Beloved Syrian Child Actor Killed as He Fled Conflict in Aleppo
Qusai Abtini starred in a sitcom that brought laughter to the worst of times.
News of the death of yet another Syrian child has recently surfaced. Though the senseless loss of any human life is always heartbreaking, the loss of 14-year-old Qusai Abtini has been particularly felt by many living in war-torn Syria.
Abtini, whose car was struck by a missile on July 8 as he attempted to flee Aleppo, was one of the stars of the a sitcom called “Umm Abdou the Aleppan.” Abtini had been living in Aleppo until a recent bombing destroyed his home and left his father in a wheelchair prompting his father to send his children out of the city.
“Umm Abdou the Aleppan” was the first sitcom produced in a rebel-held area in Syria and aired in 2014 on an opposition-run channel and featured around 30 short episodes. Abtini played the husband of the show’s title character and was the lovable star of the cast of all children.
The show’s director, Bashar Sakka, said he decided only to cast children to shed light on “the massacres committed by Assad against childhood,” because children are the witnesses to the conflict.
During the casting process, “we were looking for an intelligent boy… we wanted him to be free with ideas, and without fear of Bashar Assad's regime and its ruthlessness,” Sakka told the Associated Press. That boy turned out to be Qusai Abtini.
The sitcom has been compared to the show “I Love Lucy,” with its comical mishaps and bickering couples. The catch being, of course, that it’s set and filmed in the conflict-ridden Aleppo, rather than 1950s New York City. The show put a light-hearted spin on a dark situation, finding comedy in the most serious of circumstances. It showed its characters coping with disruptions in power supply and water cut-offs to violence and bombardement — the latter can be heard during some of the show’s scenes. In one scene, the sound of a nearby explosion shocks the three child actors on camera who visibly jump, but then carry on with their lines.
Read more: A Visual Tour of the Syrian Crisis
A few days after Abtini’s death, a symbolic funeral was held. His father attended in a wheelchair, holding a sign with a message to his late son: "Qusai, Abu Abdu the Aleppan. You are a little hero. You scared the regime with your giant acts so they killed you."
A UN envoy estimates 400,000 people have been killed during Syria’s 5-year long civil war, which sadly shows no signs of letting up. The Syrian Center for Policy Research believes the figure to be even higher, estimating that 470,000, many of them children, have been lost. The center attributes 400,000 of those deaths to the violence, and the other 70,000 to rippling effects of the war — the destruction of healthcare infrastructure, food scarcity, and spread of diseases.
The prolonged conflict has turned more than 4.8 million Syrians into refugees, resulting in a global refugee crisis. The life and death of Qusai Abtini reflect the harsh reality of the Syrian conflict and its human cost. It’s a cost that is rising everyday and requires global action to be stopped.