Diala Fedawi is Syrian and currently living in Germany. Here, she talks to us about her Syrian identity:
As a person, I have no problem with any religion, any sect or sexual orientation or private affiliation. I deal with every person as they are, just as I’d like people to deal with me: solely as a person. In terms of my Syrian identity, I’m a refugee. It’s my Syrian nationality that turned me into a refugee, and so my belonging to Syria consists of a bunch of documents proving that I’m a Syrian who sought refuge in this country.
On her sense of belonging to a Syrian identity:
Currently there’s nothing that ties me to any sense of belonging to a Syrian identity. Previously, yes there was, but honestly whatever was left of it ended with the death of my father who had been sick in Syria. The state wouldn’t accept him in any of its hospitals, so there’s really nothing left for me to belong to.
On how the conflict has impacted her sense of identity:
I used to be able to say that I’m Syrian by belonging and Syrian by love. At the beginning of the revolution, I felt that we were all Syrian, but we lacked dignity. And the revolution gave us dignity. It allowed us to feel that we should be demanding our rights. The people’s uprising made me rise up with them too, and that’s when I was a true Syrian. Then things started to deteriorate for me, maybe because the people changed. My friends disappeared from the demonstrations and were replaced by others who bore no resemblance to me. The minute I got on the boat, fleeing the Syrian regime, I lost everything that remained to me of my Syrian identity, and I no longer have any sense of belonging to Syria, which no longer resembles me now.
On how the outcome of the conflict might affect her sense of identity:
Honestly I’m unable to make any predictions about this, but for the time being everything appears obscured to me, entirely black. I don’t see any signs of hope right now. Maybe if things change in the future I might be able to feel some sort of nostalgia for the country and wish to go back to see it for myself. But right now I’m unwilling to go to Syria, not even for a visit. Everything left to me there now is a bunch of graves, the graves of my family members. Those, I’d like to visit. But there are no more living people there for me now, no one for me in Syria but that group of graves. Right now the situation is very bleak, completely black, and I can’t imagine that anything will change.
On how immigration has impacted her sense of identity:
I was granted asylum in a country that respects people, and I was treated in a very humanitarian manner, one I frankly never encountered in my own country. When I meet German people here I feel that I want to apologize to them given all the kindness they’ve shown me—the kindness we’d been deprived of. In terms of my personal experience, I’m very comfortable here in my country of asylum and I have a lot of hope that I can work on something to benefit this country, to return even just a small part of the debt I owe to it.
On the customs and traditions that tie her to her Syrian identity:
We continue to practice the daily rituals we practiced in Syria to the best of our ability, meaning family visits and religious celebrations such as Ramadan or Eid, even New Year’s Eve. Any pleasant occasion is a chance to gather. These are the rituals that are part of Syrian custom, and we will continue to gather as a family the way we were raised to do. But we gather in families, not because we’re Syrians. There are many Syrians in the town where I live but I don’t gather together with them, knowing that I can make friends of other nationalities.
If she had to define her identity briefly:
My identity: I am a Syrian refugee in a country foreign to me. A country that respects people. During the last period in Syria I truly lost my humanity, to the extent that we weren’t treated as human beings. I am a refugee; I don’t consider that I belong to Syria at the present time, except as far as official documents filed with the German government are concerned, the ones that say that I’m a refugee from Syria.