In their documentation, “Our Terrible Country”, the Syrian directors Mohammad Ali Atassi and Ziad Homsi accompany one of the leading Syrian intellectuals and activists, Yassin Al Haj Saleh, on his journey through Syria. Starting from the liberated areas around Douma and Damascus they are heading towards Raqqa. The city in the northeast of Syria was the first provincial capital to be liberated and to come under rebel control, but it was eventually taken by the forces of the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant).
The Syrian writer Al Haj Saleh spent 16 years in political imprisonment in Syria and has been politically active long before the revolution started, to which he contributed from its early days on. In Douma, Al Haj Saleh makes the acquaintance of the 28 years younger filmmaker Ziad Homsi, and both start to portray each other with their very own means. While Homsi captures Al Haj Saleh’s thoughts with his camera, the writer tries to find answers to the filmmaker’s fears and expectations about the events in Syria. In the meanwhile, Homsi gradually gives up the distant position of an external observer behind his camera, as Al Haj Saleh reflects on the revolution, on his own journey, and about his wife Samira who stayed in Douma. A close comradeship evolves between the two of them, and Mohammad Ali Atassi finally joins them to further portray their growing friendship. On their way to Raqqa, Al Haj Saleh has to discover that his hometown was taken by the radical Islamic terrorist group ISIS, and that the organization had kidnapped two of his brothers. The writer’s joy over the reunification with parts of his family mixes with a feeling of helplessness in view of the presence of the “monster”, as he refers to the ISIS. Shortly afterwards, the Islamist extremists arrest Homsi on his way back to Douma at a checkpoint and keep him imprisoned for one month, while Al Haj Saleh is forced into exile in Turkey. Soon after his arrival in Istanbul he learns that his wife Samira was kidnapped together with Razan Zaituneh and two other human rights activists working at the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) in Douma. Eventually, Al Haj Saleh and Homsi meet again in Istanbul, and Atassi captures their ongoing dialogue about being forced to leave their home country behind, and the impression to have taken with them at least part of the support and hope from their compaignons who remain inside Syria.