Tribute to children who died 62 years ago in the Amûdê cinema fire

  • Rojava/Northern and Eastern Syria

Every year, the residents of Amûdê commemorate the victims of the massacre in the Cinema Martyrs Park, which was built on the site of the massacre.

Dozens of residents, children from the neighborhood and representatives of institutions gathered in Cinema Martelaren Park to remember the victims of the massacre.

The ceremony was organized by the Amûdê District Council and the Democratic Culture and Arts Movement in Mesopotamia and the Children’s Art Commission.

The cinema fire in Amûdê

The cinema fire in Amûdê is one of the stories deeply rooted in the memory of the Kurdish community. It was November 13, 1960, when hundreds of schoolchildren were forced to watch the Egyptian film “The Midnight Ghost” (Chabah nisf al-layl) on Sunday in the only cinema in the city in northeastern Syria, Şehrazad Film House. At the time, the Baath regime had ordered a “week of solidarity” with Algeria’s struggle for independence from France and collected donations for the “Algerian brothers”. In Amûdê, all students therefore had to go to the cinema, for thirty piastres entrance.

The film had already been shown several times, and each time the theater was packed. Actually, it had a maximum of 200 seats on about 130 square meters, but on that day 61 years ago there were more than 400 children in the hall. Their eyes stared at the screen, over which a horror film from 1947 flickered, when after a short time the image became far too bright. But the brightness no longer came from the projector, but from a fire. The flames quickly spread to the wooden rafters of the hut-like building, which was covered in straw and mud. In a very short time, the entire cinema was on fire. Panic broke out as the children tried to reach the exits. However, there were only two narrow doors available, which could only be opened inwards. 282 children between the ages of eight and fourteen died a painful death.

Whether the fire was organized by the regime – two Syrian soldiers stood guard at the entrance to the cinema – or overheating from overuse that caused the movie player to suddenly catch fire is still a matter of speculation today. But the fact that the regime authorities ignored the indications of the fire danger and insisted on continuing the screenings, that there was not a single teacher in the room on the day of the fire, and that even the children of regime officials did not come to see The fact that the tragedy has never been investigated by the Syrian regime, leads many people to believe that the Amûdê cinema fire was a targeted and deliberate massacre. This is because discrimination against Kurdish culture and language was part of state policy in Syria; political activities were violently suppressed by the regime.

Mohammad Saed Agha Daqqouri, an Arab resident of Amûdê who happened to pass by the burning cinema at the time, was able to rescue between 20 and 30 children from the fire before he himself perished in the flames. The monument erected years later in the Baxçê Pakrewan Memorial Garden on the site of the Şehrazad Cinema House to commemorate the disaster also tells its story. It was donated by Algeria as an expression of solidarity with the people of Amûdê. As a memorial, there is also a fountain in the garden. In it the rescued children had taken refuge, who were rescued by Mohammad Saed Agha Daqqouri. The pictures of the dead and their stories line the walls of the memorial. Hundreds of children’s eyes stare at the spectators.

“The children of Amûdê had to support Algeria not only with money, but also with their burnt bodies” – these are the words of Reşîdè Fatê. The Kurd, now 73 years old, survived the cinema fire. “I was almost twelve years old and in the fifth grade. I watched the movie on one of the balconies in the auditorium. There were hundreds of children downstairs. It was as if they could shatter at any moment. At one point the screen lit up, the movie stopped. The next moment there was a very loud noise, as if a plane was flying low. Immediately after, it was on fire,” recalls Reşîdè Fatê from November 13, 1960. “I looked at the children in the lower rows. One by one they fell to the ground, crushed or trampled. They all screamed in panic and tried to reach the doors. I jumped off the balcony and ran to the south exit. But it was locked from the outside. We all pushed to the door with all our strength. After an eternity it broke open and we ran outside. It was only then that I realized my feet were burning.”

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