Translated from Gazete Karınca
In 1960, 280 children were burned to death in controversial circumstances in a fire in Şehrezad Cinema in Amude, Syria. The children have not been forgotten. Those who survived by chance in the cinema recall the events of that fateful day.
Two hundred and eighty – mostly Kurdish – children died in the fire in the cinema on the night of 13 November 1960 in Amude, Syria. People commemorate the dead whilst being aware that the fire took hold in controversial circumstances. Amude residents even today view the water ‘pit’ next to the cinema building as a symbol of death and life. In the Martyrs Park, there is a commemoration: there are sculptures of three children, painted in black, alongside a ‘pit’ that has come to symbolise the fire.
The government did not even allow people to mourn
The people of Amude could only commemorate their children by lighting candles at their gravesides two years after they died. The Baath regime, which was in power at the time, did not even allow people to commemorate the anniversary of their deaths initially. The ‘great massacre’, which it is sometimes referred to as, has been the subject of many writers and poets’ works and books. Writer and lawyer Hesen Direi, one of the survivors of the massacre, wrote a book entitled ‘Amude is on fire’. It documents various aspects of the events that took place that day. Iraqi poets Mihemed Mihdi El Jewahiri and Bashir Ewaf have also written poems about the fire in Amude.
”Everything that could cause a fire was in the cinema”
Mihemed Emin Ebdulselam, who was 12 years old and in the movie theatre when the fire broke out, recalled that: ”The school principal wanted all students to watch the movie ‘Şebh Muntesaf El Lel’. Everyone went to Şehrazad Cinema to watch the film about the revolution in Algeria. The building was a very old one. Painted sacks were all around it. Everything that could cause a fire was in the cinema. Some of the students had to sit on the ground because they could not fit in the cinema hall”.
”Doors were closed on children”
According to the testimony of Ebdulselam, there was general panic at the time of the fire and ”the children were deliberately left to die. Half an hour after the start of the movie, the fire erupted. The children tried to go outside by pushing each other. Most of them were inside as the doors of the cinema were suddenly closed on them. It was never clarified why this took place. It was a suspicious fire. Some of the children threw themselves down from the tower of the cinema to avoid being burned. There was a water ‘pit’ at the bottom of the tower. Some children died in this ‘pit’. Some of them survived”.
”The cause of the fire is still unknown”
Ebdulselam clearly states that: ”The children were sacrificed. Only ashes remained. Many children could not be identified because their bodies were burned too much. The government of the time did not open an investigation into the incident. No international institution attempted to investigate what really happened. No one knows why the fire broke out”.