Jinan al-‘Awwad

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Turkey
Production Team:
Available Collateral:

“The dispute may start with a brawl between two children and become a vicious cycle of crime that sometimes stretches into decades”

Jinan al-’Awwad was born in 1958 in al-Mayadin in Deir ez-Zor, a town on the banks of the Euphrates, about 45 kilometers away from the center of the province. She says, "the people in al-Mayadin are simple and very conservative, with strong bonds between them. They come together for weddings and for sorrows, for all occasions.”

Al-Mayadin is a very sexist society, according to Jinan. Women must serve their husbands to the full, following customs. If a dispute breaks out between them and she goes back to her family house, she will be made to return to her husband’s house, even if he is the one to be blamed. Divorce happens only in rare cases since society looks down on divorced women, and this is true even if her husband is known to be a wrongdoer. According to custom, she must bear his defects of character and take care of her home and children.

Jinan says that most al-Mayadin young men are cultured university graduates. Girls used to study up until primary school then marry at a young age but this has changed since the 1970s. A girl is now taught in school and university and can work in many fields, including education and medicine.

It is common practice in al-Mayadin for a young man to marry and live with his wife in the family house. His own sons may also marry and bring their families to live in the house too. The bridegroom has to shoulder high costs because of the high value of the dowry and the abundance of gold that is offered to the bride at the wedding ceremony. It is not considered right for a young man to marry outside the family. He should marry his cousin, either the daughter of his maternal or paternal uncle, or one of the daughters of the family. Weddings are celebrated for five to seven days, and a lunch of meat and rice, plus laurel soap and sweets on a large cart is brought by the head of the bride’s family, who presents these gifts to the groom on the first day after the marriage.

Vendettas - taking revenge by killing - is one of the most dreadful features of al-Mayadin community, Jinan says. “The problem is that revenge doesn’t stop at the death of the murderer. The dispute may start with a brawl between two children and become a vicious cycle of crime that sometimes stretches into decades. We have cases that have gone on for more than 100 years. This happens despite social development and the growth of social awareness. This custom has not disappeared from tribal society, and weapons, even if they are only hunting rifles, are still commonn in houses.”

Some al-Mayadin families engage in farming and wild fishing since they live on the banks of the Euphrates River. Some of them fish as a hobby and not for material benefit. As for the material situation of the population, Jinan says that most of them own farmlands and houses and that it is rare for anyone to pay rent.

Jinan talks about the "shepherd's almshouse", which is of great importance to the people of the area. She says, “An Iraqi named Ahmad al-Rawi built two alsmhouses, one in al-Mayadin and another in Deir ez-Zor. A Takiyye [religious almshouse] is a holy place where religious prayers and lessons are held. The sheikhs there follow Sufi traditions, like most people who seek blessings through graves and Awliya' [holy men]. If a child gets sick, his father will take him to a Takiyye, where the sheikh will read the Qur'an for him, give him a periapt, and offer meat, yogurt and cheese. If there is a dispute or a problem between people, dignitaries and opponents will meet in the Takiyye to solve it. However, as the years have gone by, followers of the Sufi sect have shrunk due to the spread of social awareness and university education among the youth.”

Girls' education in al-Mayadin has contributed positively to social change, especially in the case of those who studied in other provinces. Jinan says: "Female students went to various provinces in order to pursue their university studies, brought back with them science and culture, and played a role in enriching society. Thus, a mother would always listen to her daughter on any matter, even about customs and how household furniture must be arranged, for example. This is how the old mentality that refused to educate girls changed, and fathers started exhorting their daughters to educate themselves and boasting of their success and superiority. Al-Mayadin became the region that produced the top female students in the whole Deir Ez-Zor province.

Jinan tried to complete her education with the encouragement of her late husband, who was an educated man and belonged to a prominent family, but she was unable to do so because of her life and family circumstances for she married at the early age of 14 and gave birth to her eldest daughter at 15.  She made up for all this by reading and following cultural programs on the radio and TV. She was able to educate all her sons and daughters so that they received university degrees in prestigious specialties.