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Since 2011 activists in Kafranbel have created clever slogans and caustic posters to express their critical view of the war. And now they're making viral videos.
Against all odds, after more than 100,000 killed and countless atrocities committed by both a disparate rebellion and the government of President Bashar al-Assad, there's still a group in Syria that has held on to the revolt's nonviolent roots.
Since 2011, pro-opposition media-savvy activists in the northwestern town of Kafranbel have been producing clever slogans and caustic posters to express their critical view of the war. And now they're making viral videos.
In one satirical video posted to YouTube, the group — which is led by Raed Fares, a 40-year-old medical school dropout and former member of the Baath Party — lampoons what they see as a callous international community.
The video was released after someone fired poisonous chemical rockets into the Ghouta suburb of Damascus on Aug. 21, killing 1,429 people. It was the worst chemical attack in decades.
US President Barack Obama responded quickly, calling for an armed response. But when Secretary of State John Kerry hypothetically suggested Assad could give up his chemical stockpile to avoid an attack, the world jumped at the opportunity. A complex UN-backed disarmament plan was quickly devised and the US backed down. And so the civil war continues on its brutal path.
That series of events is darkly retold in the video, "Kafranbel: The Syrian Revolution in Three Minutes."
In the first two scenes unarmed cavemen rush out to protest against the regime and are slaughtered without mercy, first with machine guns, then bombs, all in front of indifferent onlookers.
In the third scene civilians are murdered with a chemical weapon. This time the unfeeling crowd disapproves. Syria gives the deadly gas to a man with the Russian flag on his chest, who then hands it over to the United States and the European Union. The killing resumes, sans gas.
Members of the Kafranbel group said they used the Stone Age concept for its universal language, and for another practical reason — the materials weren't that hard to find. But there was another motive behind the barbaric theme.
"The Syrian revolution proved to us that there is no more humanity left," Fares told GlobalPost. "Everyone has given up and turned away from the Syrian people. So the Stone Age was perfect because they didn’t own humanity at the time."
The Syrian conflict began as a peaceful protest movement. It evolved into a violent civil war marked by sectarian conflict after government security forces opened fire on demonstrators. Today the conflict is further mired by a complex network of religious extremist groups, both domestic and foreign.
In all the brutality, so easily accessed via social media, it might appear to those on the outside that the peaceful civil resistance movement no longer exists inside Syria. Fares says that's not the case.
"The only problem with other provinces in Syria is that the media isn’t able to reach and cover these nonviolent and peaceful movements," Fares said. "We still go out every Friday and demonstrate, hold up banners — because this is how our revolution began."
Here's the Kafranbel group about two years ago:
The group often posts cartoon posters or English plain text-only signs on its Facebook or Tumblr pages. They are often simple jokes with a comedic jab at Assad or another foreign leader, like Obama or Assad's stalwart ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"There is no egg in eggplant, no ham in hamburger but there is an ASS in Bashar al-Assad!!" reads one of the groups many signs.
Others signs, seen in the organization's many protest videos, promote a political message without the comedy.
And then there's the recent video that Fares sent to members of Congress, lobbying for US military intervention. (So while the Kafranbel group maintains a non-violent approach, it did support military action against Assad.)
In between quotes from Ronald Reagan and Martin Luther King Jr., and over emotional music, Syrian children and activists ask for help.
"You should feel ashamed, because you can save our lives but you never want to try,” pleads a young girl.
“If you are really against the war, then you should support the US strikes that can actually end the war,” an activist adds.
As the group's content began to go viral, it gained international notoriety. But like everyone else, Syrian activists must navigate a saturated market that quickly tires of material no matter how good or serious it is.
"Our protests and banners became classical.... The outside community would still follow up to see our banners every Friday. But it became routine: protest, banners, shelling, death. We needed to wake the world up," Fares said.
"We are going to continue on with the Syrian revolution against injustice. We will not stop," Fares added. "We will continue to speak, protest, write, and film to get our voices heard."