Freedom Fighter Matthew VanDyke's Speech at the Syrian Women in the Revolution Conference

Matthew VanDyke giving a speech at the Syrian Women in the Revolution Conference

March 17, 2013

Syrian Women in the Revolution: Empowering, Impacting & Shaping the Future


My name is Matthew VanDyke and I am the American who fought in the Libyan revolution. I spent years living and working in the Arab world, from Mauritania to Iraq and everything in between. So when my friends in Libya needed help overthrowing the Gaddafi regime in 2011, I went. I joined the rebel forces, was captured in Brega, and spent nearly 6 months as a prisoner of war in Maktab al-Nasser and Abu Salim prisons before escaping from Abu Salim with other prisoners and returning to combat on the front lines.

After we won the war, I returned to the United States. I believed strongly that we needed to export the revolution, to continue toppling authoritarian regimes throughout the region, and perhaps the world. I turned my attention to Syria, a country I had traversed by motorcycle 3 times in 2008 and 2009.

Many Libyans went to help in Syria, and I nearly went with them. What kept me from going was the lack of weapons and ammunition for the fighters they already had. They had the men, but not the materials. The FSA needed money. So I decided to make a film that would improve the international image of the revolution and be used as a fundraising tool for organizations raising money for Syria.

I had very little money myself, having spent nearly all of 2011 volunteering for the Libyan revolution. So I tried to fundraise for the film, and failed. I was faced with the decision of spending what little money I had left on the film, or giving up. I knew that for every dollar I put into the film, the film would later raise several times that in contributions for the cause. So I went and made the film anyway.

I spent nearly $15,000 making the film, and while working on it in Syria I was labeled a terrorist by the Assad regime, which broadcast my name and image on the State TV channels.

I interviewed countless FSA fighters and civilians for this film. There is a lot of footage beyond what you will see here. But things were not going well; I was not getting the compelling characters I needed to make not just an informative film, but an emotional one.

Viewers have to care about the characters on the screen.

After weeks, I had one great character, Omar Hattab, who uses the nickname Mowya. He was witty, clever, and very good on camera. He was a natural talent.

But he wasn’t enough for the film by himself. Wit and cleverness wouldn’t carry the film, that wouldn’t get people to open their hearts and their wallets for Syria.

Then one day in November, I met Nour Kelze and everything changed. She started helping me with the film, getting up earlier than anyone else and working as hard as me (sometimes harder) to get the film done. And as she was guiding me around Aleppo to film, I began to turn the camera on her.

I sensed that I had a star.

I have worked in eight Arab countries since 2007, and fought in one Arab war. I have met thousands of people during those years, and I can say with certainty that Nour Kelze is not only the most impressive individual I have met in the region, but perhaps in my entire lifetime.
Nour has a degree in Arts and Literature from Aleppo University, and before the war, she was an English teacher at an elementary school. She was engaged for four years. When the war started, her fiancée wanted her to stay at home and keep out of the revolution.

So she left him.

And she left her job as an English teacher as well, and went to protest in the streets, risking her life against the Assad forces. She did many things for the revolution, from activism to working in a field hospital among other things, before finding her passion in combat photography. She was hired by Reuters and spends much of her time on the front lines, risking death and injury to show the world what is happening in Syria.

Several weeks ago, she was wounded by a tank shell. Part of a wall collapsed on her ankle, breaking it in two places. She has shrapnel scars from that attack and from an earlier incident in her career when she came under fire by regime aircraft.

She went to Turkey for surgery on her ankle and returned to Aleppo only a few days later.

Nothing stops her.

In addition to her courage, brilliance, individualism, and tireless hard work, she has the heart of a real revolutionary. She lives and breathes the revolution just as I do – she is a true believer. She’s willing to risk her reputation to do the right thing and keep fighting the regime no matter what. She will never back down against any challenge, and she is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of her country.

She is a hero. She is the star of my film.

Yes, I spent a small fortune to make this film and I do not see any way to recover the money I spent on it. But I would have spent double that to bring Nour Kelze to the attention of the world, because what she represents and what she can inspire in people is priceless.

I present Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution, starring Omar Hattab and Nour Kelze.

A working version (not the final version, which was saved for film festivals) of Matthew VanDyke's Syria war documentary film "Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution" was shown to the audience.