Jollanar Alyounes, 32, lives in Cyprus. Here, she talks to us about her sense of identity as a Syrian:
I consider myself a person of multiple identities. I’m originally from Homs but I don’t have any particular sense of attachment to any city. I have various different identities based on my family origins, scattered from the mountains of Tartous and Latakia, to the cities of Hama and Homs. I was born and spent my early childhood in Suwayda, and then the period of my teenage years and up until my 20s was spent in Damascus. After that I left Syria, moving between several different cities, both Arab and European. Currently, I’m in Cyprus, and God alone knows where the future will find me. But I’m certain about one thing: that I belong to Syria, I identify as Syrian. This was what I said of myself before the war, but after the war my feelings shifted a little. It wasn’t a shift in how I felt about the country, but rather about the people who live there. My feelings had to do with how differently people began treating one another.
On how the conflict has impacted her sense of identity:
The war in Syria never changed our sense of belonging or identity. We are Syrians, through and through, whether we like it or not. We were born in Syria, our first and last belonging is and will be to Syria, no matter where we are in the world, whether in Cyprus like me, or in Germany like so many other Syrians. They are all Syrians first and last, with Syrian blood flowing through their veins. But I think the current givens and what’s happened over the last years has – sadly – negatively impacted the roots of that belonging, because those roots are no longer capable of providing the same feelings to every Syrian. Sometimes we have a sense of nostalgia for memories set in particular places, or even memories of particular people, but the nostalgia is abruptly halted as soon as you stop and think for a minute, remembering with certainty that those places and buildings are no longer as they were, and even those people we once loved in a more beautiful past might not be in the country when we return!
On how a different outcome to the conflict might impact her sense of identity:
I don’t think my identity personally will be affected. My Syrian identity remains, no matter which country I find myself in. Maybe in the future I might acquire a second citizenship, or maybe my future children will have another nationality, but I don’t think I’ll let them forget our origins. There are children who’ve begin their lives outside Syria, who might have other nationalities, and this is how the Syrian identity becomes scattered by the four winds. It is definitely in danger of diminishing, if we don’t say disappearing altogether. It really all depends on the parents or the Syrians active in those communities, either the Arab or European ones.
On how widespread displacement and emigration has impacted her sense of identity:
There’s a constant exodus of people, especially young people from Syria. Since the beginning of the conflict, young people, both men and women, have been leaving. Young women prefer to marry men abroad, men who have immigrated, and inside the country there’s no longer any idea of marriage. My emigration, personally, was a voluntary one, but I can’t deny that when I left the situation was unstable in Syria. I didn’t want to live what was left of my life there, after all, a person has only one life! I can’t be on the frontlines, holding up the ideas of either side. I’m just a woman with an ambition to build a life and family of my own. I don’t feel that I can fulfill these things inside Syria.
On whether there are certain rituals, customs or traditions she considers an essential part of her identity:
Wherever I’ve been in the world, when I suddenly hear someone speaking in a Syrian accent, in the street, in a mall, wherever, I break out in an involuntary smile. I feel like I’m not alone in this place, that there’s another Syrian nearby. I feel like I know them, no matter if they’re from Aleppo or some other city. I don’t hesitate at all in approaching that sense of belonging, satisfying my longing to feel like I’m back in Syria, especially in those places that have a Syrian identity.
If she had to define her identity in brief terms:
I am Syrian by identity and desire.
Religion, God, and the nation belong to all.
I treat people based on my own morals and on theirs as well.