Hani Sukkar, 31, is from Homs and currently lives in Syria. Here, he talks to us about his sense of identity:
Thinking about the issue of Syrian identity brings me back to my childhood, when we were taught about the importance of this land and this country and the heritage within. Somehow, since childhood we believed that this country was important. We were raised with a sense of reverence for this place we lived in, and as we grew it grew with us. This sense of reverence gave us, in turn, a sense of attachment. When we were older we finally realized that this country wasn’t the ideal we’d imagined it to be as children, but even so, those childhood feelings remain. Those memories, those ties to family, to individual people, to society—all these things keep us attached to this place. Maybe this is our identity, this sense of attachment. I feel like for me, this country is about the society, the community.
On how the conflict in Syria has impacted his identity:
The conflict forced us to really think about our attachment to this place. It’s not the kind of thing you think about during times of relative stability, and I say relative because there’s no such thing as absolute stability in this country. But during difficult times we think about whether we’re truly tied to this place, and wonder, is our identity connected enough to the place to make us stay? We felt that so many of things we’d imagined existing in the country didn’t actually exist, and maybe our connection to the place wasn’t so strong either. We started thinking more normally. I’m one of those young people who lived the most beautiful years of their life, their university years, during the conflict. Then the conflict took on other aspects, and as it developed into an economic conflict, as a young person, I was forced to face some really difficult economic conditions. To the point that I can no longer really stay in the country. But then I remind myself: my parents are here, my family is here. So are all the ideas I grew up on, the ideas of the modest society that surrounds me. And there’s still something in me that keeps me attached to this place. There’s something that isn’t quite over, because this is the place that contains all the parts of the identity on which I was raised.
On how a different outcome to the conflict might affect his sense of identity:
Whenever life gets more difficult, every person immediately begins thinking about himself, his future and his fate. I used to believe that my social life, my life with my parents, was the most important thing. But I don’t want my own son to turn to me one day and ask me why I stayed in this country that’s seen so many years of conflict. We know that this is a region of continuous conflict. Historically, this piece of the world has gone from one conflict to the next. There’s very little hope for stability in this place.
One how emigration has impacted his sense of identity:
I used to live on Hamidiya Street in Old Homs, but we were forced to leave our house at the end of January 2012 because of the constant fighting around us. There were daily battles, and so the only solution was to leave. After leaving I moved around between several different areas. During the first period I moved from the eastern part of Homs governorate to the western part, then to Damascus, and I stayed in a number of different cities temporarily. There’s a big difference between moving voluntarily from your city to another and being forced to leave and feeling displaced. I began feeling a sense alienation between Damascus and Homs.
On whether there are certain rituals, customs or traditions he considers an essential part of his identity:
Whenever we talk about any holiday or celebration, we’re talking about friends and loved ones. Whether at parties or other special occasions, there’s always a sense of communal joy. There are childhood memories of being in our neighborhoods that are shared with our neighbors. Today, this area no longer holds any memories. All its people have left. And yet we still remember these beautiful rituals, as so many of our memories in this country are connected to our practicing them. These days, much of our thinking around these things has devolved. We think only of our daily survival. Even our moments of luxury are only moments of emptiness. The happy generations, unfortunately, don’t experience any social situations in this country.
If he had to define his identity briefly:
My Syrian identity is defined by effort, fortitude, and society.