Syria:7 years, 7 docs
[Al Jazeera]
Featured Documentaries

Syria’s War: Seven years, seven documentaries

As Syria marks seven years of civil war, Al Jazeera looks back at some of our best documentaries charting the conflict.

On March 15, 2011, peaceful protests erupted in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, inspired by Arab Spring protests, which toppled presidents in Egypt and Tunisia.

Seven years on, al-Assad remains in power and violence rages across Syria. The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 465,000 Syrians and left over a million injured. 

More than half of the country’s prewar population, some 12 million people, have fled Syria or been internally displaced, prompting a refugee crisis.

To mark the seventh anniversary of the start of the war, Al Jazeera looks back at some of our best documentaries charting the conflict’s many faces, from political power playing and undercover journalists, to refugee children and westerners travelling to Syria to join the fight.

The Boy Who Started the Syrian Civil War


Mouawiya Syasneh was just 14 when he sprayed anti-government slogans on the wall of his school in Deraa, Syria. It was February 2011, and he could never have imagined that such a minor act would lead to a full-blown civil war.

Now a young man fighting on the frontline for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Mouawiya admits that had he known what the consequences of his actions would be, he never would have taunted President Bashar al-Assad. 

This 2017 film is a portrait of life in Deraa since the start of the conflict. We meet Syrians trying to lead normal lives amid the chaos, as well as those who have taken up arms against government forces.

Syria: The Last Assignment


This film tells a story we were not supposed to hear. In it, we see images we were not supposed to see.

In November 2013, Iraqi freelance cameraman Yasser Faisal al-Jumaili crossed the Turkish border into Syria with his trusted Syrian fixer Jomah Alqasem.

Their assignment was to access Syria’s various rebel groups and build a picture of who these men were and for 13 days, the two men filmed fighters behind the frontlines with groups including the FSA, the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, and even the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

Yasser’s knack of getting these men to let us into their casual, off-duty lives offers a unique glimpse into the people behind the slogans and headlines.

But only Jomah lives to tell the tales of their last assignment together.

On December 4, 2013, as they tried to leave Syria by road, their car was stopped and Yasser was shot multiple times. His killers remain unknown. 

In this film, we discover Yasser – the journalist and the man – from moving accounts of those who knew and worked with him. But Yasser’s unique footage, later smuggled out of Syria by friends and colleagues, stands as the greatest testament to his talent and resolve.

I Am A Syrian Child


Syria’s civil war has led to a refugee crisis, with millions fleeing the country in search of safety. According to UNICEF, children account for just over half of the total number of refugees from Syria.

These children, on whom all hope rests for a better future for Syria, are now at risk of becoming a “lost generation“.

In this 2016 film, children from across Syria living in Lebanon and Jordan reflect on what little they remember of the lives they left behind and the difficulties of receiving an education as refugees.

Even those who are lucky enough to find a place and enrol in school struggle to make the most out of their new lives. With new curriculums to adjust to, segregation between Syrian and local children, and a lack of funds to purchase school materials, fleeing the war appears to be just the beginning of a difficult journey for Syria’s refugee children.

Songs of Defiance: Undercover in Syria


“I can’t tell you my name. I’ve spent many months secretly in Syria for Al Jazeera.”

So begins one of the first Al Jazeera films on the Syrian uprisings, shot entirely on a mobile phone by an undercover journalist, after Al Jazeera’s cameras were banned from Syria.

From the back streets of Damascus, Homs and Idlib, to remote mountain villages, Al Jazeera’s journalist travels the country as it was in 2012, documenting the then year-long uprising against the al-Assad regime.

He meets resistance fighters, protesters, Syrian army deserters, footballers-turned-revolutionaries and cigarette smugglers who have joined the fight.

This film gives an unusual and compelling first-person account of a country in turmoil and a revolution in progress, before the descent into bloody civil war.

Western Jihadis in Syria


The Syrian Civil War has seen thousands of young Muslims from Europe, Australia and elsewhere travelling to Syria to fight.

Many have joined competing armed groups, such as ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra, which, as well as seeking the overthrow of the al-Assad regime, are also locked in their own intense battle for the hearts and mind of the Syrian people.

In this exclusive 2015 film, Danish filmmaker Nagieb Khaja went to Syria to speak to Western fighters and one of Jabhat al-Nusra’s senior figures – the Australian-Egyptian Muslim scholar, Abu Sulayman Muhajir – to find out why foreign Muslims are being drawn to the conflict in Syria, explore the reasons behind Jabhat al-Nusra’s fierce rivalry with ISIL, and examine the implications of these developments for global security.

Syria: Under Russia’s Fist


Since September 2015, Russia has been carrying out air strikes in Syria in support of its ally al-Assad. Moscow insists these attacks have been aimed only at fighters from ISIL and other “terrorist groups”, such as al-Nusra Front. But monitoring groups say thousands of non-combatants have also been killed or wounded.

Amnesty International and others have said the bombings may be war crimes. Amnesty has also cited consistent reports of second bombardments from planes returning to kill and injure rescue workers, paramedics and civilians attempting to evacuate the wounded and dead from earlier raids.

This exclusive report, shot in 2015 in Aleppo, Idlib and other then-rebel-held areas of Syria, is a tense and at times breathtaking portrayal of life underneath the Kremlin’s bombs. 

Syria’s White Helmets


This film provides a snapshot of the lives and motivations of a small group of people working to combat the horror in one of the most violent places on Earth. 

The story of the White Helmets rescue team working tirelessly to protect the people on the ground offers a glimpse of humanity amid the chaos of the conflict.

It explores why the group’s members choose to risk their lives to save strangers, and how they carry on while so many others have either fled or taken up arms.