Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Stories of Belonging,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Istanbul, Turkey
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I am Aya, a Syrian from Damascus. I am 30 years old. Although I studied business administration, I work in the field of media. I have been living in Istanbul, Turkey, for almost four and a half years.

I came to Turkey in 2015. I love this country, I love the place. Turkey is a country that is very rich, and has many cultures. The thing I love most is the "magic" which brings east and west together, eastern customs and traditions with western customs. So I love the situation. I feel there is something from me, as in Aya, and I found out that I wanted to come to this country, settle in it, and work to find a better opportunity in the field of media representation. I didn't feel that I had been working properly on myself previously and some of my ideas were incomplete. For example, I wasn’t able to present the idea I wanted or the idea that represented me or the audience.

There is always someone who limits your goals so that you don't appear as you want to in front of the audience. You feel that you are just a machine that moves, no more, no less. This is why I made the decision to move here after many arguments and problems with my family. I am from a conservative environment where it is not acceptable for a girl to travel or live on her own. There were many discussions on this matter before I got their approval, and  they were still not very satisfied with my decision, frankly. However, the decision was made and I came here in 2015.

At first it was a big change and the emotions and the challenges were great. I saw that it was what I wanted but I had not realised as a woman how much responsibility I had away from home. Back home, I was comfortable in my family's house and did not need to worry about the basics, let us say, or pleasure. Suddenly, I found I must rely on myself and do everything on my own, and there was no one on my side. I started to feel this way little by little. I tried to get used to the country more, to find my way around, and I only needed to do this for some time, unlike many other countries. When we arrived here, we heard stories of Syrians being mistreated in different countries, refusal of Syrian presence in their countries, and so on.

In Turkey, on the contrary, it was not like this. People were welcoming, they were sympathetic to us as Syrians and our situation. I loved the country and its people, but I did not like the food much because it is very heavy and very greasy! Its people are friendly, and sometimes I wonder why people from outside Istanbul say that the people here are "not tolerant" or treat others badly. Personally, I have only recently experienced that and I think the circumstances and the political situation have an impact.

During my stay here, the military coup in Turkey happened (summer 2016). I went down the streets with the people, stood with them and watched them, and that feeling was strange and beautiful. I loved how everyone was screaming one word loudly. This was something that released a strange energy inside me. Although there were great differences among the people, their cultures, their way of thinking, their language, their ideas, their traditions, their affiliations, and their various goals. However, they felt that their country would be ruined or destroyed or that blood would spilt. They produced one word, one voice, they suffered losses. This gave me a beautiful feeling. I wish we had not experienced what we have in Syria, and that we had shared one position and one opinion. It was a beautiful moment and I felt that I was one of the people, and with the people.

There is something that repeatedly happens to me when I get into a taxi or meet a Turk for the first time. It takes them some time to discover that I am a foreigner. They find out later and then ask me, "where are you from?" And then answer that I am from Syria! My answer brings so many different reactions that I thought of doing a "photoproduction" for them. Among almost a thousand people, when I tell them that I am Syrian, their response is that I don’t look like a Syrian and if I am not Turkish I must be Russian or French. Always other nationalities, but they don't think I am Syrian! This used to irritate me a lot because I could not learn the language very easily. I learned it on the street, speaking to the Turks. I memorised a lot of words and I worked on the basic rules but I couldn't always practice because most of my work is with Syrians like me or with the Arabs so it was difficult to find the opportunity. Istanbul is a big place. I am used to Damascus where you can travel short distances of under an hour to get everything done during the day but here, it isn’t like that. It is very large so it takes time to travel around and commute to work. People who cannot take the city centre road go through the suburbs. It may be cheaper to live there but it is about 20 km to offices in the city centre. Of course some people work near their homes but most travel these long distances and public transportation is always crowded so it is difficult to do anything after work. You hardly have time to go home, to rest, sleep and get back to work in the morning. I always say that most of my time in Istanbul is spent traveling long distances.

I have worked in many places here, mostly in the media, and in these places they often use people who need a work permit. If I had a job five years ago I would have been able to get nationality but now I can’t.

Of course you need to work and if you don't get the work permit you were promised at the beginning, you are forced to stay until you find a better job within your field. I think that if this had happened for me, I would have felt more benevolent towards this country, and that would have increased again if I had got citizenship. Things are easier if you are a citizen. But the parties I worked with did not help with the permit. There was no monitoring of this in the country.

Not long ago, there was more focus on this issue and the government went to companies to see who owned a business, who did not have a business, who would withdraw from accommodation, for example, on a tourist visa, which I had, and then the owner of the business would be changed.

We were asked to come to work after 2 p.m. so that we would not be inspected because most of the inspections were in the morning. It bothered me that after four or five years I couldn't even get nationality and I asked myself, "did I waste all this time for nothing?" Then I would say to myself, it was not for nothing because I gained experience and life skills and tried new things. We usually only count things that give us more stability but I have not yet found these yet.

However, if I continue trying I can get nationality, nothing is impossible. In return, I am looking for a good opportunity in the field of media and television broadcasting. I hae found many suitable job opportunities but there are those who do not agree with me on the political situation in Syria and I do not want to appear on their screens. I prefer to appear in a program unrelated to politics and I do not want to be a permanent fixture so I do not see myself as a TV anchor. I haven’t found the opportunity that I want so far.

If someone is integrated as a teenager, I think they will feel more belonging to the country they choose to live in. Of course the circumstances surrounding them either help or do not. They say that you become part of a country over time while you are at a young age, and your mind is like a sponge that can absorb many things. At an older age, you can not but think of  your memories, your childhood and everything related to where you came from. I came to Istanbul at the age of 25. I was fully grown at this age and my memories are always present. Until today, I still think of my memories from the past sometimes. This feeling that I, and perhaps others, have is due to the fact that we as human beings feel nostalgic for our past, and this is a fundamental aspect of belonging to the place where you live. Language and feeling stable are also important and so far I have not been able to feel stable where I live. These are key factors that must be realised in order to feel that you are part of the place you live in.

I enjoyed summarising my story with you for a few minutes. If you wanted to go into detail and hear some stories, we wouldn’t be able to stop. There is a lot to be said ...