Syr­ian man dis­placed by IS fight paints his heartache

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE - AFP

Un­der the Is­lamic State group's rule, Syr­ian farmer Faysal was forced to hide his sketches and paint­ings, but dis­placed by fight­ing he has fi­nally been able to re­sume his beloved hobby. He sought refuge with his fam­ily at the Ain Issa camp in north­ern Syria three months ago, flee­ing the bat­tle for ji­hadist strong­hold Raqa, some 50 kilo­me­ters (30 miles) away. The 47-year-old strug­gled to find art ma­te­ri­als in the des­o­late camp so he metic­u­lously made his own, ty­ing threads pulled from a pil­low case to a piece of wood to fash­ion a paint­brush.

He even gath­ered cig­a­rette butts to use as char­coal for sketches de­pict­ing every­thing from por­traits of his fa­vorite singers to the daily life of the dis­placed. "I've been draw­ing for 15 years and I would keep all the pic­tures for my­self," he told AFP. "I'd forgo other things so I could buy paint­brushes and oil paints." "When the Daeshis came in, I wouldn't dare draw," he said, us­ing an Ara­bic term for IS mem­bers. "I hid all my pieces on top of the closet and cov­ered them up with a ton of other things. They con­sid­ered draw­ing to be haram (re­li­giously for­bid­den)." Faysal is among tens of thou­sands of Syr­i­ans dis­placed by fight­ing since a US-backed of­fen­sive to cap­ture Raqa be­gan last year.

He fled his home north­east of Raqa city around three months ago with his wife Si­naa and seven of their eight chil­dren. The slen­der, tanned farmer did not want to give his real name or the lo­ca­tion of his vil­lage be­cause he was forced to leave be­hind a son, im­pris­oned three years ago by IS. He was re­luc­tant to share much about the ar­rest, say­ing only that his son was ac­cused of work­ing for the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and is be­ing held along with Faysal's nephew.

Arab di­vas, and camp life

Life at the camp is hard, with lit­tle shel­ter from the re­lent­less sun. Be­tween pulling out sketches from his port­fo­lio, Faysal tried to soothe his youngest daugh­ter, who was suf­fer­ing in­tense tooth pain that has gone un­treated at the camp. Like most of the dis­placed, Faysal ar­rived in Ain Issa with lit­tle, and to re­sume his art­work he ini­tially used what­ever he found around him. One day, a camp worker saw his pieces and brought him pa­per and coloured pen­cils, re­quest­ing a por­trait to memo­ri­alise his son, a Kur­dish fighter.

The re­sult­ing art­work on a huge white poster­board shows a young man in a mil­i­tary-style uni­form with the yel­low badge of the Kur­dish Peo­ple's Pro­tec­tion Units. Faysal has other por­traits, in­clud­ing some of the re­gion's most fa­mous Mid­dle East­ern di­vas, like Le­banese singer Fairuz and Egyp­tian Umm Kulthum. "This is Warda Al-Jazairia, I like to lis­ten to her," he says, ges­tur­ing to his ren­di­tion of the famed Al­ge­rian singer in her youth.

Other pieces de­pict what has become his daily life, in­clud­ing a coloured sketch of a man atop a stack of the thin sponge mat­tresses com­mon at dis­place­ment camps in the re­gion. "Dur­ing the month of Ra­madan, they did not give us as much food as we ex­pected. No one helped us," Faysal said, ges­tur­ing at the sketch. "We had noth­ing in the camps be­side sponge mat­tresses."

Draw­ing an ex­e­cu­tion

An­other pen­cil sketch de­picts a fam­ily in front of a tent, an old man lean­ing on a cane, and other peo­ple sit­ting on the ground. "I was look­ing out from my tent and I saw them, so I drew them," Faysal ex­plained. But the most painful of Faysal's pieces de­pict life un­der IS, and par­tic­u­larly the ex­pe­ri­ences he fears his son may be en­dur­ing. He holds up a sketch of two young men in jail-one of them lean­ing his head back on the con­crete wall be­hind him, and the other with his head be­tween his knees.

"I imag­ine this is my son's sit­u­a­tion in jail," he said. The im­age caused tears to stream down Si­naa's face. "I love all his draw­ings," she said. "But the dear­est to my heart is the one of my son." Inside his tent, Faysal put the fin­ish­ing touches to a pen­cil ren­di­tion of a grue­some scene he wit­nessed in Raqa city while he waited for a doc­tor's ap­point­ment. He re­called see­ing IS ji­hadists drag a hand­cuffed and blind­folded man from a car, sti­fling the de­tainee's screams with a piece of cloth. When Faysal en­tered his doc­tor's of­fice, he heard four gun­shots. His pen­cil draw­ing shows a blind­folded young man, his head thrown back. "This is my pain. Every­thing that hap­pened to us, not just to my son and nephew."—

Syr­ian farmer Faysal, who fled his home north­east of Raqa fol­low­ing an of­fen­sive to cap­ture the city from Is­lamic State (IS) group fighters, shows his paint­ings at the Ain Issa camp in north­ern Syria. — AFP photos

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