Hozan Ibrahim, 36, lives in Denmark. Here, he explains how he conceives of his identity:
I’m a Syrian Kurd. Religious affiliation means nothing to me. I’m an atheist. The national affiliation that makes up my Kurdish identity is very important to me, and equally important is my Syrian national affiliation. I introduce myself as a Syrian Kurd. My mother tongue, my first language, is Kurdish. Before I began integrating into the surrounding Arab environment, everything around me was Kurdish. I spoke only Kurdish until I entered kindergarten, and after that I started speaking Arabic. So my basic identity was formed as a Kurdish one: me, my parents, and all the relationships around us were Kurdish. After entering school I made friends with people of all stripes and began feeling like I belonged to Syria.
On how the last ten years of conflict in Syria have shaped his sense of identity:
When the revolution first began, when we still called it a revolution, there was a perfect balance between my sense of belonging as a Kurd and as a Syrian. Then the balance was somehow upset. There was conflict all around, a result of Syrian rejection, of a Syrian refusal to accept the Kurdish presence. The regime, too, rejected the Kurdish presence, and of course when one of your affiliations or identities is attacked, you unconsciously hold on to it tighter.
When the revolution began, we became more willing to talk to one another, to exchange opinions—but cautiously. The beginning was excellent for us, which is why I said that my sense of belonging was finally affected by the outcome, because at the beginning none of these conflicts were present. There was a general feeling of being a people and everything was so positive. And so if the outcome were different, if there hadn’t been a military aspect to the conflict, if it was only political, only a general popular protest, with civil strikes and sit-ins, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.
On whether the mass migration from Syria has impacted him:
Like so many other Syrians, I fled the country when the revolution turned into a war. I defected from the Army so that I wouldn’t be drawn into deadly battles. As a Syrian Kurd, I now live in Denmark. I have two children who were born here, and I often ask myself: how will they know themselves? This was really important to me, because immigration really affected my sense of belonging. Right now I can’t give you a definition of who I am, or how much I’ve changed. I’m still exploring these questions. But a small part of my personality has now been molded by Danish life, or European life somehow, and I now have a new sense of affiliation to add to the others.
On the rituals, habits and customs that keep him connected to his sense of identity:
I don’t have any religious rituals. I’m an atheist. But it’s an atheism that’s the result of awareness. I was raised in a religious area, in Aleppo. I used to go to the mosque, I prayed and fasted. I did all of these things, and when I got older, I started to have all these questions. I saw all these things as the result of my being in this environment, and in the end, this search led me to my current convictions. I classify myself as a modern person rather than a conservative; my adherence to customs isn’t that strong. Rather, I am attached to some very simple habits, small social ones related to my family and friends. Social relations, for me, don’t come before personal interests, or before my needs as an individual. I am an individual first and foremost, but social relationships occupy a very important second. I live for myself, but the space that’s left is for the people around me, in that space I live for my family and close friends. These are the rituals that give me a sense of belonging.
If he had to define his identity in brief terms:
I still have a sense of affiliation as a Kurd; I still have a sense of affiliation as a Syrian. I have a new affiliation now, a belonging to this new Danish society I live in now. I’m trying to find a balance in my duality as a person who is conservative and modern at once. I look forward to new development and I’m eager to learn new things. I’m not a closed person; my sense of belonging is free-floating; I’m changeable and unstable.