Hafez Karkut

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Turkey
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"There was no genuine Ministry of Culture to take care of our talents; it was more of a Ministry of Cultural Pretence, which was more like a box that enclosed writers in order to control their creations."

Hafez Karkut was still a child when he moved from As-Suwayda' province to Damascus, where his brothers were studying at the university. He lived in the Mazzeh area. There were many residential projects under construction in the Mazzeh Villas district. Houses were distributed to members of housing associations, most of whom were employees from various areas such as Daraa, As-Suwayda' and Homs, in addition to those who came from areas in the Damascus province.

“We grew up in an atmosphere where we used to hear different Syrian dialects in a single residential building. It was within this beautiful diversity that we felt the spirit of Syrian society. This enriched and cultivated my writing experience in later times.”

Hafez believes that his sweet childhood in the 1960s, which reflected the reality of the social environment in Syria then, began to change in the 1970s. Those years witnessed a change in the character of the Damascene urban life with an increasing militarization of society. This was true even in schools, where a system of military education was introduced.

Hafez started playwriting while at school. After he graduated from the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering in 1988, he worked in the public sector for a few months but did not like it. He preferred to remain free and to dedicate himself fully to writing.

At the start of his career, Hafez wrote episodes for the famous Syrian series "Maraya" directed by Yasser Al-Azma. The series leveled a social and political critique at the prevailing Syrian reality, and presented problematic issues in a comic way. He says: “The regime allowed some of these works to be shown on TV as a means of venting frustration; they allowed a measure of protest but this was kept under the regime's control.”

After that Hafez wrote the play "The File" as part of the activities organized in 1999 for the "Beirut the Capital of Arab Culture". Later he moved into drama writing and wrote scripts for a comic series called “The Opportunity of a Lifetime." Hafez says: “We were writing in an environment akin to a minefield. We were torn between, on the one hand, the constant fear of making an error and the pressure we felt from the security services, and on the other hand, our desire to freely write without any restrictions. Personally, I feel I managed to address this despite the strict censorship of TV production because television shows reach every single person in their own home.”

Hafez believes that the ruling regime was aware of the importance of television shows as a serious weapon it could direct at will. It wasn’t permissible to promote any writer, director or actor who was not under the authorities' control. In this way, certain writers could be erased from public consciousness, while artificially produced actors close to the ruling power could be made famous. These same actor would often possess ties to the intelligence services and the Republican Palace.

There was no genuine Ministry of Culture to take care of our talents; it was more of a Ministry of Cultural Pretence, which was more like a box that enclosed writers in order to control their creations.

During his career, Hafez wrote many scripts intended for successful TV shows that were enthusiastically received by the public, including "Maraya", "Opportunity of a Lifetime", "The Echo of the Spirit" and "The Children of Qamariya" among others. Hafez says that the society of As-Suwayda’ province where he belonged had a role in enriching his perception and writing creativity. “As-Suwayda is extremely rich in terms of folkloric, popular and cultural heritage. Its customs are close to those of the Arab tribes that surround it and extend up to the Syrian Jezireh. There you had Arab hostels that did not close their doors day or night and which received guests and travelers alike. These places were similar to schools, places where we learned good values and traditions. Sometimes we listened to poetry and heroic stories there, and it is worth mentioning that this region had been fully literate since the end of the nineteenth century.”

Hafez wrote "The Children of Qamariyah", a work classified as one of the "Shami environment" series. Hafez tried to represent the old Shami environment in a different way from prevailing stereotypes in this series. A large part of the "Shami environment" related works during the renaissance period of Syrian drama was aimed at profit. At the same time, another group of TV shows was marketing the idea of destroying the ancient cultural heritage of the city of Damascus. It seems that there was a deliberate policy to destroy Syrian society, its capital and the Damascene cultural, moral and human heritage on all levels, including in terms of television and dramatic production."