unexpected: so many friends wrote asking where they could send the money. We collected so much more than we had expected that we decided to set up a long-lasting project, and therefore Girineza (which means “do something good”, in Kirundi) was created.

  1. Knowing that your NGO is focused on supporting children, please tell us about the specific services you provide for the children? 

Girineza provides:

  • A gathering place where children can eat, study and play every day
  • Daily breakfast and lunch
  • Health care (doctor consultations, drugs, and other things such as mosquito nets for malaria prevention or glasses)
  • All school fees, including registration fees, uniforms, insurance, note-books and pens)
  • Daily support of the children for their homework’s
  • Counselling for children and their parents
  • Activities (cultural, sport, leisure)
  • Income-generating activities for the families of the children (a crop field, a small pig farm and a little restaurant, which is now temporarily closed due to the crisis
  1. I have read somewhere that Burundi people are the least happy people in the world (in 2016)! is this true? and if yes, how does it affect your work!? Is extra effort needed to bring assistance to children growing up in such environment?!

The political crisis that has hit Burundi since last year is deeply affecting life of Burundian people, and is affecting Girineza’s activities. We get many requests from people of the neighborhood to accept new children, as people are left with nothing and they cannot even send their children to school anymore or pay for their food. We are looking for ways to get more funds in order to include at least the most vulnerable of these children.

  1. Would you tell us about the health situation in Burundi in this difficult period for the country?

The health situation in Burundi today is a disaster, and it will probably worsen in the months to come. People live in daily fear, in a grim landscape of planned killings, political revenge, extreme poverty and general disorder. Those who can, flee the country. There are around 250.000 refugees so far, of which more than half are children.

Donors have reduced or suspended their aid. As an example, according to the last UNICEF report on Burundi, between January and February 2016 there have been twice as many cases of deaths for malaria than for the same period in 2015. People are suffering and it seems people are looking away. Some talk of the same indifference during the Rwandan genocide over 20 years ago. It is difficult to comment on that here. It’s a long story, and not one of the most flattering, between the western World and Africa. As for Girineza, we are doing our best with our children, they are all healthy and continue their school. We just hope we can get more children in soon.

  1. Who are your main donors and what communication activities you do to attract attention to your humanitarian work?

Our main donors are friends. But from that first email in 2011 the word has spread and our mailing list today includes over 100 people, most of which I don’t even know. We are setting up a communication strategy that aims at raise awareness and allowing people to follow us through social media in our daily activities, in order to feel close to the children and hopefully wanting to join our project, as members or/ and as new donors.

  1. Have you tried to raise awareness about your context among artists, specifically documentary filmmakers or photographers? Do you think that involving artists in your work could promote your efforts in a bigger scale?! 

Yes, indeed I do think involving artists could help us promote our organization on a much bigger scale but so far, apart from me as a photographer and filmmaker there is no other artist on board. We had thought about doing activities with Burundian artists last year but then the crisis started and most people, including myself, had to leave the country. We hope we can go back soon and start what we left.

  1. Are there any other humanitarian organizations that you are currently working/cooperating with?

As a photographer I do work (or have worked) with many international NGOs. To mention a few: Handicap International, Doctor Without Borders, International Rescue Committee, Care International, Play International, Human Rights Watch and a few UN Agencies (UNDP and UNICEF).

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“Children of GIRINEZA”, Photo by Sonia Grabot, Burundi, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reaching the public through our available sources

In my previous posts, I spoke about a project that its focus is on safe access to health-care. I also mentioned that the project was supported by a communication campaign. The main idea of the communication campaign was to raise awareness about the severity of this issue, and mobilize those who could actually positively contribute to this effort for putting an end to this violence. 

We all are aware of the important role of the media in bringing an issue under the spotlight; in my first post, I mentioned that crisis, refugees, explosions in public places, targeting the civilians are all over the news. So why not involving the journalists in “raising awareness process” about this important issue?! Continue reading

Difficulty in accessing health care

In this post, I would like to share with my readers some basic information about how and why violence against health facilities became one of the main humanitarian concerns in the current conflicts in the world; especially in Africa and in the Middle East.

Violence against wounded and sick people, aid workers and health facilities were studied in 16 different affected contexts; in which conflicts, national or international, or other situations of violence existed. The result was horrifying! The research showed that how delivery of health care was affected by violence. Ambulances, clinics, aid workers and health personnel were directly targeted. A functional hospital could easily turn to nothing, and with that, hundreds of patients, their relatives, doctors, nurses were killed or injured, while medical equipment were ruined. It is essential to remember that such catastrophic incidents could simply happen in an inaccessible place; where there is no other health facility or no other way to have access to health care.

Concerned about this fact, the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, led by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), took the initiative in order to attract attention of the states, parties involved to conflicts and international and national humanitarian organizations to this crucial issue.  What should be done to improve safe access to heath-care?

The whole project, supported by a communication campaign, started in 2011. The organization started negotiation with states, armed opposition groups, medical establishments and other relevant organizations in order to spread the knowledge about international humanitarian law. It has to be considered that this project does not speak of foundation of a new law or adding a new chapter to the existing law! Protection of health facilities, protection of civilians and their right to have access to safe health-care have been already mentioned in the 1st, 2nd and 4th Geneva Conventions.

The project’s effort is to bring this part of the law back to surface; the law already exists, but it is not valued, not respected! During the past five years, some states and many international and national organizations, from medical to legal and humanitarian, have joined the project and have immensely contributed to this humanitarian purpose. Many positive steps have already been taken; however, there is still a long way to go.

Official channel of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Health Care in Danger Project.

Why this topic?!

In every armed conflict, civilians are the main victims. They do not take part in the conflict, but they pay a huge price by being directly attacked, losing their homes, leaving their homes by force, losing contact with their beloved ones, being deprived of receiving assistance and basic medical cares due to the conflict. These were only a few consequences that armed conflicts cause to the people who are trapped in a conflict situation, against their will.

International Humanitarian Law (IHL), also known as the law of war, or the law of armed conflict is part of international law. The IHL is a set of rules seeks to limit the humanitarian consequences of armed conflicts and protects people who do not take part in the war (civilians, medics and air workers) and those who can not fight no longer (wounded, sick, shipwrecked and prisoners of war- PoWs).

This category includes International humanitarian law is the body of rules governing relations between states and it applies to wars and armed conflict. The international humanitarian law does not control whether the states use force in the hostilities; that part is managed by the United Nations and is part of international law. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is considered as the guardian of IHL.

I have no intention to put the focus of my posts on law; I am not a lawyer, neither an expert in international law or IHL. If the readers are interested to learn about IHL, I suggest that they take a look at the official website of the ICRC, where there are massive sources of information to understand this very interesting branch of international law, IHL.

Continue reading