On 13 November 1960, hundreds of Kurdish schoolchildren lost their lives in a devastating cinema fire in Amûde, northeast Syria.
The children, who had been forced to watch the Egyptian film ‘The Midnight Spirit’ (Chabah nisf al-layl) in the town’s Şehrazad Film House, faced a disaster that endures in the collective memory of the Kurdish people.
The cinema, which housed over 400, became a death trap as flames engulfed the wooden and nylon decorations, killing 283 children. No effective investigation has taken place in the 63 years since.
The incident took place during the union of Syria and Egypt, when anti-Kurdish sentiment was high. The Kurds were seen as a threat to the pan-Arab unity project, and the tragedy took place in an atmosphere of tension.
The Syrian regime never investigated the cause of the fire, leaving the painful wounds of the Amûde cinema fire unresolved after more than six decades.
“They wanted to wipe out the Kurds,” survivor Reşîdê Fatê, now 75, told the Firat News Agency (ANF).
While the Ba’ath regime was accused of starting the fire to wipe out the Kurdish presence in Syria, no official investigation was carried out. Ehmedê Namî, author of Agirê Sînema Amûdê (The Fire of the Cinema Amûdê), raised questions about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the tragedy. He questioned the actions of those responsible, the absence of teachers with the children, and the alleged departure of regime officials’ children under warning from their fathers prior to the fire.
The memory of the Amûde cinema massacre is now preserved in the Baxçê Pakrewan Park (Garden of Heroes), built on site. The park includes a statue of Mihemedê Seîd Axayê Deqorî, who heroically saved more than 10 children during the fire. The names and photographs of the children who died are displayed on the walls of the cinema.