Asbed Wanes

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Peaceful Coexistence in the Diaspora,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Production Team:
Available Collateral:

Asbed is 31 years old. He is an Armenian Syrian and arrived in Sweden in 2013. While waiting for his residency, he took Swedish language classes in a women’s association. He explains that Wanes is his father’s name, and that he is now forever “stuck to his name” because he used his Syrian “3-part name” not realizing that Swedes do not use their father’s name.

He met someone who worked for an online Alcompis radio station, got himself an interview, and was hired for training. He subsequently signed a regular contract after a year. He studied media in Syria and worked at Radio Melody. He learned a lot about Sweden while working in Swedish radio, especially translating culture and news reports. The highlights of this work include a political debate in Arabic with speeches from each candidate. He also worked in a program for newly-arrived refugees and conducted interviews in simple Swedish to explain different aspects of Swedish life and systems. He then worked for Swedish television, reading news in simple Swedish.

“Here in Sweden you must continuously advance at work,” as “there’s this fear” that your contract will otherwise not be renewed. He does not wish to go back to working in Arabic so he is improving his fluency in Swedish. He likes to listen to the radio and repeat sentences to practise, and now speaks Swedish so well that it seems he passes as Swedish. He always asks the meanings of words or expressions he doesn’t know, causing surprise that he is not Swedish.

He now works for Umo, offering diverse information about sexuality, the body, relationships, and healthcare resources in six languages, including Arabic. It is a mixed NGO and government organization. He corrects texts and translations, explaining that “the subjects are very sensitive” and the technical words must be precise. There is a vast and increasing number of followers of this site in Arabic-speaking countries.

Living in Sweden, he learned to listen to others and to differing opinions, to discuss and to accept difference. He feels so comfortable in society that does not focus on race, religion or looks, and he says that he has never felt discrimination.

His family lives in Austria and he visits them once a year. They used to ask him constantly when he was going to get married and whether or not he had found anyone yet. He always answered that he would let them know if he did and eventually they stopped asking or pressuring him. He has friends of every origin in Sweden, perhaps more Swedish friends than others, and he keeps up with some of his friends in Syria.

When he was about 14-years old, he became religious in that during exams he would circulate “bakhour” (incense) and pray to ensure that he passed. He says this was social rather than religious practice. He still loves to hear religious music and liturgy as it is beautiful. He still listens to it on YouTube and goes to midnight mass to participate in its magic. He says that in Syria they never made religious distinctions even though he grew up in a religiously mixed area. He learned once in college in Damascus what it meant to be from another sect. He remembers an occasion when he was sitting with a group of new friends and assumed that they were all Christian because they were not wearing scarves whereas, in fact, they were a mixed group.