Khaled Habood was born in Hasakah, in northeastern Syria. Whilst his family was Arab they adopted many of the customs of the multiple inhabitants of the city including Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians and others. For example, Khaled’s family encouraged their daughters to pursue their education and go on to work, like most of the people of their city, while the tribes that lived in rural areas tended to prevent their daughters from continuing school past a certain point.
“The diversity of people living in our city all influenced one another,” says Khaled, “creating a distinct community where everyone followed largely similar traditions that were a unique mix of all these individual contributions.”
Khaled was a blacksmith, and also volunteered with the Red Crescent. “In Hasakah,” he says, “there were about 50 Red Crescent volunteers from various religions and sects. We would visit nearby villages in the southern part of the province, which were economically impoverished. Agriculture was their main source of income and their harvests were greatly affected by waves of drought and general changes in the climate.
“The villages were Arab and Kurdish,” he continues, “and we would carry out surveys to assess the needs of the different families there and then deliver the requisite aid. We would also transport people by ambulance during emergencies, which often happened during the months that saw snow or heavy rains.”
The Red Crescent was headed by the mayor of Hasakah, and it was also the main body providing aid to the city’s families. In addition, there were a few other non-governmental organizations that were smaller and less influential.
Khaled remembers that there was an Islamic association that provided some help for the needy, running a few schools and daycare centers, and there were some churches that also distributed supplies for free. In both cases, help was offered to anyone who needed it regardless of their religious affiliation.
“We never discriminated between Arab and Kurd or Muslim or Christian,” says Khaled. “We were all one community. As Muslims, we celebrated side-by-side with Christians during their holidays and special occasions. During New Year’s, we would decorate the Christmas tree and celebrate along with our friends who were of all different sects and religions. That was how we lived together in Hasakah.”
At the beginning of the year 2000, Khaled married his cousin. This type of marriage between family members was not a usual occurrence since cousins tended to be raised together, as close as siblings in the huge family homes where they lived.
In 2008, Khaled moved his family to Damascus, in search of a better life. Jobs had grown scarce in Hasakah and the long seasons of drought during that period had driven many families away from the province to other capital cities, particularly to Damascus.
Khaled points out that agriculture was the economic foundation of life in Hasakah and a bad harvest season would affect everyone including those who didn’t work in agriculture. The recession weakened everyone’s purchasing power.
Khaled opened a blacksmithing shop in the town of Jaramana in Rif Dimashq Province, and continued volunteering with the Red Crescent chapter there.
Life wasn’t very different in Khaled’s new community, as Jaramana was also quite diverse, with Sunni Muslims, Druze, Alawites and Christians all living side-by-side.
“I didn’t have any sense of strangeness or unfamiliarity when I moved to Damascus,” says Khaled. “Despite the weaker social relationships and faster-paced life in Damascus, I felt at home, because every city in Syria is my city, and all its residents are my family.”