A window to Syria’s torture chambers

“How can people commit such crimes. And why,” asked a visitor, an elderly person, while he was walking through the halls of the Kunstgebäude in the heart of Stuttgart.

The city hosted an extravagant exhibition in June-July on the alleged crimes committed by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Parts of the so-called Caesar Photos, which were first released in January 2014, along with a detainee report were displayed in the exhibition.

According to the report, the photos revealed the systematic killing of more than 11,000 detainees by the regime in one region between March 2011 and August 2013. Caesar is the cover name of the source and he or she used to be a photographer with the Syrian military police.

Some photos were too gruesome and the organisers of the exhibition displayed them on a large table in a separate room. They didn’t want every visitor to stumble upon those photos. But exhibiting the torture pictures in any way was still a controversial issue for many people. “Some people claim that it is not ethically correct what we are doing. One visitor supported our work but said that the bodies of White people would never be presented in such a way,” said Tina Fuchs, a local journalist and one of the main organisers of the exhibition.

According to Ms. Fuchs, it was necessary to make the public more aware of the crimes in Syria. At least 5,00,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the civil war in 2011 and many more displaced. “I understand the criticism and it is good that we can discuss such issues on a higher level,” she said.

Several Syrians, who fled from their country, worked with Ms. Fuchs. The German journalist claimed that all of them supported the exhibition since they believed that the war has been already forgotten in many Western nations. The exhibition was accompanied with additional artistic works and several other events. Syrian dissidents, human rights activists, law experts, university professors, refugees and artists talked about the daily reality of the war in Syria. One of them was Abeer Farhoud, 31, an artist whose work is part of the exhibition in Stuttgart. Ms. Farhoud, originally from Damascus, worked with the revolutionary council in the capital city and supported the democratic uprising against the Assad regime in 2011. The regime put her in a prison.

Personal revolution

Several of her friends and family members shared the same experience. Her installations gave visitors an idea of the abuses that are taking place in Syrian prisons. They showed hanged body parts and the names of murdered inmates. Most of them happened to be civilians. “When I was in jail, I heard a lot of stories. In each story I was told, there was one scene that will strike you and you will never forget it again. These scenes inspired my works,” Ms. Farhoud said. She pointed out that while in jail she promised to a friend that she would fulfill her artistic ambitions. “I got out but she never did,” she said.

Ms. Farhoud is living in Germany since 2015 with her husband and daughter. Expressing her feelings and experiences through art in a country like Germany is important for her. “For Syrian activists and artists, such exhibitions are necessary to tell their stories. Unfortunately, many of us have had bad experiences in our home country since the regime doesn’t like arts and culture. To express ourselves here like this is like a personal revolution,” she said.