Itab Azzam is a Syrian filmmaker and activist. Her work foregrounds the voices and stories of refugee women.
Born in Swaida, Syria, she moved from Damascus to the UK in 2011, when war broke out. The Syrian civil war prompted the world’s largest refugee crisis in recent times. In March 2021, there were 6.6m Syrian refugees worldwide and 6.7m internally displaced within Syria. Half of those who lived in Syria have been forced to flee either their country or their homes.
Azzam’s work embraces the refugee narrative. She was a producer of BBC2’s 2016 Exodus: Our Journey to Europe, a BAFTA-winning documentary that gave cameras to refugees to chronicle their treacherous passage to Europe. She is currently working on a long-form documentary about a Syrian girl growing up in Germany.
Azzam is heavily involved in refugee theatre projects, using art for social change. She produced the 2013 film, Queens of Syria. This award-winning documentary follows a Syrian refugee production of Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedy, The Trojan Women. Azzam was also involved in the 2014 theatre project Antigone of Syria, transporting Sophocles’ Antigone to a group of female Syrian refugees in Beirut. She co-directed the resulting award-winning 2018 documentary, We Are Not Princesses. These productions provided a platform for these women to present and process their own stories, through ancient narratives.
Beyond this, Azzam is the co-founder of the social enterprise Sabbara and the charity Makani. These empower Syrian women economically and socially with art and drama workshops that provide skills and psychological support, as well as creating and selling refugee products, and telling the stories of refugee women.
In 2017, she released an award-winning cookbook entitled Syria: Recipes from Home, with actress and refugee Dina Mousawi. This contained recipes and stories from the refugees involved in the Antigone of Syria project. It was featured in The Times’ and The Guardian’s lists of the best food books of 2017.
Rachel is a third year Classics and English student at Oxford University. She researched and wrote this article as part of the Oxford University Micro Internship programme.