Mohamad Çiçek is Syrian and currently lives in Sweden. Here he talks to us about what influences his sense of identity as a Syrian:
Very simply, I have no idea what you’re asking me. I often stand before the mirror, but never once did I happen to ask myself: what exactly is my identity? I don’t think about it, but now I’m able to think about it. I am a male, born in Syria to two Kurdish parents. As for my cultural identity, I am neither religious nor a nationalist, nor am I a naïve person caught up in the game of social presence. This is my identity in simple terms.
He goes on:
My Syrian identity is like that of any other Syrian citizen: it’s a distorted and turbulent one, without clear features or defining elements, just like the entirety of Syrian society. The Syrian identity is neither Islamic or nationalist or socialist or secular. It’s a mix of all these things, and it produces distorted beings like myself. I was born in a Muslim environment but my father was an atheist. I began building my personality by questioning and disputing all the traditions around me, and I built my identity by myself as a result of debate.
On how the Syrian conflict has affected his identity:
My own personal identity wasn’t affected by the conflict, because I had some fundamental values I believed in. Though I am Kurdish, I wasn’t affected by the Kurdish nationalist rhetoric, or by the Arab nationalist rhetoric that I’d already rejected previously. On the patriotic level, however, I was so excited to be part of the Syrian revolution, but sadly I quickly realized that patriotism was generally absent. I aspired for a patriotic Syria that would realize the conditions to build and form a pure identity, but these conditions were not met by all the conflicting parties inside Syria. And so things deteriorated quickly. I never gave up on the dream of bringing down this corrupt regime that has helped in radicalizing this distorted, disturbed identity of the Syrian citizen. Until today I’m fighting to bring down this regime, but I despair at the lack of any national alternative.
On how immigration has impacted his sense of identity:
Of course it has had an impact. There’s a contrast between Western culture and ours. Personally I was surprised, even shocked when I arrived in Switzerland. When I went to register myself at the town municipality on the first day I arrived they asked me: what is your religion? I said: I’m not religious. And they said, no, you’re either Muslim or Christian, and we’re going to put you down as Muslim. Maybe this was a personal thing, based on prejudice against people from the East. In the end immigration didn’t influence my identity because I believe in the higher human values, and these values are not bounded by place or time or geography.
On how customs and traditions influence his sense of identity:
I’ve never celebrated any religious occasions. I didn’t even pray at my father’s funeral. This is my own personal conviction: if I don’t believe in something, I don’t do it. I won’t participate in social hypocrisy. Social relationships and niceties don’t affect me, and my relationships were all quite weak, limited only to my close friends. I skipped all rituals because they never meant anything to me. What meant a lot to me were relationships with close friends who I meshed with temperamentally and psychologically, and with whom I shared a common language of understanding. I was indifferent to social relationships and traditions and celebrations. The celebration of Nowruz for example is a general, public one, and in Switzerland too there are carnivals that are exactly like those of Nowruz. But I don’t participate in any of them, and if I do participate it’s solely as an observer. I don’t think that any of these things have any influence on me, not even in my relationship with my family.
He goes on:
Just as there are no rituals I practice that remind me of Syria, or which serves as an extension of my Syrian identity, or is an expression of it in some way, the social activities I used to practice in Syria didn’t change or weren’t affected by my coming to Switzerland. This doesn’t mean that I once had a lifestyle or way of living in Syria that I managed to preserve in Switzerland. I always had my own private arrangements that belong to myself and my family.
If he had to define his identity briefly:
If one’s identity is one’s past then I have no identity. I am a son of the current moment. My identity is what I think about now, without any preconceptions.