This is the unique story of the Ayachis, a French-Syrian Muslim family who trade their peaceful lives in Europe for revolution in Syria. They are no ordinary “jihadists”. Their path and ideas couldn’t be further from the cliches with which they are associated.
This family, headed by a Syrian father, was hailed as a model of Muslim integration in France in the 1980s, notably in a televised documentary. The father, exiled to France in the 1970s, is a descendant of an old and prestigious family of the Syrian Sunni aristocracy.
The first of this two-part documentary follows the story of the son who was a brilliant student at Aix-Marseille University in Provence and at university in Brussels and who established a small computer business. He then became a famous strongman in Syria’s fight against Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
The second part follows the father’s return to Syria to continue his son’s work. Through the story of this family, unlike any other, this film explores the complex relationship between two worlds – the West and the East.
By Stephane Malterre
This film emerged through the combination of various encounters and my fascination for the Arab Spring. After having filmed the Tunisian uprising and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, I decided to go to Syria in 2013.
I was planning on directing – from the rebel side – a report on 33-year-old Abdelrahman Ayachi. For the past two years, this Frenchman of Syrian origin had commanded an Islamist battalion affiliated with the Free Syrian Army.
Both charismatic and paradoxical, Abdelrahman observed the Quran and followed the teachings of Che Guevara and the French Revolution, while also boasting the merits of Sharia law. His personality was a puzzle to me. After two weeks of shooting, while filming on the frontline in one of the battalion’s battles against Bashar al-Assad’s troops, Abdelrahman was killed.
|Abdelrahman Ayachi, a French of Syrian origin, commanded an Islamist battalion affiliated with the Free Syrian Army [Al Jazeera]|
The story could have ended there. But back in Europe, I decided to show the last images which I had filmed of Abdelrahman to his family. It’s on this occasion that I met his father, Imam Bassam Ayachi – a controversial figure who has long been suspected of being part of al-Qaeda. The man who received me turned out to be charming. A naturalised French citizen since the early 1970s, Bassam had left Syria around the time of Hafez al-Assad’s rise to power.
To my great surprise, Bassam announced that same day that his time had come. He, too, like his son, would leave France to defend his land and his people – he would wage his jihad.
What were the motivations of this 68-year-old man? Obedience to the law of God? Sorrow and guilt for the loss of his son? The questions that this departure raised about this unusual familial destiny prompted me to make this film.
I returned to Syria in 2014 and in 2015 to film Bassam, who would become the target of ISIL. But I also decided to explore the family’s journey from the 1970s to today – through interviews with family members who remain in Europe and thanks to the existing trove of audiovisual archives on the Ayachis – a tumultuous path oscillating between East and West.
Across war and religion, I aimed to narrate as intimately as possible the relationship between father and son: the transmission and the weight of a legacy between generations, the desires that the father projected on to his children, and the son’s search for his origins. Everything that constituted, in my opinion, the elements of a tragedy.
Source: Al Jazeera