Academy Award ® Nominee for Best Documentary Short, “Watani: My Homeland” tells the epic story of one family’s escape from war-torn Syria and their attempt to make a new life in Germany. Hammoudi, Helen, Farah, and Sarah are the young children of Free Syrian Army Commander Abu Ali. They live on the frontline of the civil war in Aleppo, the only family still living in a derelict warzone that was once a busy residential neighborhood. After their father is captured by ISIS, the family is forced to flee their homeland and to start a new life in a small, medieval town in Germany.

Director Marcel Mettelsiefen spent over three years filming in both Syria and Germany, making over 25 trips to Syria alone, to bring audiences this powerful reminder of the families and ordinary citizens trapped in the midst of a failure of international politics.

These are some of his photographs.

Before the uprising started in Syria Abu Ali was an electric engineer. He met his wife Hala in university. Both were studying there. They were an open minded middle class family. They gave their children a Muslim, a Christian and a Jewish name: Farah, Helen and Sara.

Here Farah plays in one of the abandoned flats with a plastic gun.

In September of 2013, Abu Ali was kidnapped by the Islamic state. Hala stayed alone with her four children in Aleppo. Their life became intolerable amid ever intensifying bombardments by the Syrian regime and the brutal and terrifying rise of the so called Islamic state.

In this picture we see Farah and Sara playing on the ruins of their former school.

Early 2015 the Syrian Army intensified the bombardments on Aleppo. With the city under siege, Hala made the hard decision to flee the country.

We love you Syria, forgive us. I took a piece of my heart and put it on the door of our house for him. For daddy.


Here Hala takes her children on a long journey from Aleppo to Turkey and then to Germany. they applied for political asylum at the German consulate in Istanbul.

After three months waiting for an answer the family was granted asylum.

We’re not afraid of death. We’re happy because we’re having fun. This scene reminds us of Syria. Reminds us of our country’s sea. And here, now, we’re not swimming, we’re dreaming. The waves are eating us as if they miss us. Now we’re going to play.


Here on the shores of Turkey, the children play in the ocean.

Germany relocated them in a little medieval town called Goslar. They were safe now. For the children a new exciting part of life started . But it was Hala who struggled most. She lost everything. Her husband, her homeland, her identity. She was physically in Germany but emotionally still in Syria.

A girl doesn’t have freedom in Syria. But here in Germany…here a girl is not ruled. A girl has her freedom. I haven’t forgotten where I came from. I haven’t forgotten that I’m from a homeland, from Syria. I’m not from Germany.


Helen arrived in Germany as a young teenage girl. It was a time of a lot of changes. In the first days of school in Germany, she would still wear her headscarf. But very quickly she decided that she wanted to become like her new schoolmates and stopped wearing it.

Mohammad is the oldest son of Hala and Abu Ali. Similar to his siblings he was able to adapt very fast to his new life in Germany. But he is convinced that he wants to go back to Syria and rebuild it once the war is over.

It’s sad what’s happened to us, the people of Syria. It’s sad we had to cross the seas crossing European countries. Sometimes I think it was wrong for us to come to Germany and that we should have stayed in our country. I will certainly return to my country whether it is rebuilt or not. I only came to Germany to secure my future. Because I’m not German. No one can completely leave their homeland.


Mum endured us for the past years and dad sacrificed everything in his life for his homeland, for us. Now I know the value of a father, especially a mum. Now I know that homeland is everything.


Helen and her siblings went through a lot of very challenging and tragic moments while staying in Syria. And although they were able to adapt very quickly to their new environment in Germany, the emotional scars are still very fresh.

Photos and Words by Marcel Mettelsiefen


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