Jamil Alyou is 27 years old and currently lives in Germany. Here, he talks to us about his sense of identity:
To determine who I am, how I need to be, especially in a society with more or less a single collective identity… things that were acceptable were acceptable to all, and things that were offensive were also offensive to all! It was difficult for them to accept any kind of difference. After entering university and being abroad in Germany, the question arose repeatedly and more frequently in my mind, and each time the answer was different. My identity today is different than it was yesterday, and is different than how it will be tomorrow. The question is now more difficult and complex than ever: is the real me the one I am with my family? Or with my friends? Is my identity composed of all those things that make me a citizen of a certain country?
On his identity as a Syrian:
As a Syrian citizen, my belonging to Syria should include the rights of a citizen, which are lacking for so many Syrian citizens. I’m a Syrian national without nationality. We are a people as varied as the colors of the spectrum, very different from one another, and we have so many different identities. Perhaps what ties us together is the land, as well as history.
On how the conflict has impacted his sense of identity:
The revolution didn’t eradicate the war and the war didn’t eradicate the revolution. Meaning that in Syria there wasn’t just a revolution, or just a war. But all these factors together led us to ask ourselves: what is my identity? For me, it was a very strong motivator to ask myself: who am I, and who are these people around me? What is their identity? We began talking about “Arab Kurds,” a subject we hadn’t raised before, at least not in my hometown of Latakia. We began to talk about “Sunni Alawites” much more than before, whether with a pejorative slant or a positive one. We discovered that all of those who had taken to the streets in the revolution had gone out to call for freedom, but it was different kinds of freedoms. People had a need to express their personal identities, to have these accepted by the surrounding environment. Everyone had gone out to say: this is me and this is my identity!
On how a different outcome to the conflict might have affected his sense of identity:
As a Syrian who has left the country, I feel like the last ten years have been at least twice as long for me. I’m 27 years old but I feel much older, because I feel like I lost all my adolescent and young adult years in the most painful way. So long as the current situation remains as is inside Syria—the living conditions, the intellectual situation and the political one—it’s created a suspended life for the people inside. If the outcome of the revolution, or the conflict or the war were to be different, I imagine only that there would be a change in this divergent sense of time for those inside Syria and those outside it.
On how emigration from Syria has influenced his identity:
Those who left with the purpose to study or work abroad have the right to return to Syria. They can go back for a visit and see the current situation and maintain a connection to their relatives and friends. This person’s identity has developed differently, their perspective on it differs from that of the person who crossed borders illegally, and who was forced to stay long hours at asylum centers waiting to be registered. Those who had to pass through these long processes crossing through the Balkans, or crossing over by boat. Such things completely shatter and rebuild one’s personality. I’m talking about myself here. What I went through had a huge positive impact on me but was also very difficult and painful in so many ways. It was shocking, dramatic, and yet all of that impacted me in ways more positive than negative, because I’d found my way out of a homogenous society—a society forced to be homogenous—and into a place where my choices were wide open before me.
On the rituals, habits and customs that keep him connected to his sense of identity:
I define myself as a Muslim, but different to the usual stereotypical image of other people who identify themselves as Muslim.
I have a ritual of “correspondence” with my homeland, with my Latakia, my city, whereby once or twice every couple of months I sit down by myself at home and try to remember all the streets of my city. I try to keep the image of my city sharp in my mind, because this is a part of my identity I never want to lose.
I call my close friends who are still living in Syria and we chat exactly the way we used to chat back home. This connection is another anchor that keeps me tied to Syria. My identity here and my identity there are two parts of the same whole.
If he had to define his identity in brief terms:
I am a person who is always changing.