Fareed Yaghi is a Syrian poet living in Germany. Here, he talks to us about his Syrian identity and what impacts it:
For me, the question of identity has been a very complicated one since childhood, because I belong to one country and hold the nationality of another country. I belong to Syria with all its sufferings, all its ideas and opinions, and at the same time, I’m Palestinian. From childhood I’ve had only temporary residence documents, and in Germany I also have a temporary residency. I feel like I am a Syrian, a Damascene, and as for the other identities, it’s possible to reconcile with them and understand them.
On the elements that make up his Syrian identity:
I lived in Syria and felt a sense of national and psychological belonging to it. I used to feel the joys and sorrows of its people. I am a Syrian citizen down to my bone marrow, and though I myself live in exile, my entire family to this day still lives in Syria.
On how the last decade of conflict has affected his Syrian identity:
The conflict has had both positive and negative effects on my identity. From the beginning of the war, I started asking myself: where shall I go? That had a very negative effect on my identity. But on the positive side, the conflict really clarified my sense of myself as a Syrian. Before that I only thought about it rarely, but now, after immigrating, I am compelled to remember daily that I am Syrian.
On how migration has affected his identity:
The way migration has impacted my identity is that I used to be a Syrian citizen and I then I became a Syrian refugee. This was a very difficult approach that entrenched my Syrian-ness even further because every time I enter a new place I am required to disclose my nationality. And so every day I remember that I’m Syrian, and this has entrenched my concept of identity more. At the same time it has distanced me from it, because I’m not living in my country, and this has negatively affected my Syrian life.
On which Syrian rituals and customs he has kept and which he has abandoned in his new life in Germany:
Because there’s such a huge community of Syrians in Germany, I don’t eat or dress very differently than I used to. But what has changed is the big number of celebrations and occasions that used to be sacred to me, not from a theoretical or religious perspective but a cultural one. Like on Eid el-Fitr we would usually go to this place, and then on Eid el-Adha we would go to that place, and on New Year’s we’d gather here…. This is now completely over. Now, Eid el-Fitr or Eid al-Adha or any one of the other holidays that used to be these sacred family occasions are nothing to me now, they are like any other day. The other issue is with death and mourning. When someone dies now I don’t feel that I lost someone, because they were already lost to me. If someone dies and I haven’t seen them for six years then they were already dead to me six years ago. And so everything has changed; of course everything has changed. Occasions are no longer occasions, grief is no longer grief, joy is no longer joy. So many things have changed. Even in terms of work: in Syria I could have been the manager of a whole division now, whereas here I am an employee in that same division. No matter what I learn during this period I will always be lacking in something. This isn’t my mother tongue, and so it’s their right to prioritize someone more fluent in this language and give them the better job.
If he had to define his identity briefly:
Very simply, I am not a Syrian immigrant; I am a Syrian who lives in exile. I mean this to the letter, a Syrian in exile. Because immigrants can visit their countries of origin, whereas today I am a Syrian who cannot even do that, even though I have every wish to visit my family or my country. I am a Syrian in exile, because those who are denied the ability to visit their countries are not abroad, they are in exile.