Dara Kurdo is Syrian-Kurdish and currently lives in Denmark. Here, he talks to us about his identity and what constitutes it:
The elements of my identity are the same as those of any Syrian person, or any Syrian-Kurdish person. Religion isn’t the strongest component of one’s identity, and neither is language. Sometimes I used to feel like Arabic was my mother tongue, but it wasn’t a very important factor of my identity because I’m a Syrian Kurd. I saw Arabic and Kurdish as complementary to one another. I identified myself as a person who moved from the countryside like any other Syrian. I felt no conflict when it came to either language or religion, or even history, because Syria has a history of Kurdish leaders, such as Ibrahim Hananu or Shukri al-Quwatli. So when I read Syrian history I feel a part of it, and there’s nothing in it that contradicts my experience of being a Kurd in Syria.
On how the current conflict in Syria has impacted his sense of identity:
The conflict impacted my Kurdish identity in particular. I’m not saying that it brought it to the fore, but it allowed it to take an external course. With the rise of extremism, religious affiliation came to overshadow all other identities in Syria, to the point where I don’t say that I’m a Syrian Muslim. I’m a moderate Muslim or a Kurdish Muslim, because there’s been a change in the entire concept of religion and the concept of sect. Through populist language and culture I now have a sense of distress when it comes to language. I apologize to all my Arab readers, but I will no longer write in Arabic. I will write in Danish and Kurdish and feel comfortable doing so. When you write in your own language and abandon Arabic people think that you’re a separatist. I’m now a new person. But to which extent did I present myself as Syrian before the war? Or a Syrian after the war? When I say I’m Kurdish I’m trying to cut away a part of Syria. Frankly, identity as a political problem is a question that requires workshops and research so that we might come up with a new concept to reveal what has become of the Syrian identity. In the end, the destruction and conflict has had a great impact on the Syrian-Kurdish identity.
On how immigration has affected his identity:
Of course immigration has affected my identity in numerous ways. When you leave your country, you will one day have to give up a part of your identity and culture whether you like it or not. You’ll be forced to give up language and so many other things, and then have new things come into your identity. When I decided to integrate into Danish society, I discovered that the key to this is language, and that if I did learn Danish it would be at the expense of my reading in Kurdish and Arabic. I also have to accept their habits, the ones that fit with my own culture, but Danes don’t like to hear me speaking in either Arabic or Kurdish. So I find myself before two choices: either to integrate fully and coexist, or isolate myself in order to preserve what’s left of my identity. Integration in Western society requires you to practically melt yourself away in order to become one with it. I was unable to speak like the Danes or to accept all their customs, nor do they accept me, so I ended up with a schizophrenic sense of identity.
On how customs and traditions influence his sense of identity:
The new habits that affected me on an individual level after my asylum in Denmark are many; things that are totally different from what we had in Syria. The question of appointments for example: Danes respect the time that’s been given down to the second. People here are dutiful and are accountable for every minute. These attitudes definitely impacted both my personality and my identity. In terms of holidays, if you live in a Scandinavian country in specific and you celebrate Islamic or your own cultural holidays they tell you in very racist terms: this is something that belongs to your country. You’re free to stay there and practice it there, but now you’ve chosen our country and so you have to follow our customs and traditions. There are so many things that were part of us that we had to sadly relinquish, and I’m afraid that in the future we won’t be able to speak to our children in our own mother tongues. I’m afraid that these things will have such a huge impact that we will no longer know ourselves, and we’ll end up missing what we were living in Syria.
If he had to define his identity briefly:
I can place my identity on my palm, point to it and say: this is it. I am a moderate person, open to other cultures, tolerant, accepting of other people’s opinions regardless of what they are, so long as I do not have to give up the rest of what’s left to me of my culture, what I’ve been carrying in accumulated layers on my back since childhood. That is, I won’t give up any more of what’s left to me of my culture.