Abdallah Aljaddan is from Syria and currently lives in Damascus. Here, he talks to us about how the conflict and immigration from Syria has affected his sense of identity:
There are many elements that distinguish me as a Syrian, from the country’s political identity to the smallest details of social life. I believe that the war was an opportunity to get to know ourselves better and to define what exactly is Syrian identity. Or, phrased another way, what is it that makes us Syrian? This question has remained open before us since the beginning of the war. I think of it as a collective understanding of our identity, or some kind of consensus on the different elements that make up Syrian identity, but we haven’t been able to reach it yet.
When I ask myself what it means to be Syrian, I think about how I belong to this country, and how everyone has a sense of belonging. I believe that Syrian identity means that we, as a people, have geographical and spiritual ties to this land. What does it mean that I, Abdallah, am a Syrian? I’m someone who feels proud that I’m still living in Syria after ten horrific years of war. To live it is entirely different than hearing about it, and I lived some very difficult experiences, including fleeing home and becoming displaced. Though they were very trying, they unexpectedly made me even more attached to my Syrian identity. Difficult experiences can sometimes distance you from home, but from where I’m standing today I see that they gave me the opportunity to be even more connected to my identity as a Syrian. Meaning that I have confidence and faith in my uniqueness. In Egypt or in the countries of the Gulf or even Europe, Syrians are recognized as unique and distinguished in the fact that they’ve managed to integrate well, or rather that they’ve integrated the new society into their own culture.
He goes on:
In my personal opinion, the conflict primed us to ask: who are we? Do I know what I am? What does my Syrian identity mean to me? Is it just the ID card that I received at 18 years of age? Or is it the nationality I am given at birth? To me, the conflict presented a huge, incredible, and unrepeatable opportunity to find out more about our relationship to this country. What is our relationship to this identity? The conflict fundamentally threw all our differences into stark relief, and showed us what it is to exist all together as Syrians under one roof, with all our political, religious and sectarian differences, which become mere details when compared to the way we belong to Syria at large.
On how the outcome of the conflict might affect his sense of identity:
Any change in the nature of the conflict and its results will inevitably affect my identity. For example, if things had gotten much worse, I might have been forced to leave the country, whereas I believe that a big part of my entire concept of identity is due to my having stayed here during the war. It made me feel more connected to this land, and I feel more attached to the country because I lived the war. There’s a whole host of people who left Syria probably because they were tired of the deteriorating situation, and in the diaspora they arrived at a different understanding of their identity. I very much hope that all of these experiences can be documented so that we might have a richer understanding of what is the Syrian identity, and so that the question of what it means to be Syrian can be defined by the people rather than the political authorities.
On how customs and traditions influence his sense of identity:
Customs and traditions certainly impact my sense of identity as a Syrian, beginning with how the entire family gathers together every weekend. This makes me feel one with the country, one with the society. Those who left for Europe have lost this ritual, lost this feeling, this special thing tied to the fact of your being Syrian, tied to the fact of your having this identity, and how all of this is linked to these social rituals. I am very moved when I listen to a song about Syria; I enjoy seeing the markets full of people. I’m delighted when the electricity stays on for four or five consecutive hours without power cuts.
If he had to define his identity in brief terms:
I belong to Syria, and the meaning of this belonging was lost to those fighting on all sides of this conflict. I’d like to make clear that belonging to Syria is paramount, and to be Syrian is to live for Syria’s sake, not for the sake of any one person, or for the sake of a regime or sect.