The hard-hitting soap for a country at war

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A sorrowful woman’s voice begins to sing – and even if you don’t speak a word of Arabic you can guess that the radio soap opera Sad Northern Nights is going to dig much deeper than the usual kitchen-sink drama.

“She’s lamenting her lost homeland,” Sami, Radio Alwan’s special projects director smiles ruefully. “She’s singing, “we want to come back to you, we want to be reunited, we won’t wait until tomorrow until all your wounds are healed.”

The traffic honks impatiently beneath his window as we listen. Few people here know that in this unimposing office in a busy western suburb of Istanbul a radio drama is being broadcast to war-torn Syria. And they mustn’t know, explains Sami, because not everyone likes the fact that Radio Alwan is an independent station which tempers neither its news bulletins nor its soap opera’s plots in order to toe government or opposition parties’ lines.

They pay for that. Last month, staff in the station’s Aleppo office were beaten up by masked men, who stole their equipment.

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Sami takes me to the tiny recording studio where the black sound-proofing foam that covers the wall is impregnated with the whiff of stale cigarette smoke seeping in from the kitchen next door. Miran, a young actor holding a script theatrically far out in front of him, nods for me to go in. As soon as the door closes he begins to shout dramatically and then suddenly making his voice go higher, he throws back his head and laughs.

The engineer we can see through the tiny glass window reads a few lines of another part and once more, Miran cackles like a madman. The editor makes him do it again. Miran looks at the clock nervously, but agrees to go for one last take. As he hurries out of the studio I dash down the corridor after him asking which part he’s playing and what he was doing in the scene.

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