Hassan is from Tartus, Syria. Here, he talks to us about the factors that he feels have had an effect on his Syrian identity:
The main building block of my identity is cultural accumulation. I don’t see myself as someone coming from a particular sect or ethnicity, but as someone from a culture that is made up of many layers of elements that can be classified as falling within the domain of culture. When I define myself, I am the entirety of all these fragments and I am also one of them. This is my identity.
On the foundational elements of his Syrian identity:
My Syrian identity stands on two foundations: history and geography. I belong to Syria’s natural geography with all its civilizational content. Likewise, I belong to the history tied to this land, which is continuous and homogenous despite all the deep, sharp conflicts and massive tensions that this history includes. I express myself in this natural geography bounded by the Mediterranean, the Arabian Gulf, the Taurus and Zagros mountains, and the Great Arabian desert. These are the areas to which I belong.
On how the last decade of Syrian conflict has impacted his sense of identity:
At the beginning of the conflict, I was like the majority of Syrians, taking a hardline position, and I didn’t have a clear view of the full picture. But for some Syrians, this conflict opened some channels for communication, while for another group of Syrians it closed the channels of communication once available to them, given that they isolated and confined themselves to a very narrow pattern of thinking. I’m one of those people who allowed this conflict to reveal other sides to my fellow Syrians. Currently I no longer hold any negative prejudice against any Syrian, no matter their leanings. I believe that it’s possible to communicate with all Syrians, even if they are extremist in their affiliations and beliefs. Very simply, this conflict allowed me to become more deeply Syrian, to belong to all Syrians, to be able to see every one of them. I now have friends from every side in Syria, and this wide range in my relationships affirms that I have a particular vision and that all of these people in the end are ultimately governed by a certain geography, a particular historical context, and in the end, they are subject to this point in time and will have to coexist whether they like it or not. This conflict has allowed everyone to truly look at one another.
On how immigration has impacted his sense of identity:
I had a plan to settle down in Damascus, but because of the deterioration in living conditions and the security situation, I returned to Tartus. Frankly the fact that I wasn’t able to finish settling in Damascus didn’t affect my identity; I have basically had a very clear vision on Syria from even before the crisis. I don’t believe that migration or even the question of it had any effect or added anything at all.
He goes on:
Syrians didn’t have any real contact with one another for years before the conflict. We had no media or civil society or effective state institutions that dedicated any energy to improving communication and contact between fellow Syrians across the country. There was a sense of alienation and distance between every Syrian and what was unfolding around them in terms of history or societies or various differences. There was a vast sense of alienation between each Syrian and what was around them.
On how the rituals and customs he practices in his daily life affect his identity:
These last years have opened up the opportunity for me to communicate with all the different kinds of people that make up the Syrian spectrum, which in turn has opened up new and wider horizons through which to see Syria as it is and as best as I can. This allowed me to be a more diverse Syrian, to belong to a larger sense of Syrian diversity and to believe in it strongly and firmly.
He goes on:
When someone distances themselves from religion, they lose their attachments to the religious references to which they’re supposed to belong and which are supposed to contribute to the creation of their identity. This should happen to more Syrians in order to take them out of their narrow affiliations, which is a good thing. They should look for a broader identity, broader than the one dictated by these references, and one that expresses their interests.
If he had to briefly define his identity:
I don’t say that I’m Arab or Kurdish or Muslim or non-Muslim or that I belong to this sect within this Islamic fabric. I am Syrian to the bone, and I don’t recognize or belong to anything that conflicts with that.